It was the middle of summer and my best friend, Tom, and I had received our driver's licenses a few months earlier. It was an exciting time because we were now able to do things we couldn't before. Growing up without fathers, we didn't get to go on fishing trips often. It had been quite a while since Tom and I had gone fishing together, so we decided to take advantage of our newfound freedom.

The lake was only 45 minutes away, so we left after work on Friday to find a good overnight spot and get in some early morning fishing. Everything went according to schedule until my older brother, "DeeCee," and his friend, Jim, joined us Saturday and decided to spend the day fishing with us. The lake didn't offer much shade and by 4 p.m. we were out of water. Fortunately, there was a store about 15 minutes down the road.

Because Jim and DeeCee hadn't brought any water or supplies, they felt obligated to accompany Tom and me to the store. Tom's standard cab Toyota only seated two, so Jim took his Ford Ranger and DeeCee rode with him. Jim typically drove like he was racing in the Baja 1000. While he'd gotten his license the year before and had more experience driving, the best way to describe his attitude about safety was "complacent."

Jim was ahead of us as we drove toward the store. The lake was located on a high plateau, so the road to the store descended the plateau, winding through a series of small hills. Parts of the road had so many curves that it was hard to see what was ahead. When Jim decided to race through some of those, we followed at a slightly slower pace.

We were halfway through the winding portion of the road when Jim hit a patch of dirt from a road construction project and lost control. He overcorrected to the left and then to the right and ran off the road. Sliding sideways on the dirt shoulder, Jim's Ranger went into a small drainage ditch and overturned.

Neither Jim nor DeeCee were wearing seat belts. As the pickup rolled, I saw my brother's head and right arm fly out the passenger-side window. If the truck hadn't stopped rolling when it did, I'm certain he would have been killed. When I got to the Ranger, I was very surprised no one was severely injured. Still, the memory of centrifugal force trying to fling my brother out of the truck haunts me to this day.

Watching my brother almost get killed that day made a believer out of me. I realized that when it comes to seat belts, it's not just about following the law. It's about staying alive.

w/ info box below"

Get Belted -- It's Good for You!

Pickups are popular in Montana, so the state's Department of Transportation offers the following safety information to pickup owners.

• Seat belts and air bags are meant to work together. The presence of air bags in a vehicle doesn't mean seat belts are unnecessary.
• Seat belts protect the head and spinal cord from impacts inside the vehicle, such as with the steering wheel and windshield.
• Buckling up on every trip -- not just the long-distance ones -- can save your life.
• Pickups have a high fatality rate because occupants are less likely to wear seat belts and pickups and SUVs are more likely to roll over than passenger cars.
• For light truck occupants, safety belts reduce the risk of death by 60 percent and moderate-to-critical injuries by 65 percent.
• Restraints prevent ejections. Ejected occupants are four times as likely to die and 14 times as likely to sustain spinal cord injuries.

Page last updated Thu May 31st, 2012 at 11:50