Monday, 25 November 2019

Seat belts

Let's face it, seat belts are a good idea. This statement is in no way controversial, and all who try to argue against it aren't just "expressing an opinion" or "arguing the other side", they are just plain fucking wrong. Seat belts were designed to keep you safely in the car in the event of a crash rather than getting blasted through a window to land on a fence post, over a guardrail down an embankment, or into oncoming traffic. They are a Very Good Idea that have been implemented spectacularly well all over the world (mostly) (fuck you, New Hampshire).

As simple and effective as they are, I can not believe that there are people living and driving today who still don't put them on, but there are. And because these people exist, I get to take care of them.

And then I get to write about them when they are inevitably injured much more severely than they should have been.

Judy (not her real name™) and her husband Mickey (not his real name™) decided to take a break from their door-to-door Xanax business and take a little drive. Now before I continue, please go back and read that last sentence again. I'll wait right here.

*pleasing hold music, but not the boring twaddle you hear while on hold on the phone*

You're back? Excellent hold music, right? Anyway, I assume you read it back at least twice, because I know I sure did, and I wrote the damned thing. Yes, Judy and Mickey had a little neighbourhood benzodiazepine business. They literally went door to door asking their friends and neighbours if they wanted any pills. Where they got these pills is anyone's guess, but I have to assume business was booming because the police officer who came with them described their stash as a "large grocery bag full".

In case you thought that was stupid, what made it even stupider (yes, that's a word) is that they dipped into their own cache and then mixed the pills with alcohol.

And what made it even stupider is that on their break they decided to go for a little drive while drunk and stoned out of their minds.

And what made it even stupider was then choosing to engage in a street race while stoned out of their minds.

And then what made it the stupidest (yes, that's also actually a word) is that they failed to put on their seat belts.

Ironically I can't even fault them for not putting their seat belts on, because they were both too drunk/stoned to keep their eyes open let alone perform a complex task such as inserting tab A into slot B. How Mickey managed to navigate the controls of a motor vehicle is one of life's great mysteries. Regardless, engage in a street race they did, and I believe it is a safe assumption that they lost. Crashing into a bridge abutment at 120 kph (75 mph) in a 50 kph (30 mph) zone will usually lose you any race fairly instantaneously, unless the objective of the race was to see who dies the fastest (or tries, at least).

And because Judy and Mickey were not wearing their seat belts, both were ejected from the car, far, far away from all the various safety mechanisms that had been designed, extensively tested, and installed specifically to protect them. Mickey was thrown through the windscreen, presumably striking his head and/or neck on the bridge or the ground or a tree or it doesn't really fucking matter what. Judy was partially ejected through the passenger window, bending her lower spine at a rather awkward angle.

Both of them were awake when they arrived in the trauma bay. Neither was moving.

"Hey trauma team, this is Mickey and Judy. He's 50, she's 35. They were in a street race, high speed, struck a bridge. He was ejected, not moving anything below the neck. She was partially ejected, moving her arms but not her legs. Doesn't look good, Doc."

No, no it sure didn't.

Mickey had fractured his sixth cervical vertebra, and a portion of the fractured bone had been pushed into his spinal cord, paralysing him from that point down instantly. He also had a few broken ribs, but those would only pose minor problems (relatively speaking). Judy had fractured her first lumbar vertebra, also injuring her spinal cord at that location. Mickey had no motor or sensory function below his neck, and it was a minor miracle that he was still able to breath on his own, since the nerves that control the diaphragm come from just above that level (C3-5). Judy had no motor or sensory function below her waist in addition to a minor laceration of her spleen.

Both required major spine surgery. Both survived.

I had several opportunities to sit and chat with Judy during her two weeks with me. She was actually a reasonably intelligent woman, polite, appreciative, and apologetic (even though she hadn't been the one driving at the time). Mickey, on the other hand, remained recalcitrant despite his quadriplegia. Despite his horrific and life-changing injury, he was adamant that he had only survived because he had been "thrown clear of the wreck". Judy at least understood that remaining in the car with the seat belts and airbags would have been much less harsh on their bodies than, you know, hitting concrete at 1/10 the speed of sound (yes, really).

She too failed to convince him before she went to a spinal rehabilitation facility.

Mickey had some respiratory complications and ended up needing a tracheostomy. He stayed with me for about a six weeks before going to the same spinal rehab facility, arguing the entire time that he still would never ever wear "that damned belt".

I saw Judy about a month later. She had finished her inpatient rehabilitation and was starting to regain some use of her legs. I saw Mickey about two weeks later, and owing only to the quick response of our neurosurgeon had regained near full use of his arms, though he will remain paralysed from the chest down for the rest of his life. But unfortunately that had only strengthened his bewildering belief that not wearing his seat belt had saved his arms. I again tried to explain that, had he stayed in the car and been buffered by the seat belt and airbag, his injuries would have been significantly less, and he may have literally walked away from the accident, but he only cut me off.

"I'll never wear that damned belt. It would have killed me."

I seldom give up, especially when it comes to something as important and life-saving (and simple) as using a seat belt. But after several attempts and an equal number of rude interruptions, I gave up.

And if you're wondering, I have no idea what happened to their Xanax business. I forgot to ask.


  1. Reminds me of the Einstein quote thay roughly goes "there are 2 things that are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, but im not so sure about the universe yet"

  2. in my area, "thrown partially clear" is a euphemism for DRT, which is an acronym for Dead, Right There.

    I have quite literally no limit of stories of loading the unbelted passenger in the ambulance, and finding a ride home for the belted passenger. fortunately, I only have about a story per year of waiting for the coroner to take custody of the unbelted passenger.

    fun family history fact. one of my ancestors was killed in a drunk driving crash in a model T Ford. he was thrown out of the car and hit his head on a rock - killing him instantly.

    1. For all that I'm happy to expound at length on the theory of car safety, and belts, and the efforts people have made to make cars safe, surely the most convincing argument must be this one: Seeing multiple occupants of the same vehicle where the belted ones walk away and the unbelted ones have to be scraped up. It can't take many of these incidents to change even the most entrenched mind.

      There should be a law that says "if you are caught in a vehicle without a belt you will be sentenced to a month driving around with Ken" (sorry Ken!). That'll fix 'em.

    2. you would be amazed how many firefighters still think it won't happen to them. the fact that two chiefs from a neighboring department are still recovering from having a new-to-them rescue hit by a drunk driver so hard it flipped the rescue, might make an impression. (the drunk driver and his passenger were DRT)

      but yes, put them in a car with slick vinyl seats with me driving, and I'll show them a good reason to wear a seat belt. - but I prefer the idea "if you refuse to wear a seatbelt, you assume full responsibility for any injuries that result from it."

    3. "Your honor, i told him hed be responsible for any injuries he incurred because of it. So I'm not guilty, since I hit him in the head with a hammer Because he wouldnt wear his seatbelt!"

    4. A reasonable and moderate reaction. No case to answer!

      There may be a reason I'm not a Judge.

  3. I just saw the movie Doctor Sleep and couldnt help but laugh when (spoiler alert) Dan torrance speaking through yhe girl to her kidnapper says "guess if you expect to live forever you wouldnt wear your seatbelt" right before telekinetically forcing him to crash his car and get thrown through the windshield to his death

  4. Flipping a heavy vehicle and getting rolled over by it shows up in otherwise very survivable coal mining accidents you can read about in MSHA fatalgrams.

    I admit to once attempting to put my seatbelt on in a canoe!

    1. most chilling phrase I have ever heard uttered on a crash scene was "we rolled the car off the kids"

  5. I have two examples of exception-to-the-rule to offer. Neither are statistically significant enough to convince me NOT to wear my belt when in a car.

    My wife's kid sister spun/flipped/rolled her Miata going way too fast on a winding road. Due to her inability to wear a seatbelt, she was dropped (bruises only) on the side of the road to watch her car go through gyrations (and an inverted bounce) that would have turned her upper body into hamburger were she still in the car. Having driven a ragtop for many years, I am fully aware of what a rollover without a cage will do to the occupant.

    My ex-wife's grandfather had multiple incidents of "if I was wearing a belt". While following a truck hauling un(der)-secured steel beams, one slid out, and right through the front windshield, all the way into the trunk. If he were strapped in, it would have hit center-mass. Since he wasn't secured, he was able to throw himself into the passenger side, and was uninjured. Two other times, he was thrown clear of the vehicle in rollovers, where the cab was crushed. One of those times, the passenger (who was strapped in) did not make it, but grandpa was just scratched up. As a result, he would neither use, nor recommend use of seatbelts.

    1. I won't be uploading a picture, but my brother lost control of his pickup on an unexpected patch of hail, and ended up upside down with the cab on the driver's side smashed down to the windowsill. he did have some trouble convincing the fire crew on scene (it wasn't me) to stop worrying about his injuries and pry open the door so he could get out.

      in the topless miata crash I was on, the driver would have been uninjured, except for the fact that after the car slid to a stop, she fell out of the car onto her face.

    2. In my Miata case, it finished the trip inverted on the road; would've been considerably nastier had she stayed in the vehicle.

  6. What. An. Idiot. And yet, entertaining though it was to read (and thrilling as it is to read Doc posting here with regularity again)...I am beginning to really regret reading this post. :(

    I seriously cannot help but cringe as I consider whether Doc would inevitably judge me to be at least as idiotic a driver in that I am one who (while properly seat-belted) only ever drives topless (convertible-wise, that is; only the *other* way once, while on a dare).

    And this is not just during the occasional road trip. I have driven with the top down constantly since I purchased my first (of 5) convertible... so literally one million plus miles of driving with the top down across North America (and a bit of Mexico).

    Since this is partially due to claustrophobia, I don't even put the top up while driving in the rain or occasional snow flurry. Through the years, I have been pulled over in my open convertible by concerned CHP officers (who suspect me of DUI) during sandstorms and gales, lightning storms, and a 118°F heat wave not to mention a few very high crime districts (although, of course, I hardly go out if my way for the opportunity to drive topless in dangerous conditions).

    Unfortunately for the risk factor, but fortunately for the beauty of it, my 110 mile daily work commute includes 60 miles driving along one of this scenic but deadliest of highways in the nation (

    Although I have never been in an accident, I have witnessed hundreds on this highway (including flipped cars) and many fatalities.

    A few times, including once when I was interviewed by an officer as the first witness to arrive at the scene of a near-fatal accident between two other drivers, I have been cautioned about how dangerous it is for me to drive in an open car on this highway (especially during mudslides and in extreme fog, etc). Friends and family members have also often expressed their concern.

    I do have the assumption that--roll bars on my convertibles notwithstanding-- my chance of surviving an accident wherein the car flips is very slight. And yet I have to commute to/fro work and, unless I undergo hypnosis or something alike to it, I cannot imagine myself enduring this commute or any other drive in a closed car.

    I consider myself a defensive driver and know my car and his engine well. (Of course he is a male; he and all my other convertibles have always been *stick* shifts. Ahem). And yet certain other drivers and officers apparently judge my driving style a bit reckless. Anyway, defenses or recklessness aside, there is always the possibility of my being hit head-on (as I have witnessed once in the past to the driver if a vehicle a hundred feet ahead of mine). Thus it seems not unlikely that I might someday be in an accident myself which, given this highway's conditions, might be a quite serious one; and if I do happen to survive it, it also seems not unlikely that a trauma surgeon, operating on my broken body (and perhaps being told I was extracted from an open convertible on this "bloodiest of highways"), might easily speculate on exactly how pathetic of an idiot I am (or was [I am not optimistic about surviving this theoretical accident]).

    1. Hmm. (Okay ..having typed out that above comment, I am still cringing and now also blushing in shame).

      Come to think of it, might Doc and others here perceive me as even *more* of an idiot than this seatbelt-hating driver?!

      After all, in refusing to acknowledge the safety features of the seatbelt, the above-described idiot thinks he is right in disdaining it whereas I, while acknowledging the safety features of my car's roof, know I am wrong in disdaining it. And yet tomorrow I (self-described idiot) will disdain that confining car roof yet again...for the hundredth time in a heavy rainstorm and the ten-thousandth time in general.


      Doc...yeah, if you read this, you *really* don't need to reply. Please. I can anticipate your response. Anyway, I already admitted I almost won a DA (when I almost fell off a cliff...and also drank unfiltered water from a tropical stream).

      I *know* I am an idiot. But on the plus side, we idiots do have a helluvalot of fun. I could write 100000 words just describing the awesome sights I have beheld while driving topless (though I *do* occasionally glance at the road; I only willingly endanger myself, not the innocent drivers and road-crossing animals around me).

      P.S. re: seatbelt safety: I always think of the following story when I feel my own seatbelt catch on my body jewelry: ....but even if I am in an accident and my belly button ring is projected into my stomach by the seatbelt slamming against my waist (and even if that is alike to being shot in the stomach), I would gladly take the chance of surviving *that* rather than being violently tossed from my car.

    2. unless you also have a penchant for antique cars, the only difference between a convertible and a nonconvertible is, by US regulations, that loose items are more likely to be scattered across the countryside in a crash - they are required to be survivable in a rollover crash.
      which only leaves falling rocks or very soft terrain as significant hazards.

      most of the crashes I have seen, the lack of a roof would have made little difference, as long as the occupants were belted in.

    3. addendum: check that, brush would also be an issue in a few cases.

    4. As a former ragtop-driver, you're fine; there's naught to be embarrassed about. The top on most (excepting the rare hardtop convertible) won't survive a flip; that's what your roll bars are for. whether the framing on your windshield doesn't collapse, you'll be just as safe topless as not.

      I was also fond of driving topless, rain or shine. I've also driven Ortega Highway (faster than recommended) with the top down on more than a few occasions. I always got funny looks putting the cab-cover on during rain (rather than putting the top up once arriving at work). Some would argue this being why motorcyclists are so dedicated to their form of transport.

      I put wider tires on the droptop to reduce roll risk.
      This was more personal preference than necessity, but it made rough roads less worrisome. Topless driving FTW!

      p.s. Ken: the late 90's Miata i've been discussing had the windshield flatten down; the entire cab was flush to the door-top. Newer ones are designed to survive a roll. Older ones? Not so much. My baby girl was an '86; not rated to survive rollover.

    5. I drove with the top down in freezing weather once. I highly recommend against it. even MY heater isn't that powerful.

    6. I had a convertible once. She was named Babs.
      Bragging rights go to the person who can tell me why, although you'd need to be a Brit' of a certain age to have any chance...

    7. you're right. google was no help at all.

    8. I used to drive pretty much year-round topless; my heater WAS up to the task, and the windflow kept the front seat nice and toasty. Anyone in the back was freezing however.

      Dang Ugi! i was hoping you were referring to Barbara Anne Bunny...

    9. either your window design really isolated your driver's seat well, you heater was designed by lucifer, or you didn't understand I was speaking literally when I described the weather as "freezing"

      dashing through the snow in an open sleigh is highly overrated.

    10. Dashing through the snow;
      In a 221-horsepower open sleigh;
      Over the mountain we go;
      Shivering all the way...

      Actually, my car's heater is really good as well (and/or I have a high tolerance for low [and high] temperatures) cuz I never experience any real discomfort except during hail storms (and even then, with a hat protecting the top of my head and the brim protecting my eyes, I can handle it okay).

      I suck at maths and haven't calculated the formula but do notice that as long as my driver-side window is up and I am traveling at least 50 mph, the rain, hail, and snow are blocked by the windshield unless it's falling really fast and hard (and u have to drive much slower anyway). And that is when u r inevitably pulled over by a cop checking to see if u r DUI and/or mentally ill and u really just want to explain "umm ...yeah the storm is only a problem when I'm stopped and pulled over in the open like this so ...not to be rude but can u please let me be on my way so the windshield can be of some major help for me?") ;) But u don't say that.

    11. well, I know aerodynamics can be a factor, since I have no problems driving an engine with the windows down, but I hate having a window down in any of the cars I drive at the moment. but in my case it was that 30 degrees at highway speed works out to 10 degrees on exposed skin.

      of course, in the engine, I have on bunker gear and the firecom headset, so I'm pretty well insulated.

    12. There is definitely a startling difference between 38 degrees and 28 degrees (far more drastic-seeming then the difference between 105 and 95).

      Once I forgot my jacket, gloves, and hat in my dryer machine at home while it was 29° at nifht and it was quite ... unpleasant a drive for me, even with the heater on full blast. I don't know how motorcyclists withstand it.

      Ah, and you are a firefighter and paramedic, Ken? ...that's the source for all your excellent, knowledgeable comments here. Cool! Thank you again for relieving some of my concern over rollover accidents during my commute...and thank you even more for all that u and your colleagues do for the community and natural environment!! :)

    13. fire/rescue, but not paramedic. there are limits to what even I can pack into a day.

  7. Thank you Ken and Seamus and Ugi, btw, for making me feel more ... *normal* about this.

    I am probably just a bit defensive because of how often (at traffic lights, gas stations, in parking lots, etc.) folks ask me why the top is down at night or in bad weather. I usually just laugh and lie that the top's motor us broken since it isn't particularly fun to announce phobias to strangers. (Hmmmm. Then again, I did announce the truth here; but confessing a phobia to someone looking right at u is different somehow. :)

    I know the folk who comment probably mean well; they may even think I am deliberately trying to draw attention to myself and am eagerly inviting observations about my apparently "adventurous" spirit. Others may be sincerely concerned while of the mind that it isn't safe or healthy.

    Regardless, it can be very embarrassing. And that's why it is always such a pleasant relief to meet others who prefer driving topless in all weather. Thx again! :)

    1. I understand phobias. for me, driving with the top down was nearly always a fair weather indulgence.


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