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Unexpected lesson on the I-35

At times, you don’t really think twice about your seat belt. For many of us, it’s second nature: you get into the car, click your belt, and drive to your destination. Rarely do we need a reminder of why to use it, and rarely do we encounter what is clearly a reminder of why it is important.

Early morning on Sunday March 22, while driving southbound on I-35, about 1 mile north of Cameron, MO, I received that reminder, and it’s something probably forever engraved into my consciousness.

About a quarter-mile in front of me, I saw a car swerve suddenly, over-correcting for what the driver would say was trying to avoid an animal on the freeway. The over-correction caused the car to roll several times before coming to rest on its roof in the median.

“What the f***?” I said, and my fiancĂ©e, Elicia, came awake in the passenger seat after she’d been asleep for a good hour and a half.

Because I saw the accident occur, I felt obligated to pull over and assist in any way I could. I flashed my hazard blinkers and slowly pulled to the side on I-35 southbound, coming to a rest and turning the car off. Elicia and I ran across the, thankfully, empty interstate to the median where the driver had already gotten out of the car and was literally trying to pull the doors off his car so he could get the passengers out.

There were two passengers plus the driver in the car, one of whom is a 10-year-old boy. You can take comfort in the fact that I used the verb “is” in that sentence — thankfully, no one was killed. But of the three passengers, one was not wearing a seat belt, and she suffered the greatest injuries.

The driver said the passenger, a woman in her 30s, took her seat belt off to adjust herself in her seat to get more comfortable, just moments before the driver veered to avoid an animal. She was thrown from her seat, and when we found her, she was laying on her back on what was supposed to be the ceiling of the vehicle if it was properly upright, complaining of pain in her shoulder and leg.

The 10-year-old boy was strapped into the back seat sitting on a pillow. The pillow raised him up so the shoulder-strap was properly positioned while also making the long drive from Minnesota more comfortable for him. When the car came to rest, he was upside-down in his seat, still strapped in and held securely by his seat belt. When he was released from his seat, he was pulled aside and checked over for obvious injuries by a police officer who, like me, was not far away when the accident occurred and watched it happen. It was a chilly night, so Elicia pulled him in close to keep him warm while I fetched a blanket from my car and wrapped the boy up.

The driver had some cuts and scrapes but was otherwise uninjured. He still had x-rays at Cameron Regional Medical Center just to make sure. The female passenger had to be immobilized at the scene and was taken by ambulance to Cameron before being transferred to Liberty. The boy was immobilized at the scene as well as a precautionary measure before being taken in a separate ambulance, still wrapped in my blanket, to Cameron. Elicia and I met up with the boy at the hospital where we went to not only see how everyone was doing, but also to fetch our blanket.

This accident could very easily have been much worse. The passenger could’ve been ejected from the car. The same with the driver if he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. If the boy was not properly secured, he could’ve easily been severely injured if not killed.

While for most of us we don’t need a reminder to wear our seat belt, as it’s something that is just second nature, I feel that every once in a while we do need a reminder. We need to see first-hand the difference that a seat belt can make: the difference between minor injuries easily treatable at any ER, to moderate or worse injuries requiring transport to another hospital.

I don’t know the full aftermath of the accident, as when Elicia and I left Cameron at 4:15am Sunday morning, the boy was still immobilized in his hospital bed, but conscious and talking. We said goodbye to the boy and his family before taking off for Kansas City, where we would’ve arrived about an hour earlier were it not for the accident.

Seat belts do make a difference. If you have children, ensure they are secured properly: ask an EMT or police officer if you’re unsure if you are securing your children properly.

I don’t think this is something that can possibly be stressed too much.

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