Buckle up, it could save your life

Published 10:53 pm Thursday, February 14, 2019

Driving down the highway the other day, I saw a billboard pushing the well-known “Click it or ticket” campaign run by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

This column is as much a reminder to me as it is to anyone reading this: seat belts really do save lives, and I should know this as well as anyone.

About eight years ago, I was working during the summer in maintenance at the high school I attended in Millbrook. My coworker was also one of my best friends, so we had stayed at his house near the school the night before hanging out and playing video games and he rode with me to start the day’s work.

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My tire needed air though, so I dropped him off and went to the nearest gas station where I knew they had free air.

Everything about the day so far seemed fairly normal and I was in a good mood. There was no sense of impending doom or any warning about what was about to happen.

As I cruised back down the highway, just a minute or two away from the school, an older man eased out in front of me on the highway to turn left.

I swerved into the left lane and stomped on the brake, but it was clear that I was not going to be able to go from 55 mph to 0 fast enough to avoid a collision. It’s strange how everything goes so fast and so slow all at once. I braced for impact and angled back toward the side of the highway as best as I could, and as I came up on his car, I clinched my eyes tight.

Everything changed in the moment of impact. I had no awareness of where my car was in relation to the road, or where his was. I remember the sudden change in air pressure as the windows blew out, the immediate smell of oil and coolant and all the chemicals that keep the engine running, the crunching of the hood and engine and then – silence.

I opened my eyes and found myself now on the side of the road. His vehicle was in the roadway, but I was still too in shock to think about the other car. I couldn’t feel my legs – couldn’t feel anything really – and I couldn’t see my legs as the dashboard had been pushed back into me. I was in an old Chevrolet S10 that had no airbags to stop me. I shifted and was able to see my legs still attached to my body; I tried to move my foot and saw it move just as expected.

As the shock began to wear off, I realized that I was all right. Someone soon came to help me and the police and ambulance were called. As I was checked out by the EMTs, we lifted my shirt and found a deep, long bruise across my chest from the sheer force of impact on the seat belt, but it had done it’s job.

There’s no way of knowing today what would have happened if I had not had my seat belt on. Would I have been ejected from the car? Would I have at least hit my head on the windshield? Probably.

All we can know for sure is that I was wearing my seat belt that day and it had done its job. The bruise it left me was more a reminder of why the belt is there than a scar.

As a reporter, I cover wrecks just like mine far too often, and sometimes they don’t have happy endings like mine did. Troopers also send me releases when there are fatal wrecks in the region. More often than not, the person killed was not wearing a seat belt.

In fact, in 2018 the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency reported 273 fatalities. Only 88 of those people were wearing seat belts out of 236 people whose vehicles had seat belts.

Seat belts won’t save your life in every wreck – I’ve seen plenty where it would not – but in other wrecks, it may be the difference between life and death.