Archive for Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Click it” better seatbelt option

May 28, 2008

Seatbelts and me - we go way back.

A few weeks ago, Basehor Police Chief Lloyd Martley and I were talking about the Click it or Ticket campaign, where officers take time around Memorial Day weekend to strictly enforce seatbelt laws, and it made me think of the kindredship I've developed with seatbelts.

They were always a must in the car when I was growing up. My dad would annoy me into buckling up by tapping on the brakes repeatedly, giving me miniature whiplash, until he heard the familiar click.

Dad's method mixed with Mom's more straightforward approach of "you will go through the windshield" always got me to grudgingly put the thing on, but I never understood why I had to wear it.

I remember drivers' education working the use of seatbelts into the curriculum as if drivers had no choice in the matter and the vehicle literally wouldn't start unless the driver and passengers had their seatbelts fastened.

Although I've always been a seatbelt wearer by default, it didn't become a personal campaign of mine until I was standing next to my totaled car on Interstate 70 about two years ago.

My friend Whitney and I decided to brave a monsoon to make our way to Manhattan for a little post-college partying one weekend. She led the caravan because she was staying an extra day; I followed behind in my car.

Right before we reached the first tollbooth on I-70, I remember thinking, as I squinted through the soaking rain, that this was the kind of weather that caused wrecks and I let up on the accelerator. Just then, I felt my wheels start to slip.

In a split second, the car reeled uncontrollably across both lanes of traffic and slammed head-on into the cement divider. I braced myself against the steering wheel as the car continued to spin. I found myself facing the wrong way on the shoulder with both airbags deployed and the inside of my car in complete disarray. The glove box had popped open, scattering miscellaneous papers everywhere, my cell phone had flown off into oblivion and the drink that was once in the cup holder was now splattered on the car's ceiling.

While it was better than having a large, steering wheel-shaped bruise on my forehead, I could have done without the violent punch to the face from the airbag, especially because I reached up to touch my raw face and discovered I was bleeding from the nose. It sent me into hysterics.

I thought, great, my car is smashed, I'm bleeding, my face is broken and : wait : what's that smell? Oh God! The car is on fire!

While I was just smelling the cloud of chemicals the airbags released, in my frantic state, I was convinced the car was on fire and about to blow up at any second. I immediately began to kick the crumpled driver's side door ferociously and managed to wiggle out of the tiny crack it would allow.

Scampering to the shoulder, I saw a worried Whitney running up the side of the highway toward me. The uncharacteristic bear hug she wrapped me in told me it looked almost as scary from the outside as it did from the inside. Magically, the Kansas Highway Patrol appeared and soon we were sitting in the shelter of the cruiser, seatbelts fastened of course. As I sat, staring at my mangled car, trying to fight the overwhelming urge to throw up, Whitney's hand appeared from the back seat and slapped a junior deputy police badge sticker on my shoulder.

I laughed. It was just what I needed to snap me out of my pitiful state.

My pro-seatbelt campaign began that night in Manhattan. We wore the badges throughout Aggieville and told the tale over and over again. I figured I needed a night out before facing the inevitable post-accident horrors that awaited me.

And oh the horrors - the wads of cash I had to come up with, dealing with the insurance company, the money, trying to figure out how I was going to get to work, fighting with the most incompetent car salesman that ever lived and did I mention the insane expense?

But, after all, the hassle and the money were worth the absence of a much grimmer fate.

The accident opened the door to a plethora of lessons, including the importance of maintaining the quality of tires on your vehicle, slowing down when driving in bad weather to avoid hydroplaning, choosing your car dealership wisely and, above all, wearing your seatbelt. My ordeal left me with a few burns, bruises and a freakishly neurotic fear of driving in the rain, but at least I'm still around to annoy people with the aforementioned neurosis.

The necessity of a campaign like Click It or Ticket is frightening because it's beyond me why anybody would choose not to wear a seatbelt. It's just such a simple thing and the consequences of not wearing one are far greater than a ticket.

Drive safely and buckle up.


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