An open letter to teenage drivers


August 01, 2003|by CATRINA COGHILL/Wheelbase Communications

If your friends recklessly drove around and didn't wear their seat belts, would you do it, too?

According to a new report released by Volkswagen, that's exactly why 20 percent of high school students polled aren't buckling up when they're behind the wheel - peer pressure.

To the young people reading this article (whether of your own volition, or because your parents or teachers are making you), you have probably already been forced to listen to the sermon on the importance of wearing a seat belt at all times.

So, I'm not going to preach.

You should be smart enough to know that wearing a seat belt will save your hide. You have a mind of your own and your "good" friends, believe it or not, don't know everything. In fact, judging by the stats, they don't know much. Yes, even the cool kids. Trust me, 10 years from now, you're going to laugh at how weird everyone looked and acted "back then." And the "cool" kid? He or she will be the one mostly likely to wind up dead because they had more attitude than brains, which doesn't get you very far in the real world.


But, if you're not bright enough to make up your own mind about what's cool and what's not or you think you're one of the lucky few who will survive unscathed after flying through a windshield . . . it's time to grow up. No one is invincible.

In 2001, 5,000 teens died in car accidents. That's five thousand.

Two-thirds of them thought they were invincible - or didn't think at all - and didn't bother buckling up.

Now they're gone. Forever. No husband. No wife. No kids. No career. No life.

So, the only thing that's going to save you from being a human cannonball - aside from driving responsibly (and that's no guarantee against the other guy on the road) - is wearing a seat belt and wearing it right.

Even if you're just driving a couple of blocks to get your buddies or heading to your favorite coffee shop, you've gotta buckle up. Traditionally, the majority of collisions occur close to home, within one to five miles of your address.

And, please, spare us about how "uncomfortable" a seat belt feels. Piercing your eyebrow or belly button is uncomfortable, but you still do that. And what about sobbing over the foot-wide "tribal" tattoo on your back? Stings, right?

Do you think shards of glass in your face, reconstructive surgery and months of rehabilitation are going to be comfortable? That's just one scenario if you even survive an accident without wearing a seat belt.

If you think being confined to a wheelchair or ending up in a hospital with permanent brain damage, unable to walk, speak or feed yourself is a good trade-off for not wearing a seat belt, then you need a timeout to think about it. You can kiss your independence - and your life as you know it - goodbye.

If you want to chance dying on the side of some road because your friends think it's not cool or it's uncomfortable to wear a seat belt, then get better friends. As loudly as they claim otherwise, they don't have your back if they place a higher value on image than on safety.

If you're not going to listen to me, take it from Ken Borden, a small-town volunteer firefighter/paramedic. Borden is usually the first guy to arrive at the scene of an accident. And what he has seen is enough to turn even his hardened stomach.

"The things I've seen aren't meant for print," he said. "They're too gruesome to put into words.

"I've pulled up and seen the car and had to search for the body or body parts - they're catapulted right through the windshield. Sometimes they're torn apart like a crash test dummy; the limbs are ripped right from the torso. It's sickening because it doesn't have to happen."

He's right, it doesn't. So why let it.

Catrina Coghill is a journalist with Wheelbase Communications. You can e-mail her at

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