One news item that caught my eye last week was that nationally more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies would be stepping up enforcement of seat-belt laws during the busy Thanksgiving travel weekend.
I always say, "Right on!" when I hear news like that, but this time the report took on extra special meaning for me.
Last week an airbag and three seat belts were all that stood between three people I love dearly and critical or even fatal injuries in a tragic collision. As they rolled, glass broke and metal twisted, they were kept relatively safely in the vehicle. Tools, papers and purchases from Wal-Mart flew and tumbled from the truck. A flashlight dug itself into the ground. But the only serious injuries were a badly split lip and imbedded glass that required surgery to remove. The 6-year-old received a bump on the head and a small cut on her leg from the seat belt. It could have been so much worse. They were all so lucky.
I've always insisted that my passengers, especially children passengers, wear seat belts. Our Kinship Partner was 8 years old when we first met him and greatly resisted. But he quickly learned that to spend time with us meant buckling up. Our three new kids also object from time to time to seat belts and car seats. My position remains unswayed.
When our children arrived, I researched the Minnesota car seat and seat belt laws. I learned that children under age 4 must be in an approved car seat, infants 20 pounds and under must be in a rear facing seat and all passengers in the front seat and all passengers under 11 must be correctly belted. Our 4-year-old uses a booster seat. An article printed in the Nov. 20 Brainerd Dispatch from the Los Angeles Times says, "Doctors and safety experts strongly recommended that parents use booster seats for 4- to 8-year-olds who have outgrown conventional child seats," and are too small to be effectively protected by adult seat belts.
According to an AP article published in The Dispatch on Oct. 19, 2002, about 80 percent of Minnesotans use a seat belt -- a 6 percent increase over last year. That's very impressive and much better than neighboring states like Wisconsin at 66.6 percent, South Dakota at 63.3 percent and North Dakota at only 57 percent.
However, a couple of recent fatal crashes in the Walker area -- one resulting in the death of two 15-year-olds and serious injury of another -- show that 80 percent isn't high enough.
As I sat in the parking lot at Fleet Farm in Brainerd Sunday I watched a man in his late 30s walk to his vehicle with his beautiful 8- or 9-year-old blonde daughter by his side. He unlocked the vehicle from the driver's side and they both climbed in front. I watched closely as neither of them fastened their seat belt. Instead they shared some edible treat and drove quickly away.
I hope their family doesn't learn the seat belt lesson the hard way. Instead I hope they live to read this article and learn from the tragedies and close calls of others.
(Diane McCormack is a correspondent for The Brainerd Dispatch and a freelance writer living in north central Minnesota. Comments and story ideas are welcome by e-mail to email@example.com or call (218) 821-5297.)
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