Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The use of seat belts

The use of seat belts has been in the news lately. Apparently, people in this province have slacked off on using them. I am pretty passionate about this subject. It seems like such a simple thing to do and such a waste when people die because they didn't wear one. I know people have their reasons. The belts chafe their necks, they're too restrictive and, the number one reason I hear for not wearing seat belts: that a person could get trapped inside a burning vehicle or a vehicle submerged in water. Now, let's just consider the odds of that shall we? I'm no statistician but I'm pretty sure you're a lot more likely to be saved by a seat belt in a collision or rollover accident than you are to be trapped in a burning or submerged car. And, even if you are trapped in a car, at least you have a chance someone can cut you out. No such chance when your skull has exploded against a tree or the vehicle you were riding in has landed on top of you after you've been ejected. And if you really think that this is a high probability, you can buy seat belt cutters to attach to your dash.

I have two main reasons I believe in the use of seat belts. The first is because my life was saved when I used mine. It was a few years back. The accident involved a moose and the truck I was in ended up flying through the air for a bit. I was slightly injured in the accident. The cause of my injuries, badly bruised ribs and a cut on my neck, was my seat belt. But when a seat belt causes your injuries, it's because it stopped you while you were moving forward with such force that bringing up on the seat belt damaged your body. And if the seat belt didn't stop me from moving forward with such force, the police didn't think the windshield would have either. They told me that I would have died without the seat belt, not "probably" or "most likely" but "would have", and I believed them. I don't go two feet without wearing my seat belt now. When I ride on the passenger side, where I was that night, I often feel like the seat belt is lying right where my neck was cut and I try to find ways for it not to touch the skin on my neck (by putting it under my collar or by using one of those seat belt pads), but I would never think of not wearing the seat belt.

The other main reason I believe in seat belts comes from a story I saw on the news years ago. A state trooper who worked on a very busy highway and had been at the scene of hundreds of accidents was being interviewed about seat belt use. It was on in the background while I was doing something else but what he said stopped me cold. His simple words were as profound as anything I'd ever heard: "I've never unbuckled a dead man". According to the Internet, this phrase seems to be a fairly common thing for cops to say. But there's a reason for that.

My three-year-old, while playing the other day, heard a news report that said someone had not been wearing a seat belt. "Mommy, why would someone not wear a seat belt?" he asked me. "I don't know," I answered. "That's silly," he said. I couldn't have said it better.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Hollywood and DUI

Okay, I've stayed away from the Paris Hilton Jail Thing but now that a mystery "medical condition" (her hair extensions not holding up so well?) has permitted her to change from jail to house arrest, I am, to put it simply, pissed. It's not just that she got off lightly, even more lightly than she had already gotten off, but that she got off lightly for a very serious offence. One that is beginning to seem banal. I used to be surprised when someone in Hollywood got a DUI because it seemed like something horrible, something that would damage a person's reputation. It was always sad because a DUI is often a signal of a serious problem with alcohol, but it was also jolting. I'm not sure when it stopped being something terrible but I know that when Mel Gibson got arrested for DUI last year, the big brouhaha was not about the drunk driving but the anti-Semitic things he said while drunk. The DUI was a side note, a footmark in the history of Mel Gibson. The year before that two actresses from the television show Lost who were both arrested for DUI, had their characters killed off soon after and I thought bravo, someone is taking this seriously (or maybe it was merely a plot point, but I was still hopeful).

Now, getting a DUI is more like keeping up with the Jones's. There's even a website to keep track of celebrity DUIs. Haley Joel Osment got one. Paris got a DUI so her buddy Nicole Ritchie did the same and Lindsay Lohan couldn't continue her downward spiral without adding one too. And the hoopla is not about that. Oh, everyone on TV has an opinion and the photogs love the pics of the celebs passed out or falling over drunk, never mind the media's glee over a new mugshot made public, but no one is saying anything about the DUIs. No one is saying that these people could have killed someone while driving drunk. And it's not like that idea is not dramatic enough. The headlines LINDSAY LOHAN DRIVES DEATH MACHINE or PARIS LUCKY NOT TO BE A KILLER have bite, don't they?

I know, I know, silly me for thinking the media cares enough to do something responsible like that. Why expect so much from the same group that brought us nightly pictures and discussions about Britney's underwear status? But it's not that hard to make this a big deal again, to make driving while impaired something bad and embarrassing. Young kids who admire these celebrities and keep track of their every move are in danger of growing up with the attitude that it's okay. You can switch jail for house arrest if things get tough.

The truth is that, from my experience working in addictions, you don't even have to worry about house arrest around here. Chances are the penitentiary is too crowded for anyone serving for DUI and you'll likely be told to go home when you show up to serve your weekend sentence. I remember one guy who complained that he was inconvenienced by having to physically go to the jail before he was told to go back home and wondered why he couldn't just call in and see if he had to serve his time or not. So, jail doesn't seem to be a big deterrent. The fear of killing someone doesn't seem to be deterrent enough. All we had was shame and we seem to be losing that. I wonder, and fear, what it will take to get that back again and which celebrity will be the one to do it.