Do you think seat belts, like leather upholstery, are optional in your vehicle? I can tell you from a personal experience they're not optional -- they're essential.

A few years ago, my brother was attending college in a big city when he and a friend decided to go out for a night on the town. Knowing his friend would be drinking, my brother offered to be the designated driver that night. It was a good thing he did.

As they were heading home, another driver ran a stop sign and drove directly into my brother's path. All my brother could do was hit the brakes, slowing the car from 30 to 20 mph as they struck the other vehicle.

My brother and his friend were both in the front seat, and the impact threw both of them forward. My brother was restrained by his seat belt, but his unbelted friend went head-first into the windshield. When the car stopped, my brother had a minor cut on his forehead, which required a few stitches to close. His friend, however, didn't fare so well and suffered serious head injuries. He spent more than a month in the hospital and never fully recovered. Who'd have thought that wearing a seat belt during a 20-mph collision would spell the difference between a minor injury and a permanent disability?

Need more proof seat belts work? Well, a year later, I was involved in a single-vehicle accident. I'd just gotten onto a road and was accelerating to the 55-mph speed limit when I saw a pile of pine straw ahead in my lane. Because of an approaching vehicle, I couldn't dodge into the oncoming lane to avoid the pile. What I couldn't see was a large piece of a fallen tree limb buried beneath the straw.

When my front passenger-side tire hit the branch, it sent my car veering into the oncoming lane. I avoided going off the road into a ditch, but fishtailed when I swerved right to avoid the oncoming car. My car spun and then went off the right side of the road. As it did, one of the tires dug into the dirt and caused my car to simultaneously spin and flip. When everything stopped, my car was upside-down and facing the direction I'd come from. I was still safely in my seat -- hanging by my seat belt. But it could have been much worse. Not being a frontal collision, my airbag never deployed. Had I been unbelted and thrown forward, there would have been nothing to protect me.

The crash totaled my car. Also, I'd been heading home from college for Christmas break, so nearly everything I owned was in that car. Many of those things were damaged or destroyed -- but that's a small price to pay. After all, while they could be replaced, I couldn't.

I survived with slight tenderness in my right shoulder and some pain in my right ankle where it had gotten caught in the pedals as the car rolled. I'd been going about 50 mph when I crashed, and the way my car spun and flipped, I'd have been dead without my seat belt. I'd likely have been ejected and smeared across the road like the quart of barbecue I'd bought to take home. Not a pretty picture.

How about you? Are you ready to strap in and survive? It's your choice. Consider it carefully because you may well live or die by it.

Page last updated Fri November 30th, 2012 at 00:00