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.
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.