By BOB VAN ELSBERG, Strategic Communication Directorate, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, Fort Rucker, Ala. October 3, 2011
"Wham!" -- I nailed them broadside as they crossed my lane. I heard them scream and saw the vehicle briefly tip up on its driver-side wheels before it rolled off to my right. I was thrown forward maybe three inches before my shoulder strap bit into me, keeping me from being impaled on the steering wheel or eating the windshield.
After I caught my breath, I jumped out and put up a warning triangle on the road behind the Volkswagen van I was driving and checked the Soldiers inside their vehicle. They were all shaken but uninjured, thanks to the fact they'd all been wearing their seat belts.
The German police came, assessed the situation and cited the other driver for the accident. I looked at him and thought I'd hate to be him when he explains this to his first sergeant. The good part was that no one had to be taken away in an ambulance. Seat belts in both vehicles prevented that.
You know you are responsible to make sure you and any passengers riding with you are wearing seat belts. But did you know there's a wrong way to wear them? Putting them on improperly reduces their ability to protect you and can actually increase your injuries. Check out the following tips for proper wear from the National Safety Council:
•Be sure the belt is snug. Slack allows room for movement before or during the crash, increasing the risk of spinal cord or head injuries.
•Be sure the belt is flat. A twisted belt concentrates the stress on a small body area, increasing the likelihood of injury.
•Sit with your seat back upright. If the seat is reclined, you can slide under the belt, strike the dashboard or front seat and increase the possibility of abdominal injuries.
•Sit back deeply in the seat.
•Be sure the belt is snug. Too much slack could result in facial and chest injuries.
•Wear the belt over the shoulder, across the collarbone and diagonally across the chest.
•Do not wear the belt under the arm. The collarbone is strong enough to distribute the crash forces, but the ribs are likely to break and puncture the lungs, heart, liver or spleen that lie beneath them.
•Do not wear the belt in front of your face or neck.
The Weirdest Things Happen
I'd spent the entire day driving around the maneuver area looking for a crash between a civilian vehicle and an Army vehicle. The mission was to write a story on driving safety for the division's newspaper, which we were producing in the field. Unsuccessful, I was driving through a German village before reaching our field location when, at the last moment and at the last intersection, I fulfilled my "mission."
After finishing with the police, I drove the Volkswagen with its crumpled front end back to our field location. When I reported to my NCOIC, he could barely keep a straight face. Later on, he wrote on the duty board, "Sgt. Van Elsberg couldn't find a crash so, instead, he had one. Mission accomplished."