Most of us can look back and note how different things were back when we were growing up than they are now. We live in a cautious world, teeming with negligence lawsuits, tougher regulations for manufacturers, and precautionary recalls. Seatbelt laws are common. Diving boards have been outlawed in several states. Children now have to be strapped into child car seats until they're seven years old in some states.
Those are not my memories of growing up. My cousins and I used to bounce around in the back of our grandfather's pick up truck as he navigated down dirt roads in the summer. Our playground equipment consisted of six-foot-high monkey bars and jungle gyms over gravel and dirt. We never wore our seatbelts in the backseat, and we'd never even heard of airbags. Vehicle safety in the late 70s was little more than the good advice to never buy a Pinto because "they blow up if someone rear-ends you."
Things are much different now.
New Hampshire is the only state in the U.S. that does not enforce a primary or secondary seat belt law (primary seat belt laws allow drivers to be pulled over and ticketed for no offense other than not wearing your seat belt, and secondary seat belt laws require that a driver can only be pulled over for some other offense—like speeding—but may then be given a second ticket if he/she is not wearing a seat belt). Seat belt laws, along with child restraint laws and laws that restrict passengers from riding in cargo areas of pick up trucks have gained support over the past decades as they seemingly reduce the number of fatalities associated with car accidents. Thirty-one states currently have restrictions on riding in the beds of pick ups, and all fifty states plus the District of Columbia have laws regarding child restraints.
Logically, it makes sense that "seat belts save lives"—one of the many catchy slogans we've heard over the years reminding us to "Click it or ticket." And it's important that people take some responsibility for their own safety. While car manufacturers are progressively making their vehicles more safe by adding side-impact airbags, rear mounted vehicle cameras, and retracting roll bars on convertibles, it's not just up to the manufacturer to keep us safe. Even in a vehicle designed to fare well in an accident, it's up to individual drivers to avoid those accidents to begin with.
Longer commute times and urban sprawl have led to increased time behind the wheel, which in turn, has created the commuter's desire to multi-task while driving. We talk on our phones, eat, even read while we're sitting in the driver's seat operating a vehicle weighing over two tons. There are few tasks we do throughout our day that gives us a greater risk of injuring or killing another human being besides driving. With Taco Bell reporting 70% of its business coming through the drive-thru window, there are plenty of people out there dividing their attention between signaling a lane change and making sure their burrito doesn't end up on their lap.
So while the laws are forcing manufacturers to develop better safety features for their vehicles, they're also trying to force us drivers to protect ourselves and our passengers while in our cars. But even airbags and seat belts can't save every life. Most importantly, it's up to us to limit distractions and drive safely.
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