As a trained firefighter and EMT volunteering for our local fire department, in combination with my KDOT experience, I have seen how important safety measures can be in preventing more serious injuries from a vehicle collision.
In fact, I saw several examples all in one week about six years ago. First, I went to the scene of a violent accident at an intersection where two vehicles collided. Both vehicles were damaged, but the smaller vehicle’s nose was completely crushed. All the occupants were standing by their vehicles when we arrived. None of the occupants of the vehicles wanted medical attention or to go to the hospital. Even the lady in the smaller car denied medical assistance after we asked all the questions to see if she was making an informed decision. My favorite question is; “Mam were you wearing your seat belt?” Sure enough the answer was, “Yes.” I had to believe her as I would have expected much worse injuries without it.
A few days later, I arrived at another bad accident on Auburn Road. A large work truck rear ended a stopped turning car. The trunk with most the back seat was crushed in. Back seat un-survivable. I found the driver of the car standing next to her car. She had to climb out the window to get out. I noticed a small cut on her neck which I began treating. I asked all the questions such as, “What day is it?” And my favorite, “Were you wearing your seat belt?” She said, “Yes I always wear my seat belt.” I’m sure she was because if she wasn’t, the secondary thrust of the occupants in a rear end collision forward to the steering wheel or dash can cause severe injuries. This woman took much convincing to go to the hospital as she stated she felt fine. The thing that I think convinced her was the object that cut her neck was best guess the gas tank! With no question, the seat belt along with all the vehicle’s designed crush zones helped.
On Saturday night I went to another crash call and found a car had hit a guard rail. The rail slightly folded up nicely and the car looking like it had only bumper and grill damage. The guy inside was much different - bleeding from the head with bad neck injuries and the tell-tale spider web on the window where one has to bet his head hit, indicating no seat belt. The crack on windshield even wasn’t that bad, even the door opened on the car.
But, our patient wasn’t answering the questions well and with a slurred speech, which indicated a possible brain trauma. We had to put a lot of equipment on him - neck brace, back brace, and spine board - and rode emergent to the hospital.
I was already convinced seat belts are worth their weight in gold but this particular week put it indelibly in my mind. I have no illusions that seat belts can save everybody and that sometimes luck or divine intervention just brings people through incidents like this. But let’s hedge our bets and wear them knowing they make us safer.
If you don’t wear them for yourself, wear them for your passengers and loved ones. Believe me when I tell you that in some crashes, occupants in the vehicle roll around in there like pin balls and can hurt their friends and family in the seats around them. It has happened.
Not enough? Well, the first responders and many times KDOT employees remember these accidents, and the worst ones stick in our minds like it was yesterday. I for one don’t want to see any of you riding away in an ambulance, a helicopter, or God forbid, a hearse. Wear your seat belt and drive safely.
Roger Dahlby is an Engineer for KDOT and a Mission Township and Dover Fire Department First Responder