A few weeks ago, I pulled the car over and turned off the engine. I had been making a couple of errands and was driving home when I rounded a corner and narrowly missed hitting a large deer that had darted across the road. I let out a sigh and tried to catch my breath. The deer had huge antlers — and in my haste, I couldn’t tell how many points it had on its rack but could easily imagine how much damage it would have caused to my car if we had collided.
I was lucky. I said a quick prayer thanking God that I was able to avoid the accident. I thanked him too that I had been wearing my seat belt. If I had hit the deer, I may have still been injured, but I liked my chances better with the seat belt.
When I was ready to start up again, I adjusted my seat belt and pulled out.
Seat belts have come a long way. When I was a kid, no one wore seat belts. My parents didn’t, my neighbors didn’t, no one did. The coach who I used to catch a ride with to my little league baseball or pee wee football games didn’t wear one either and certainly didn’t require us kids to wear one.
Heck, as a very young child, I remember going with my mom to pick up my dad, after his 11 p.m. shift at the steel plant where he worked, and I would lie on the back seat. If I was really tired, I would climb up to the back window and look up at the stars. God forbid, if my mom had to make a quick stop, I would have went flying.
As late as 1983, fewer than 15% of Americans told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that they consistently used seat belts. They just weren’t a part of our daily habits.
Change happens one person at a time
Seat belt laws in the United States are left to the states and territories. Most states started mandating front-seat passengers wear seat belts in the mid 80s. New York started the trend and many other states soon followed.
Many folks opposed the mandatory belt laws. However, as my generation started to drive, we were the first to start wearing them. I remember encouraging my mom and dad to start wearing theirs when they got in the car.
I don’t go anywhere now without my seat belt. I unclicked mine momentarily last week so that I could lean out my window to grab a coffee from a fast food window and it felt strange. I must not be the only one. Seat belt use varies across the 50 States, but AAA estimates that 90% of drivers wear seat belts nationwide.
The consequences are real
Seat belts usage has increased because most people see the difference. Of the 23,824 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2020, 51% were not wearing seat belts. What’s more, seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives and could have saved an additional 2,549 people if they had been wearing seat belts, in 2017 alone.
So, yea, I wear mine now without a second thought. Change really does start with one person at a time.