Remember when there weren’t seatbelts

One of those “oh, does that make me feel old” things is seat belts. If you were a kid in the fifties or sixties, you just perched on the seat. On a long drive you might have enough of a bench seat to stretch out as if on a couch and take a nap. With brothers and sisters, you may have had some contests (i.e. fights) about getting room for a nap on the seat.

No more.

Modern vehicles have seat belts. Bench seats often have bumps for individual seating comfort that make them uncomfortable beds. Laws and enforcement are pushing harder and harder on enforcing seatbelt use. If you run a motor home that has beds in the RV the odds are you are, or soon will be, getting instruction to not use them when traveling.

There is little doubt that using seat belts in a moving vehicle is a good thing. The biggest problem with them is improper use. That is why there is so much attention to child seats. Standard seats are designed for adults and if you are not within the nominal adult size parameters, the seat belts may not fit you properly or you might not have them adjusted for the seating position. This is what prompted Emily Bazelon to write about the Death Nap: The dangers of tilting back the front seat—don’t do it! based on her experience in a crash.

I’d reclined my seat, and my seat belt, which was riding high, left a long welt around my rib cage and along my stomach. As it turned out, I had internal bleeding from a lacerated spleen and three cracked ribs. I spent the next two days in intensive care.

There are a variety of ways to screw up your seat belt—one of them, the NTSB concluded, is to change its position by reclining your seat, creating “a potentially dangerous combination in a moving vehicle.”

The alternative, without seat belts, would have been much worse. Emily gets a bit into the political philosophy about individual responsibilities but the end message is one to consider:

So, if the government and the automakers won’t tell you, I will. Don’t tilt the front seat back! No matter how much more comfortable your nap will be, you don’t want to end up, like I did, in intensive care.

First there were no seat belts, then optional belts, then mandatory use, then warning beeps in cars if the belts weren’t fastened, and now many cars have belts that are automatic when you close the door. All of this has resulted in pushback by those that resent being told what to do.

What you can do is to make sure that all in your vehicle are using seat belts properly. If you need to take a nap, find a rest area and take a safe one. If a passenger is drowsy, sit up with good seat belt position and use a pillow if the seat headrest isn’t suitable for a nap.

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