Monday, August 21, 2006

“SEATBELTS … so we can be safe!”

Have you ever seen a skull cracked open with the brain showing inside? I did.

My apologies for being so graphic, but I feel that I have to be to grab your attention. You see, that was a life-changing moment for me. No, not the earth-shaking kind though. Nevertheless, it changed the way I think about certain things. For instance, I started buckling up that very same day. Until now, I still do, even if it is only for take the seven-minute drive to and from my daughter’s school.

The passing of the law prescribing the use of seat belts barely created a ripple in that area of my consciousness labeled “safety measures while driving”. It was more like an irritating thorn that became a bother whenever I had the car registration renewed. In my narrow-mindedness, I thought of drivers wearing seat belts as balikbayan show-offs who wanted everybody to see how sophisticated they have become, having embraced the practices of the western cultures.

Then came that fateful Easter Sunday three years ago. My uncle had a fatal accident in km.13 of that infamous stretch we all know as Lala-an (San Jose). His head hit the windshield … you know the rest of the story.

I could not help but think that had he been wearing his seat belt, he would have survived that accident. His belt would have prevented his head from smashing into the windshield.

Of course, these are merely conjectures on my part, but being the natural-born praning that I am, I decided not to take any more chances and I started buckling up, with “Dora, The Explorer’s” unforgettable line: “seat belts…so we can be safe!” repeating itself over and over in my mind.

Have you ever considered this? Why do we find it so natural and indisputable to fasten our seat belts when we take the plane? Of course, we are required to do so by the pilot. I do not really know what will happen if we refuse to comply. Most likely, we will be escorted out and the plane will leave without us. But more than that, I think that when we are flying (contrary to driving), we are more aware of the risk of a possible accident. Many of us are apprehensive and fastening that belt gives us a little confidence, as if that belt could actually save us if God forbid we would be in a serious one.

So how about when we are driving? No need for seat belts? After all, we are the best and most careful drivers, are we not? Right? Wrong. Plane crashes are very, very rare compared to vehicular accidents. And if it happens? In most cases, seat belts can do nothing or very little for our survival. Only in the car crash situation can the seat belt truly deserve to be called "safety" belt.

I did a little research and these are what I came up with. Most of these are US/Australian data, but I guess they apply to us as well.

First, let us examine the seatbelt myths.

It is only a short trip so I do not need to wear it.
WRONG. Most road crashes occur within 10 kilometers from home, so it is very important to buckle up even on a short trip.

I do not need a seat belt because I do not travel very fast.
WRONG. A crash at 40km/h has the same impact as falling from a two-storey building into concrete! And 80% of traffic accidents occur at speeds under 65km/h.

The back seat is safer.
WRONG. Research shows that the back seat is no safer than the front seat if you are not wearing a seat belt.

It is not my concern if my passenger does not wear a seat belt.
WRONG. In a crash, an unrestrained passenger is a lethal weapon capable of killing or seriously injuring others in the car when he slams into them at high speed.

Seat belt will harm the baby of a pregnant woman.
WRONG. A seat belt worn around the pelvis will not harm the fetus. Instead, it will protect both mother and unborn child.

Here are tips for correctly and comfortably wearing a seat belt when you are pregnant:

(a) Place the lap sash part of the belt under the bulge, as low as possible. The lap part of the seat belt should sit over the upper thighs and not across the bulge.

(b) You may be able to adjust the angle of the seat belt by using a seat belt locator.

(c) Place the sash part of the belt in between your breasts.

Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest and most effective ways of protecting ourselves as driver or passenger in a car. Seat belts decrease the time it takes for a car occupant to come to a stop on impact. Furthermore, it spreads the impact force over a greater area of the body; minimizes contact with the interior of the vehicle; and it prevents the person from being thrown outside the car. The chance of being killed is 25% more if one is thrown out.

Car accidents are the leading cause of death and disability in the US. Traffic accidents kill about 50,000 Americans every year and seriously injure 3.5 million more. About 65% of traffic fatalities could have been prevented if everyone buckled up.

In Australia, 33% of those killed and 20% of those seriously injured were not wearing seat belts.

World-wide, seat belts reduce the chance of injury or death in a vehicular collision by 10% to 80%, depending on the type of collision (near-side impact, rollover, head-on, etc.).

That driving is one of the most dangerous activities we engage in is an undeniable fact. No matter how careful we are as drivers, there is still that risk that a careless driver will crash into us. In fact, there is one in three chance (33%) that we will be seriously injured in a car crash in a lifetime of driving.

Seat belts, then, offer the best protection against injury and increase our chances of surviving an accident. Buckling up is very easy you know. It takes only about six seconds to do it. They are not uncomfortable. They are designed to give with the body, and they help prevent slouching, thereby reducing fatigue. Furthermore, they are designed to allow us to move freely in our seats until there is a sudden stop and they lock into place. And they are definitely not too much trouble! Taking the extra time could save our lives! More often than not, seat belts will keep us conscious after a collision, so we are more likely able to get out of the car, which is a great advantage if the car is in the water or on fire. Not wearing the seat belt during a collision means that we will probably be rendered unconscious.

So how about our children? Should they be wearing seat belts as well?

Here is where I have been amiss as far as securing my daughter’s safety inside a car is concerned. The only precaution I have taken was not allowing her in the front seat, even when I was there myself and she is seated on my lap. My worry was the risk of her face hitting the dashboard in case my husband would have to apply the brakes abruptly.

But having learned what I have from my research, I realize now that seating her at the back is not nearly enough. I usually drive at 40km/h (when I am not in a hurry), and from our discussion here, we now know how much impact could be delivered in a collision at that speed alone!

So how about if somebody in the backseat (who is wearing the belt) will hold our children tightly in their arms? This is what I learned from my research.

In a collision, your car can stop so rapidly that it experiences a sudden deceleration of say, 30g. In plain English, everything becomes 30 times heavier. If you are holding a 10-kg infant on your lap, he would suddenly weigh 300 kilograms! That is the weight of four or five washing machines! You could not hang onto that many washing machines in a slow lift - and most certainly not in a sudden jerk! As a result, the infant goes flying out of your arms to smash into the windshield! Under 30g, the average 70 kg person suddenly weighs about 2,100 kg. Your arms simply cannot support that enormous weight, especially if it is applied suddenly.

Can this truly happen? Yes, my dear reader, it can and it already did. When my uncle had that accident, his grandson, Rusty, was also killed. He was cradled by his yaya when the tire burst and their Tamaraw FX crashed into a post. Rusty went flying into the windshield. He died from severe head injuries. He was only 5 months old.

I hope that knowing these facts now will prompt us into doing some serious thinking next time we enter our cars, especially when our loved ones are with us.

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