Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

When I was a kid, cars didn’t have seat belts.  My Dad installed some and we thought they were a nuisance but I don’t have to listen to flight attendants, I know how to operate the buckle on a 1960-style seat belt. 
I remember when George Bush the Elder was running for President, Doonesbury made fun of his support for air bags, calling them over-regulation (Google the cartoon for May 9, 1980). 
I never used to think airbags and seat belts made much difference, I figured it was all a bunch of Ralph Nader hype. No longer.  I’m a believer.  My car is totaled but I walked away without a scratch (bruises, but no scratches).
Friday night about 9:45 pm, dark but clear skies and dry road, coming home from Wisconsin on Hwy 36, stopped for a red light at Century Avenue (the at-grade crossing just East of the snowman, the intersection with the Dairy Queen).  I was in the right lane, last in a line of cars, sitting behind a Chevy Trailblazer.  Wham!  I got hit from behind. Never saw it coming.  I don’t think I blacked out, but one moment I was looking at the truck ahead of me, the next moment there was no truck ahead of me and my car was slowly rolling toward the ditch, the windshield wiper was flapping, I could hear a car alarm behind me and smell smoke inside my car.  I got my car stopped in the right turn lane before it rolled into the ditch, shut off the wiper, turned on the flashers, and sat there for a few seconds to gather my wits.
A passer-by pulled his car over in front of me, ran back to my car, and helped me get out because we didn’t know if the smoke meant my car was on fire.  He helped me walk around the back of my car where I had to lay down on the edge of the road, my back hurt too much to stand.  The ambulance came, cops came, I went to Regions Hospital for X-rays, the car went to the tow company’s storage lot, my wife rescued me from the hospital.
I have a sore back, sore rib, bruises on my knees where they must have hit the dash, and a big rash on my left bicep where it must have scraped the airbag.  Oh yes, my airbags deployed (two of them, one in the steering wheel and one under the dash).  That’s the smoke I smelled – they use a powder charge to propel the bag.  No car fire.
The state trooper who gave me the PBT on the side of the road (I passed!) visited me at the hospital.  He said the kids in the car that struck me were 19 years old and did not pass the test (passenger was .08 and driver was .01).  They claimed the light was green, they were changing lanes, I was sitting in the road for no reason.  The trooper took one look at my car and laughed at them.  He said they never touched their brakes, no skid marks at all, they hit me at highway speed 55-60, and that’s why my trunk is all smashed in.  They hit me so hard, the garage door opener hanging on the visor came loose but by the time it started to fall, my car had already moved forward so far that the garage door opener ended up in the back seat.  The impact shoved my car into the back end of the Trailblazer hard enough to push my engine back a foot.
I asked the trooper if anybody else got hurt and he said no, the kids were fine and the guy in the Chevy ahead of me fled the scene.  Another passer-by followed him and got a license plate.  The trooper suspects that driver was drunk too, or uninsured, or had no license – some reason he didn’t want to talk to the cops.
There is no doubt in my mind the safety improvements built into my car saved me from serious injury.  I was searing my seat belt with shoulder harness which stopped me from hitting the windshield.  The driver’s headrest was properly adjusted to avoid whiplash.  The airbags kept me from hitting the steering wheel. The crumple zones designed into the car’s frame soaked up the impact on both front and back.
KIDS!  Wear your damned seat belts!
I’m stiff and sore but I’m going to be okay.  Going to get ready for church now.  Got a lot to be thankful for today.  Take good care, everybody.
Joe Doakes

I’m a believer.

54 years ago this coming Monday, my mom was driving me around Jamestown in my dad’s old Mercury. It was a two-door – and folding front seats didn’t have seat locks. The dashboard was all metal, except where it was even more metal. Seatbelts? Forget about ’em.

This was also long before car seats. And I was a squirmy toddler who was standing up on the passenger-side back seat…

…when Mom slammed on the brakes when someone ran a stop light.

I still fairly clearly remember sailing over the folding back seat and face-planting into the all-metal glove box. I’m less clear on remembering the stitches that followed – six, I think – but the scar is there over my right eye to remind me.

What Joe said. Wear your seat belts. And stay sober when you drive.

10 thoughts on “Conversion

  1. Thanks, Greg. It’s been a week and I’m still sore but still grateful to be here (less excited about dealing with hospital billing, insurance adjusters, rental car, blah, blah, blah). Truly, those are First World Problems and minor ones at that, compared to the alternative. Inconvenience, not tragedy.

    It’s ironic: Thursday evening, my wife and I signed the last papers to update our estate plan (Wills, Trusts, Health Care Directives, etc.); Friday morning, I dropped the originals in the safe deposit box at the bank; Friday evening, I nearly got a chance to use them. How’s that for timing?

    Kids! Finish your estate plan! You don’t know when you’re going to need it.

    Take good care, Greg . . .

  2. I was an intern for the Kansas DOT, and my project was to diagram and score auto accidents. 104 of them included fatalities. Of this 104, only two were wearing seatbelts.

    Let me state that another way, 98% of the fatalities did not wear seat belts.

    In a potentially fatal crash, seatbelts will save your life.

  3. I remember as a kid, my dad got and installed lap belts in our Studebaker Lark. He had to drill holes in the body in order to be able to anchor them into the frame.

    As a young adult, two incidents occurred within a couple months that made me return to religiously using the seat belts. In one, two of my coworkers were involved in a head-on collision (other vehicle’s driver was drunk) returning from an out of town engagement. Both were wearing their seatbelts. The passenger survived with I think just some severe bang-ups, a knee injury and perhaps a concussion. Unfortunately the driver was killed by her steering wheel. In the other, two coworkers were driving in town and got hit. Their car was totalled, but they walked away without any long-term injury. They were also wearing their belts. Before that I was an 80% user always on the hiway, but not always in town. After that, belt clicked before taking it out of park.

  4. And Joe, I am extremely happy that you are able to continue to comment here. Glad you are relatively OK.

  5. “The state trooper who gave me the PBT on the side of the road (I passed!) visited me at the hospital.”

    Right. To all outward appearance, you may have been an innocent victim, laying down on the shoulder of the road in pain, but job 1 is to collect evidence for your prosecution.

    I’d be very interested to know if that cops visit was prompted to gather a sample of your blood, Joe.

    Glad you made it out relatively unscathed.

  6. That’s funny, Swiftee, I had the same thought (I was a misdemeanor prosecutor for a decade, saw a lot of drunk driving cases). It’s weird being an old man injured when his car was rammed into, and a suspect in a possible DWI, at the same time. But hey, I wasn’t breaking the law (for a change) so sure, I’ll blow in the tube.

    It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I realized the trooper asked for my license and I told him to look in the car for my wallet. I wonder if he noticed the first three plastic cards in my wallet are my Driver’s License, Permit to Carry, and License to Practice Law? I doubt that would get me any special treatment, but it might enhance my credibility when I claim to be the law-abiding one in this incident.

  7. Swiftee, Joe: I don’t know about Minnesota laws, but you might be surprised at some of the other ones around as far as liability. Suppose you are driving down the highway and some idiot pulls out from a stop sign and you collide. The idiot’s fault, right? Not always. In WI, for example, if you were speeding you lose the right of way. Classic example not too long ago was a motorcycle doing 100 down the highway in a 40 mph zone. When the car pulled out from the stop sign he had plenty of room for someone doing 40, but not for someone on the motorcycle doing triple digits, and the initial charges for manslaughter were dropped with all the details were found.

    Besides, it’s the Metro. With all the lawyers and all the traffic scams is it any wonder the cop wanted to dot all the i’s and cross the t’s? I had a crash in FL where the guy tried to claim it was my fault. The cop laughed at him and asked him if he really wanted to tell that tale because the cop saw the whole thing — he was stationed in front of the courthouse, and the accident happened right in front of him, not 100′ away.

    Glad to hear you’re ok, though, Joe. These days a car is totaled when the airbags go off (price them sometime and you’ll see why), but at least you survive stuff now that would have been fatal when we were kids. It’s given me pause more than once when trying to decide how much to spend on a kid’s driver. A beater because they’ll likely crash it (hello daughter of mine), or something newer and safer because they’ll likely crash it?

  8. I’ve been a believer in seat belts since March 16, 1974, while I was in the Air Force in Grand Forks.

    I was in Minot, visiting a young lady that I met a few weeks before. While at a local watering hole, with three beers and a big, greasy bacon cheeseburger and about 3 pounds of fries in me, I ran into one of my squadron members, who was from Minot and came home for the weekend. He asked me what I was doing there, because I had been put on the Saturday duty roster on Friday afternoon, after I left. Someone dropped the ball, but I had to hit the road, so at just after 12:30 a.m., I grabbed a big cup of coffee to go, then headed out on Highway 2, in my 1967 Mustang.

    Those late 60s vehicles had separate lap and shoulder belts. I usually just used my lap belt, but realizing the situation, I also buckled my shoulder belt.

    I remember seeing the lights of GFAFB in the distance, a loud clunk, the right front of the car dropping down, the car heading for the ditch, then starting to roll.

    The next thing I remember was a flash light beam in my face and the man holding it shouting “Sir! Are you hurt?!” I think I remember tasting blood in my mouth.

    After I collected my wits, I realized that it was a ND State Trooper. Turns out that he was behind me about a mile and saw my lights off flashing on and off as I rolled, (at least five times he estimated) across a half frozen potato field. While I was being treated at the base hospital, he told me that he when he reached the car, he was surprised to see me alive and in fact, when he radioed the accident in, he told the dispatcher that there was at least one fatality. Apparently, a tie rod end had broken at about 50 mph ( I wasn’t speeding) and the combination of the belts, but he said the shoulder belt, saved my life. I had a busted lip and very sore body, but as Joe said, “minor inconveniences, considering the alternative”. I reported for duty at 7:30 a.m. but the duty officer sent me home.

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