Seatbelts, Shmeatbelts

  • Published
  • By Col. "Tip" Stinnette
  • 39th Air Base Wing commander
In his senior year at the University of Nebraska, 21-year-old Derek wrote an impassioned declaration of independence on seatbelts for his college newspaper. Although "intrusive and ridiculous" seatbelt laws save 6,100 lives a year, according to statistics from the U.S. Congress, Derek concluded with the statement, "If I want to be the jerk that flirts with death, I should be able to do that."

Derek "was a bright young boy, with a 4.0 grade point average," majoring in five subjects and planning to attend law school. He was also smart enough to tutor friends in subjects he didn't even take. But, good grades don't equate to common sense.

Derek was returning from a holiday in San Antonio, Texas. The driver of the Ford Explorer and his front seat passenger both wore seatbelts. Only Derek was willing to buck the system, sitting without a seatbelt in the back seat because, in the words of his newspaper column, he belonged to the "die-hard group of non-wearers out there who simply do not wish to buckle up, no matter what the government does." When the SUV started hydroplaning it slid off U.S. 80 and rolled several times. Derek, in an involuntary display of his freedom, was thrown from the vehicle. He died at the scene. The other occupants of the SUV, slaves to the seatbelt, survived with minor injuries.

So let's put this story in an Incirlik context: the Alley, 12:50 a.m., in a cab, in the back seat, racing to beat the curfew. We've all been there, even me a few years ago as a deployed aircrew ... feeling no pain, joking around with my buddies, fumbling around for the seat belt, and giving up because it's less than a mile to the gate. In less than 10 seconds the taxi goes from zero to 60 as you round the bend over the railroad tracks. Then three seconds later the taxi swerves to avoid the chucklehead who thinks the street is a sidewalk. Another second later the taxi is careening into the fence-line and you are thrown from the vehicle and pinned between the fence and the car as it comes to a stop. One second later, before you pass out, you're wishing you spent a couple more seconds strapping in.

Fifteen seconds all told from go to dead. This one was easy to construct because it happened six months ago to another U.S. Air Forces in Europe Airman. Seatbelts, shmeatbelts ... not so much. We need to buckle up to ensure freedom's future!