Mowing down psychological tall grass and tangled weeds; clearing the field and planting new seeds. Thoughts lifted from my angry days, when someone asks my opinion and then denies it. If I tell you my favorite color, who else would have the "right" answer? Challenge it, oppose if you must, but to correct it is to erase my existence. If we all had the same thoughts, there would be no need for democracy. Cogito Ergo Sum.


“I don’t need to wear a seat belt. I have an airbag.”

“I don’t need to wear a seat belt - I have an airbag.” I was involved in a T-bone collision with a full size pickup truck. I had the brakes applied, anti-lock was working on dry pavement and had brought it down from 40 to about 15 miles per hour, while driving a 1998 Saturn SL-1. My girlfriend at the time was in the passenger seat; her 3 year old son was in a car seat in the back. All three of us wore seatbelts. We all walked away with minor injuries.

My injury was to the wrist as somehow the airbag deployment snapped it backwards and stretched my tendons. My girlfriend saw the impending collision and turned to see her son in the back seat, so when the airbag deployed, the airbag bounced her heat into the A-pillar of the car and she had a minor concussion. The child in the back seat bit his lip, as the type of car seat he had consisted of a padded bar that went across his lap, with no shoulder belt.

But we all walked away under our own power. The kid was giggling and asking to “ride again”.

When we went to the body shop to retrieve personal effects from our car, we took pictures of our car for archival purposes. The receptionist at the body shop gave the photo below of another car in the lot near mine. There are a few things of particular importance to me:

This is a 2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse, (Go ahead, ask me how I know) and since the photo was taken late in 1999, it’s obvious this car didn’t survive more than a few months in the hands of it’s owner before it was wrecked. It appears to be a sideways glance into a guard rail or other vehicle, indicating loss of control for one or another reason. Now look at the windshield. Notice the characteristic starburst where a human head makes contact with laminated safety glass. Auto glass is actually two plates of glass formed under vacuum and high temperature with a plastic film between them. This obviously can’t keep the glass from shattering, but it does help all those little pieces from flying so freely as they normally would.

But the airbag can clearly be seen as the white mound on top of the dashboard. It is clear that whoever thought the airbag would substitute for a seatbelt found out by experiment that the inertia of a human body will vault it right over the airbag until that body finds some other force strong enough to stop it. The only real question I wish I could ask of the occupant of that seat is if they wear a seatbelt now.

There is another image that I carry only in my mind, as I had no camera at the time. But twenty years later it is still vivid. A friend I met my sophomore year in college was involved in a collision and we made a similar trip to a junkyard to take the stereo out of her car. Next to it in the junkyard was a full-size Chevrolet van, vintage 1980. A similar starburst was visible in the passenger-side windshield, of course minus any evidence of an airbag as there were none available in vans of that era. But what I can’t erase from my mind is the shape of the web of cracks: there were two centers where the radial cracks started and spread outward, one larger than the other in the center of the left side of the windshield, and a smaller radial set of cracks just below it and a bit towards the outside of the van.

If you don’t have the same mental image now that I have, what I see is a small child in the lap of an adult, the adult so convinced that he or she could protect the child from harm just by holding it, both being thrown head-first into the glass when the adult was proven wrong. I don’t want to know the truth about that particular collision because I choose to believe that somehow the child survived. Typically in such cases the adult does live, since their impact with the dash and the windshield was ‘cushioned’ by the softer child in front of them, and of course the child’s impact is compounded by having the additional force of an adult that weighs five to ten times as much as they do forcing them into the dashboard and windshield. It is images like this that fill me with rage when I see children in other cars who are not buckled into safety seats or even wearing a seat belt at all.

There is another pathetic footnote to this story. The child in my car was not mine; he belonged to my girlfriend and after a nice Christmas celebration we were driving him back to his father’s house. His father was mentally retarded and lived with his parents and two brothers who were also affected. They arrived at the hospital in their own car while we were being transported by ambulance, and two things happened that day which also make me cringe with disbelief whenever I recall them.

There is always so much mayhem and confusion in an emergency room, at least from the patient’s point of view. Add to that a family of people who are less than remarkable themselves, and it adds considerably to the hysteria. The child only had a small cut to his lower lip and was still in good spirits as he still thought all the excitement still must be some sort of celebration. But his father and his two brothers were all milling around telling stories and his parents (the grandparents of the boy) were quiet but confused. The nurses brought a clipboard of papers into the emergency room, asked who was responsible for the child, and the father raised his hand. The nurse told him where to sign in about seven places and he lazily scribbled his name where instructed, and then picked up the child and told everyone it was time to go home, which they did.

Now I was told this is what happened by a nurse, because I was with my girlfriend who had been taken for skull X-rays. Imagine our shock when we returned to the ER and we were met by half a dozen panicked nurses who were asking us where the child was. We said we didn’t know, but placed a call to the father’s house and of course that’s where everyone was. When we told the grandmother that all of those papers the father had signed were not a release form but granting permission for the doctors to examine the child – which none ever had – and that he needed to bring the child immediately back to the hospital, she said, “Oh, he’s fine. We’re staying right here.” I went to the house and took the child back to the hospital later that night, with everyone at the father’s house oblivious to the legal implications of what they had done and still berating me it was a waste of my time.

Now keep that thought in the back of your head for later.

That’s not the worst part of this story. The boy’s car seat was obviously still in my car, which was somewhere on it’s way to or already at the body shop at that point. But despite the fact that the father normally had custody of the child (both legally and physically) they had two cars but only one child seat. And of course on that day the car they took to the hospital was not the one with the child seat in it. You’ve figured this out now, I’m sure: only two hours after being in a car accident, the same child who survived a collision because he was buckled into a safety seat was taken home from the hospital in a car without a car seat and not wearing a seat belt. How do I know he wasn’t even wearing a seat belt? Because his father had jammed quarters into the seat belt buckles to keep that light on the dashboard from coming on and that buzzer from annoying them when they drive.

Do you still want to tell me that I’m not supposed to get upset about things like this?


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