Spring 1971. My mother is the passenger in an early 60’s Chevrolet Impala. Sitting at a traffic light, turn signal engaged to indicate a left turn, waiting to cross traffic and enter a neighborhood.
At this same time, A full size tractor-trailer flatbed (no freight, thankfully), looses it’s brakes as it accelerates down the hill behind the Impala.
As with most accidents, within seconds, there are sounds of screeching tires, shattering glass, and the metallic crunching of metal. The Impala spun across the intersection and hit a stone wall with the name of the neighborhood on it. Within a few more seconds it was over and there was nothing but silence. The tractor trailer had rear ended the Impala squashing it to half of its original length.
Back in those days, there were only lap belts, if any belts in the cars. The Impala had lap belts and both my mother and her friend that was driving had theirs clicked. Even so, the impact was so great, my mother’s head left a significant impact indentation in the windshield. Miraculously her injury was not life threatening. Her friend was banged up, but not seriously injured. My mother dealt with back issues for 20 years, but she was alive. And so was her friend.
Oh, wait, did I mention that my mother was 5 months pregnant with me? Incredible, right? OK, go on and laugh it up, I’ve heard all the jokes…..”Oh, so that’s what’s wrong with you”, blah blah blah.
My father recalled reaching the scene and the paramedics telling him that if it wasn’t for the seatbelt, my mother and her unborn child would have been dead. Once at the hospital and all vitals were checked, it was determined that I was unharmed. (ok, cue jokes again). The point is, the fact stands that a single seatbelt (lapbelt) simultaneously saved two lives that day. There’s no joking about that.
The Highway Safety Act of 1966 authored by then President Lydon B. Johnson put in motion mandatory seatbelts in all cars and included the shoulder belt for 1968 models. Since then, there have been remarkable technological advancements contributing to the safety of occupants in cars. Crumble zones, Air bags, Anti-lock Braking Systems and more. I am a champion of these safety features. After all, the most basic of them all, saved my mother’s life and my own. Consider this, with all the technology currently implemented in race cars of all types, multi-point seatbelts are still the primary safety feature to keep the driver safe.
According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3 of 5 people killed in auto accidents would have survived if they were wearing their seatbelts. Approximately 9,500 people are saved by using their seatbelts each year. These are staggering numbers.
So, the bottom line is this, the easiest, most efficient, most important safety feature in your car, is your seatbelt. Make it click and make it to your destination safely.