Friday, May 15, 2009

Buckle Up

During the 1970s I spent a good deal of time visiting with Grandpa Hinesley. There were times while my grandma would be taking a nap that I would sit down and play a game or two of Dominos with Grandpa. And we would converse. Grandpa Hinesley loved to tell stories of the past and I loved to listen. He’d seen many changes over the course of his life, in culture, in technology, and in politics. Often he would tell the same story multiple times. It didn’t bother me. As I listened to the stories, I never once considered that one day, I would be sitting in Grandpa Hinesley’s chair.

I guess with the passage of time one should expect changes. We’ve seen quite a few just in the last twenty years. It’s sometimes the little changes that you don’t really consider. One of the many changes that always intrigued me was the evolution of seat belts and seat belt laws.

If you grew up in the 1970s or earlier, you probably had to develop the habit of putting on a seat belt when you entered a car. That’s because almost nobody wore seat belts. Why is that? Was everybody ignorant back then? No. One reason was that in the older cars, many of which had one continuous seat, it seemed like seat belts were an afterthought when it came to designing the car. They were almost always only lap belts. I remember people believing that you might be worse off with a seat belt because it would break your back or cause some other unintended injury. Besides after the first week of owning a car, seat belts would often disappear between the seat cushions.

In the 1980s as cars became smaller, safety became more prominent. Seat belts improved. They improved so much that it wasn’t too difficult to form the habit of putting them on. I did. But there was still a mixture of older vehicles on the road, where strapping on a seat belt was still inconvenient. Then came the first seat belt laws. Whether you agree with mandated safety laws or not, the evolution in the law is a great lesson in civics.

In Illinois, the first seat belt laws ran into trouble because of the possible infringement of personal liberty and conflict with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, so only those drivers pulled over for another offense could be ticketed for a seat belt violation. Over time, maybe because of some court ruling, I don’t know, the law changed so that a driver could be pulled over for a seat belt violation alone.

I can’t help but think of the warden’s comment after punishing Luke in the movie Cool Hand Luke “…it’s for your own good.” and Luke’s response “I wish you'd stop bein' so good to me, Captain.”

Since that time car seats and booster seats have been added to the list. All of which I used and would have used without the law.

As I sit and converse with my son, I know his world will also change with time. I wonder if he knows it.

'70s song of the day: "Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks

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