Wednesday, December 28, 2005

How about a buckle sandwich?

With only a week left in the year, another person I know has died. That makes three this year, which is still below average. But not any less tragic.

According to a report from Louisiana State Police Troop I, alcohol was a factor in the single car crash that claimed the life of Jerod P. Angelle, 25, early Monday morning.

Angelle was traveling east on La. 96 when his car ran off the road and into a ditch where it overturned and ejected him, the report stated. Angelle was not wearing his seat belt, the report said. (Daily Advertiser)

Jerod and I graduated from high school together. I last ran into him at Joe Thibodeaux's funeral in September 2004 (Thibodeaux, as most of you know, was another high-school classmate of mine who was killed in Iraq). I hadn't seen Jerod in years, but he was the first person I talked to when I arrived at the funeral home. He was nothing like the young kid who'd given me a hard time in P.E. class 10 years before. He was friendly, welcoming and compassionate. We talked for a good while over doughnuts and juice. Now I'm in disbelief once again. He's the second member of my high-school class to die in the past month or so (the other one having died of meningitis after a hard-knock life).

When Joe died, I took heat for using his death to spark a discussion on the futility of the war in Iraq. Well, guess what; I'm going to do it again! Because while we can argue forever about the merits of the war, there is no even REMOTELY plausible justification for drinking and driving, or for not wearing a seat belt. Ever. What makes Jerod's death so sad is that its root causes are 100 percent preventable.

Drinking and driving: a no-brainer (or, should I say, you need no brain to do it). Here in south Louisiana, where daiquiri shops have DRIVE-THRUS, it's nothing for someone who's had a few to get behind the wheel. Part of this is the deep roots that drinking has in the Cajun/Mardi Gras culture. The second is that, because so many Louisiana drivers are so horrifyingly incompetent to begin with, few people even notice the difference. It's at a point where I generally drive myself anywhere where drinking might happen, simply because I rarely drink and don't trust anyone else to drive me around. Short of that, I'll take someone else's keys. Usually isn't too difficult after a certain point.

Seat belt use (or lack thereof) is also a huge problem in Louisiana. For reasons I don't understand, most people here have to be seriously cajoled into using them. I'm talking frying pans. Personally, I feel naked when I'm sitting in a car unbuckled. But to some Louisianians, it's not nudity; it's the emperor's outfit! Can't you see it, you fool? This excerpt of a recent (and exceedingly long) letter to the Times of Acadiana says more than I possibly could about the prevalent mentality:

I've heard it said that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has put pressure upon the several states of these United States of America to pass seat belt laws, and if they did not enact the tyrannical law, their federal highway funds would be cut -- forcing every free American citizen to place a seat belt across their bodies, whether they like it or not.

When we the people are being forced to wear a seat belt across our own bodies, and if you don't, you are treated as a criminal, whereby no one was injured, America is no longer the Land of the Free.

If and unless someone can prove me wrong, God created man to be the master of the animals of this earth, he did not create man to be the master of men and those who believe that they should be masters of men, should be labeled as tyrants and anarchists and should be impeached for violating their oaths of office.

Has slavery really really been abolished in America? If it has, why in the hell am I being forced to put a safety device across my body against my will?

Russell John Myers
New Iberia

Wow. Does it get any more idiotically anti-government than that? "I'm against a government that insists I take care of myself for the purpose of the general welfare. Welfare is bad! I'm not going to wear my seat belt, just to spite you!!" Undying allegiance to indefensible principles; no wonder the South lost the Civil War. Perhaps if the belts were made of leather and had ornate buckles...

Don't get me wrong; a lot of government mandates can kiss my ass. But you know, traffic laws are fine with me, because they make sense. Red lights as guides? Sounds like a good 3 a.m.! When I'm in rush-hour traffic, I'd like to think that everyone navigating the streets adheres to the rules of the road so that we can have some semblance of order and safety. Unfortunately, we all know there's always going to be some prick who'll weave dangerously or run the red light two whole seconds after it's changed. And those are generally the same people who are uninsured and are not wearing their seat belts. In other words, the very people who compel the government to be so militant about the laws in the first place. Irony's a bitch, huh?

How effective are seat belts? When comedian Sam Kinison's car careened head-on with a runaway truck in 1992, both vehicles reportedly flew 12 feet in the air and spun, completely shearing off both front ends. Sam, who had seen the truck coming, had slowed down to 15 m.p.h. while the truck continued at highway speeds. Even so, only Sam died, and only because he was not wearing his seat belt. The drunken rednecks who ran into him, on the other hand, all escaped unhurt and even yelled at Sam for getting in "their" way.

And look at Dale Earnhardt. His son, Dale Jr., one of the few people to know the full details of his father's infamous 2001 race-car accident, has said that his father's injuries could have only been caused by a faulty seat belt. Stock cars are built to absorb 200 mph's worth of head-on damage without significant injury to the driver. That's how much seat belts matter.

And, contrary to popular belief, seat belts do not trap you. In fact, if you fall into water, they are more likely to keep you from smacking into something, thus rendering you unconscious.

So seat belts work, whereas not using them causes trauma not only to the victim, but to anyone who witnesses it or otherwise knows the victim. If I collide with someone who isn't wearing a seat belt and they die, that causes trauma to me as well. Why would anyone put themselves and others in that situation? WHY? So yes, it IS my problem when you don't buckle up.

I have a strict policy that anyone who rides in a vehicle that I'm driving must buckle up. I will not move until they do. They almost always complain. Some even try to make me feel like a nag for insisting upon it. But I'll take that chance, because I will not risk having someone's blood on my hands just because they're too cool to harness themselves.

Not using seat belts (especially after drinking) is the saddest way to die. Sadder than smoking, Russian Roulette and Iraq combined. While accidents often cannot be avoided, you owe it to yourself to do everything you can to reduce the damage. It's not a choice; it's a civic duty. Jerod, a good guy, made a bad decision; it's up to all of us to learn from it and all of the thousands of tragedies like it annually. At least then you'll be alive to complain about seat-belt laws.


Phillip said...

maybe citizens like the author of that insightful letter SHOULD be allowed to ride around without seat belts -- a little natural selection would do wonders for our beloved south.

i also feel strange riding in a car without my seat belt on. it's second nature to me now to put it on when i sit down.

people sitting in back seats should have to buckle up as well, otherwise they become projectiles in head-on collisions and can seriously hurt people in the front seats.

Flamingo Jones said...

If it wasn't for the trauma and pain that it might cause other people involved, I'd agree with phillip on the natural selection thing. Same with folks who balk at helmet laws for motorcyclists...a.k.a Future Organ Donors.

rhonda said...

i have one less uncle because of a similar incident that happened years ago.

Nick said...

For once, I actually agree with phizz on something. Personally, I see no reason for mandatory seatbelts for anyone 18 yrs. or older. First of all, sort of in agreement with the letter, why does Big Brother feel the need to tell me what to do if the only person I will harm is myself? Second, natural Selection would be nice. It's kind of like the idiots who ride the crotch rockets at 100 miles/hr. with no helmet. Why force them to have a better chance at survival and thus a better chance of passing on dumb-ass genes? I say helmets should be voluntary. For myself, I would like to own a Harley one day, and will always wear a helmet. However, if some idiot wants to take that chance, oh well.

On the contrary, though, I think fines should be TRIPLED for drivers and/or passengers who have someone 17 yrs. or younger riding in their vehicle without a seatbelt. Childern under 4 riding without a carseat? How about 5x's the current fine and/or suspension of license?

Ian McGibboney said...

Nick, your final paragraph illustrates the fallacy of your first point. How can we require restraint for minors when adults don't have to do it? That would be the least effective law ever! It certainly doesn't have any effective precedents. Look at it this way: kids have to wear seat belts. Adults don't. Kids want to be grown up. Get the picture?

As it is, many adults I know don't wear their belts now, and don't strap in their kids either. I want all of these people busted, because that's reckless endangerment. And because they're not inclined to set good examples, we need police regulation of such.

But since the effect on your own life apparently doesn't faze you, look at it from the angle of negligence. When something happens to you when not wearing a seat belt, it DOES affect other people. If you are ejected from your car in a collision, you (likely) die, it traumatizes witnesses, and your body on the road might possibly cause another accident.

Natural selection, as tempting as it is, isn't the government's job. What IS its job is to keep all citizens safe. When you're riding in traffic, on PUBLIC roadways, you share the same responsibilities to be safe as everyone else. It's called mutual cooperation. It's not all about you. Rugged individualism doesn't mean shit when your splat corpse on the road makes me run off the road trying not to hit you. That's where your freedom to be stupid ends.

I'm not asking the government to protect people from themselves. But I am asking them to protect me from you.

Nick said...

If my dead corpse causes you to run off the road, well, get a new stomach. But like I said, I wear a seatbelt, and, like you, make anyone riding with me buckle up.

I just think that anyone who doesn't have the common sense to buckle up on their own probably shouldn't pass those genes along. Like I stated, for once I agree with phizz. I just want to make sure minors are protected from their parents' stupidity.

JTekell said...

I knew about Joe Thibodeaux dying but Jarod is news to me. I need to read your blog more often to keep up with things there. Hope 2006 treats you better than 2005.

Ian McGibboney said...

Nick: "If my dead corpse causes you to run off the road, well, get a new stomach."

Nick, I can't believe you would really say that. I'd like to be able to drive public streets that I pay for, content in the knowledge that idiots could conceivably be checked for safety violations such as not buckling up, drinking and reckless driving. Social Darwinists such as yourself are the reason that insurance and fatality rates are so high. Because the gene pool, sadly, sometimes kills off some of the better genes with it.

I'm glad you buckle up without provocation, Nick. But I don't trust most people to do it voluntarily any more than I trsut corporations to uphold Bush's voluntary environmental regulations. Law and order, isn't that what you guys are about?

Jeremy, nice to hear from you again! How was your year? Mine sucked.