A few weeks ago, my wife and I made the trek to a local ice cream parlor after seeing a movie and walking out into a warm evening. What happened there was deeply disturbing, yet an everyday occurrence.
Sitting on the sidewalk at one of the tables, I noticed a carload of teenagers pull up and hop out for ice cream. The overhead store lights afforded an excellent view of the interior, and not one of them wore a seat belt. The teenage girls were tanned and attractive, and focused on walking with just the right step, while their dates were handsome and full of summertime mirth. After they had passed, our group discussed seat belts in general and wondered why kids around here seem to shun seat belts so uniformly.
Just then, four adults in their 40s pulled up without seat belts and got out, talking excitedly about a movie they had just watched. Seeing a pattern, I began counting cars and seat-belt users out of the corner of my eye. I counted six cars carrying a total of 18 passengers before the first belted person pulled up. About this time, the teenagers got back into their car to listen to music and finish their ice cream. Not one took the few seconds needed to pull on a belt.
Now, I admit that I come from a background that makes seat belts a ritual. My five siblings and I spent a childhood summer touring state fairs in Ohio demonstrating custom seat belt harnesses with our mother. She worked diligently on her own time toward seat-belt legislation before it was popular and received a commendation from the governor when some of the earliest child seat-belt legislation in the country was passed. I also helped design several cars, including the popular Lexus model, and the not-sopopular Buick Reatta.
A young couple walked out of the ice cream store with an infant, spent several minutes carefully buckling him into the child seat in the back, then hopped in and zipped away unbuckled. What’s the point of keeping Junior safe if you may not be there to watch him grow up, I thought to myself. I had now counted 14 cars carrying more than 30 people and only five wore seat belts. They were all ages and backgrounds. Some were in hip new Cherokees, others in rusty pickups and everything in between. My final count was 19 cars carrying 54 people, and only 12 wore their seat belts.
It is no secret that North Idaho has had several tragic accidents lately involving young drivers. I nosed around a little and found that in many cases, these kids were not wearing seat belts. I also logged on the Internet and went to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis web site to find recent numbers showing 72.1 percent of Idaho fatalities were not wearing seat belts, vs. a national average of 60.1 percent.
What does all this mean? Well, my 30-minute ice cream store survey was anything but scientific, and everyone knows that the government can pretty much make numbers say whatever they want. But recent tragedies in North Idaho bring these numbers into clearer focus. We’ve heard all the cutesy slogans and seen the signs reminding drivers to put on their belts, but they are clearly not working with our younger drivers.
Perhaps seat belts are not macho enough for young testosterone-laden male drivers. Ha. Guys like Richard Petty and Mario Andretti seem to think being properly belted is macho. Maybe you’ve seen the launch scene in the new movie “Apollo 13” where someone actually stands on Tom Hanks’ shoulder to get his belt tight enough?
As we left the ice cream store, that carload of teenagers roared off into the night, leaving me with a last glimpse of tanned young bodies. Whose daughters were those, I wondered, and what would they look like if misfortune came their way on tonight’s freeway?
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