While I’ve laughed at Bette Davis’s famous quote: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!”, I’ve been truly careless when it comes to the use of seat belts. As a baby boomer, the logic goes, “Well, I’ve lived thirty-two years without a seat belt and never had an accident. I used to curl up in the back window of the folks Plymouth when I was a kid. What’s all the fuss about?”
Pause that tape.
We left with high expectations on Wednesday morning. The trip was 1.22 hours long according to Google Maps, but with my lead foot I figured we’d be there in an hour. A leisure lunch with a friend from up North and some antique shopping was on the docket. The sun was shining, traffic was cruising on the five-lane freeway and the three of us had that all’s-right-with-the-world kind of feeling. The conversation jumped from Africa to politics to UCSD extension courses.
The passenger in the front seat was in the midst of discussing her latest class work when she started coughing. As the coughing intensified, she reached in her bag for some water. That didn’t seem to do the trick. Her face was turning red and tears started streaming down her cheeks. Yikes! You know that feeling where you just can’t squelch an involuntary cough?
In an attempt to relieve her discomfort, she unbuckled her seat belt. As the driver, I failed to give it a moment’s notice.
Three seconds later, the traffic at the crest of a hill came to a dead STOP. It was SLAM on the brakes time, veer to the left shoulder and burn a little rubber off those tires. Phew! It’s one of those heart-pounding moments when you can almost hear the crunching sound of hitting the car in front of you. Life goes into slow motion. The kaleidoscope is narrowed to one frame at a time!
Ka-Bam! My beloved friend catapulted forward, slamming her head into the windshield, and her knees into the glove box. My heart stopped and I started to shake. I pushed back the feeling of nausea.
There was no visible damage; however (while she will hate me for saying this), she is an elderly woman. How hard had she hit the windshield? What was her physical condition?
She applied ice to her head and knees as we rode on to San Juan Capistrano. Being the trooper she is there was no complaining on her part, in fact, she refused to talk about it.
But the frivolity of the day had been changed forever. I attempted to block out the “what if’s” in my mind, but they persisted. The potential for severe injury was but one breath away. As the driver, it was MY responsibility to make sure all the passengers were safe. It was a devastating feeling to realize that in a millisecond, someone could have been severely hurt.
I looked up towards the blue, cloudless sky and thanked the angels for this gut-wrenching lesson.
Let us not be maudlin, but the take away lesson is HUGE! Whenever anyone in the car needs to take off their seat belt, I implore you to drive to the shoulder of the road FIRST. It does not matter if you are in a parking lot or on a freeway. One tiny act of carelessness can alter your life forever.
Forget the argument of how many years you’ve lived without using seat belts. In our fast-paced world, a few extra seconds can save a myriad of grief.
Your comments mean a lot to me. Are you ready to buckle up?