Seat Belt Experience

Last week I shared the touchy and pathetic story of the man who lost his ten-year-old daughter due to failure to use seat belt. An excerpt read thus,’’ sir, I killed my own daughter, my Jewel. It was my entire fault. She could have been alive today if I had insisted that she buckles up at the rear just like her mother and I did in the front seat. His self-confession hit me real deep beneath my cord. I barely managed to hold tears rolling down my cheek for fear that I might further break him down. I don’t have a daughter but I do have sons whom, like every parent I love dearly with my whole life.

I know the pain of losing a loved one; the kind of pain I felt when I lost my parents and brother; I therefore can imagine the pain of losing your cherished daughter through your own fault. I listened captivated as he went on explaining how they set out on a journey to Ekiti from where they were billed to travel to Lagos for a United Kingdom Visa. But every dream was cut short along this busy corridor where as they were driving at a speed he couldn’t tell; there was a tyre burst and the car somersaulted several time and threw his pearl off. When the car finally came to a stop, he told me, he came out and rushed to his daughter; Pamela who had sustained severe head injuries and died immediately.

Although, he continued his journey after, but it was without his ten-year-old daughter who from our few minutes’ discussion, he cherished and loved dearly. The second leg of the journey was done with him seated as a passenger as he was too heartbroken to drive. As they set out in a vehicle driven by his friend’s driver, all my thoughts were on the trauma and pain and regrets he will go through for years. How does a father forgive himself for causing the death of his lovely daughter? It will take only God to heal his wounds and make him live again for his other children if there are others and other members of his family.

But as I ponder on this tragedy, the question I keep asking is why do parents toy with the safety and life of their wards? Why do parents drive above the speed limit when they have precious family members with them? I say so because I know that Pamela could have been alive maybe with some bruises or fractures if only the speed at which the vehicle was going was common sense speed based on the high traffic volume, and the fact that every family member was in that vehicle? I pray that other parents who read though this piece will pause and ponder on how safety conscious they truly are especially when driving with their family in the vehicle. They should equally ask themselves why they play lip service to the use of seat belt by both front and rear seat passenger including the use of child restraints for children below twelve years.

Some years ago, a very senior colleague of mine told me a pathetic story of a friend of his who died as a result of a brief error in judgement towards the seat-belt use. According to his story, his friend had gone out with a girlfriend on a certain Friday night. After some drinks, it was time to leave, and the friend obviously thought, and probably spoke it out loud, ‘well, it’s a Friday night, no pestering law enforcement agent on the road to jaw-jaw on seat-belt.’ Note that this man had hitherto been known to be highly compliant to the practice of belting up. But, unfortunately, this particular Friday took a different turn. Even when his girlfriend advised him to use his belt, the man refused. And so, tipsy, (outright drunk?) he engaged gear and drove off. But the girlfriend, smart girl, decided to use her own seat belt. And that’s probably why she’s still alive. Because on approaching the big round-about by the Area 1 Junction in the FCT, the man had a crash and died. The girlfriend was alive to tell the story of what had transpired.

Tie this to another story involving a colleague’s brother-in-law, who is a military Officer. He had just rounded up from a late night assignment, and, obviously fatigued and sleepy, was driving home without using his seatbelt.

On his way, somewhere in Lagos, he lost control, ran into a pavement, bounced back to hit a stationary vehicle, which acted as a wedge to finally stop him. But not before the force had snapped his head forward to crash into the windscreen, with his chest hitting the steering. Fortunately, he is still alive to tell the story by himself.

There are so many others, people we know, some of them dead, some of them alive to tell the story by themselves, some with life scaring injuries, some of them drivers, some of them passengers. The deaths, or severity of injuries, could have been avoided if only they had worn their seatbelts. Seat belts save lives. It can’t be put simpler than that. Seatbelts have been adjudged to be the most effective traffic safety device for the prevention of death and injury in the event of a crash. Wearing a seat belt can reduce risk of crash injuries by fifty percent, according to the Global National Safety Council.

In Nigeria, when the issue of seatbelt is raised, our minds immediately run to front seat occupants. It is a general consensus that seatbelts are basically for those in front. Come to think of it, it has been a widely-held belief that seatbelt use is just a necessary nuisance to avoid the greater nuisance of been stopped by an over-zealous Road Safety Official. But that is a far cry from the truth.

A seatbelt is designed to protect the occupants of a vehicle against any dangerous movement in the event of a crash or sudden stop. A seatbelt reduces the severity or even the possibility of an injury in a crash by preventing the occupants from colliding with interior elements of the vehicle or other passengers. It keeps occupants positioned correctly for maximum safety, and prevents them from being ejected from the vehicle.

Statistics from traffic management agencies and groups in developed countries reveal percentage of severity of injuries of deaths resulting from non-use of seatbelts in the event of a crash or a sudden stop. In the United Kingdom, a quarter of people who died in crashes in 2017, were not wearing a seatbelt.

The report shows that despite wearing rates of 98.6percent for car drivers, 27percent of those who died in cars on the roads in 2017 were not wearing a seatbelt. This amounts to more than 200 deaths; an additional 1,000 people were seriously injured.

Robert Gifford, of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety charity, said seatbelts had saved 35,000 lives in the UK during the last 25 years although there are concerns that usage is waning.

The story is similar in the United States where the national use rate was 90.7percent in 2019. Seat belt usage in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017.Of the 37,133 people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, 47% were not wearing seat belts. In 2017 alone, seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives and could have saved an additional 2,549 people if they had been wearing seat belts. In the province of Ontario, Canada, 42 people who were not wearing seatbelts died in 2015 compared to 34 2014 in the same time frame.

Always remember that there are consequences for not wearing, or improperly wearing, a seat belt; buckling up helps keep you safe and secure inside your vehicle, whereas not buckling up can result in being ejected from the vehicle in a crash. It should be noted that airbags are not enough to protect you; in fact, the force of an air bag can seriously injure or even kill you if you are not buckled up. Secondly, improperly wearing a seat belt such as putting the strap below your arm puts you at greater risk in a crash. Nigeria may not have the sophisticated data bank on this as at today, as the afore-mentioned countries, but fact remains that deaths and permanent injuries are occurring due to non-use of seat belts.

Since January, 1st, 2003, when the Federal Road Safety Corps launched enforcement on the use of the seat belt nationwide seat belt usage has become a norm. Although, the initial focus was on front seat occupants the Corps has since extended usage to all occupants of a vehicles in keeping with increased risk factors associated with non-use. Thus, the advantages of seatbelt use for ALL occupants of the vehicle cannot be over-emphasized.

The following is a piece I culled from a safety article from the Oklahoma State University, and I’d like to present it just as it was written: Imagine running as fast as you can – into a wall. You’d expect to get pretty banged up. Do you think you could stop yourself if the wall suddenly loomed up when you were two feet away from it? This is exactly the situation you face when the front of your car hits something at only 15 miles an hour. The car stops in the first tenth of a second, but you keep on at the same rate you were going in the car until something stops you – the steering wheel, dashboard or windshield – if you’re not wearing your safety belt… Bad enough at 15 miles an hour, but at 30 miles you hit “the wall” four times as hard as you would at 15. Or to put it another way, with the same impact you’d feel as if you fell three stories.

A properly worn safety belt keeps that second collision – the human collision – from happening. Quite revealing and frightening, you might say. Now, the reasons I hear people give for not using seatbelt is also quite revealing and interesting. They go like this: “I can’t have a crash, I’m a good driver”. But a bad driver could crash into you. Or you could have a sudden stop. “They’re so uncomfortable”. Wouldn’t you rather be uncomfortable than be endangered? “The belt will trap me”. Little chance of that happening. And the best place to be during a crash is in your car. If you’re thrown out of a car, you’re 25 times more likely to die. And if you need to get out in a hurry, in the event of fire or other danger, you stand a better chance of doing that when you’re conscious and not knocked out inside the car.