My morning commute normally takes almost exactly one hour, door to door.
This morning, though, I spent thirty extra minutes sitting in stopped traffic on route 460 while rescue workers and police officers cleaned up an accident.
I had come up on the stopped lanes of traffic about a mile behind the accident, and once we finally passed it, the ambulances had already left, and one pickup truck was on the tow truck. It was evident that the driver of the pickup had somehow hit the embankment on the right and rolled the truck, but I don’t know if another car was involved or not. Probably not.
And I looked, and I thought, “I hope he was wearing his seat belt.”
(In my head, the driver is male.)
I had called my office to let them know I’d be delayed, and when I finally arrived at about 9:30, of course everyone wanted to know what had happened. (When I called, I didn’t know what was blocking traffic but suspected a wreck or a semi breakdown.) So I told them pretty much exactly what I told you – including the line “I hope he was wearing his seat belt.”
A co-worker looked at me and responded, “Why?” and, honestly, it was all I could do not to snap at her. In fact, I had brief fantasies of punching her directly in the face.
Since Ginny’s wreck, it’s true that we’ve been hyperaware of car accidents in the area, but it also happens that, according to local rescue workers we know, this has been a bad year for fatal wrecks.
There have been a lot of accidents around here this year, and the saddest, most frightening part is how similar they are. It’s almost like the media can just recycle the same story over and over again:
John Doe, 25, of X was killed in a car accident on Saturday. Police say Doe lost control of his vehicle, overcorrected, and hit an embankment/oncoming vehicle. Doe, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the car and died at the scene.
My co-worker expressed her belief that wearing a seat belt is really “a crapshoot – a 50/50 chance. Sometimes they help, but just as often they don’t matter.” She went on to tell me about a relative of hers who wrecked while wearing a seat belt, and is now a quadriplegic.
My answer? Living life as a quadriplegic is surely difficult and not ideal, but it’s living life. If she hadn’t had the seat belt on, she probably would have died.
Unfortunately a lot of people seem to have the same mistaken impression as my co-worker, and I find it incomprehensible, sad, and frustrating.
I can quote statistics to you all day long. I can point you to this website or this one or this one or that one or any of these places, and every single one of them will give you compelling evidence that most people involved in fatal accidents did not survive because they were not wearing seat belts, and that wearing seat belts greatly improves your chances of surviving a car accident.
This is common information, easily found with a Google search. But to some people, it doesn’t matter.
Some people don’t like the way seat belts rub against their necks, or the way they wrinkle their clothes. Some people have trouble finding the buckle and just decide to do without. Some people really believe that wearing a seat belt will cut you in half in a car crash, or will trap you in your car. And some people never wear a seat belt, and never even think about putting one on.
I’m sure that many of you reading this fall into one of the above categories, and that few if any of you will admit it. I’ll tell you right now that I have been guilty on a few occasions of not taking the time to dig a seat belt out of the seat crack, and during the entire ride I was sick with fear that something would happen. And that was before the wreck. I don’t do it anymore – in fact, just this weekend I made nine people wait on me while I dug the seat belt buckle out from behind a car seat so that I could wear it on our trip.
I’m psycho about the seat belt. I feel uncomfortable driving without it. I put my seat belt on when I’m changing parking spaces, even. And my entire family is the same way.
I haven’t shown these pictures here, deliberately. But now I’m going to, because I want you to see what my sister survived.
Ginny didn’t brake. She didn’t swerve. There was no time. There was nothing in the world she could have done to prevent what happened that night. She was three minutes from our house, on a clear, dry night, and something happened that we never in a million years would have anticipated.
Yes, she sustained terrible injuries. Yes, we have had a long and difficult journey since the night of March 1st, one that we’re still traveling and will be for some time. But Ginny did not suffer a single serious injury to her arms, head, or torso, and is alive and with us today, because she had a properly functioning airbag, and because she was wearing her seat belt.
I usually can’t permit myself to imagine what would have happened had she decided to go without it that day.
Sometimes we sit at stoplights now and count the number of cars passing with drivers who aren’t wearing seat belts. Usually, it’s at least half, if not more. Sammi sees kids at her school every single day peeling out of the parking lot without seat belts on. And I don’t know what to do about it, and that bothers me a lot.
In our state, and about half of the USA, police officers can only ticket you for not wearing your seat belt if they’ve already pulled you over for another offense. I’m appalled that the Virginia General Assembly has killed a bill, not once, but twice, that would change our current law to a primary seat belt law, where police officers could pull you over just for not wearing your seat belt. They felt such a law was “too intrusive.” I’m also upset that the proposed legislation included a fine of only $25. Studies have shown that not only can a primary seat belt law save the state a minimum of one million dollars in the first year alone, but that the implementation of primary safety belt legislation increases the usage rate of seat belts by an average of eleven percentage points.
That’s a lot. But, you know, it’s too intrusive to require that people wear seat belts when they’re driving.
That attitude needs to change (as do some others regarding seat belts), and I hope to find some way to make that happen. For now, though, if even one of you thinks about this the next time you get in your car, and changes your behavior as a result – well, that’s a start.