by Scott Uhl
She was 14 and finishing her freshman year at Olathe North High School and asked to go for a ride with a couple of friends. Her parents reluctantly agreed fearing for her general safety with an unknown driver but wanting to give her the freedom all teenagers crave. Her father talked to the driver and told him to deliver his daughter safely back home. He agreed and away they went.
Thirty minutes later the lights flashed at home; unknown to the family, the electric disruption was caused by the impact of the boy’s SUV hitting a power pole one mile from Kelsey’s home. The driver and the front seat passenger walked away from the accident with minor injuries. However, Kelsey was not wearing her seatbelt and was tossed around in the back of the SUV.
Kelsey died at the scene still in the vehicle. Maybe Kelsey wanted to be more involved with the conversation and was leaning on the back of the front seat to better hear the conversation. We will never know why Kelsey chose not to put on her seatbelt as she normally did. There is not a day that goes by that her parents don’t reflect on Kelsey and how much they miss her.
Obviously Kelsey’s family and friends instinctively wear their seatbelts because they’ve developed good habits, are required by their job, or are acutely aware of what could happen if they don't wear one. However, our society, as a whole, doesn’t have these incentives. How do we encourage a change so the majority instinctively put on their seatbelts so they don’t have to go through a traumatic loss of a family member to learn this important lesson?
I’ve noticed one built-in feature in newer vehicles that works for those who still do not wear their seatbelts. This simple but effective mechanism is the automatic alarm when seatbelts are not worn. It reminds me often.
Buckle up and drive careful. We have loved ones at home who want to see us tonight.
Scott Uhl is the Topeka chapter director for the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers.