The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 33 - 4/13/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Believe it or not, just a few days ago I saw a baby driving a car. Now, you may say that is impossible, but as I think back, it is not the first time I have witnessed this. The baby couldn't see over the dash and I am pretty sure he or she couldn't reach the pedals, given the fact that babies are pretty small and cars are designed for grown teenagers and adults to drive. The car had just made a sharp right turn from a stop sign and was heading west on Highway 351, picking up speed and heading for the next sharp curve. The baby was not driving erratically or swerving across the centerlines like a drunk. I sure did a doubltake, though.
After this incident, I started watching other vehicles a little closer and to my surprise, I've seen more children navigating or driving cars, trucks, Suburbans, you name it. Sometimes the child is standing up on the front seat, pointing out the directions to someone who is behind the wheel. Occasionally a toddler is leaning over the front seat from the back and talking to a driver like he is the child's chauffeur, which he or more likely she, probably is.
Now I don't scare easily, but this trend toward children and babies driving is making me nervous. The children aren't the scary part here; it is the adults who are actually putting their own child, a baby, in their lap behind the wheel of a car, with no restraint, and driving. I didn't know there are parents or grandparents or other drivers who really let toddlers stand up in the front seat, unrestrained, and ride there while the driver heads through town or out onto the highway.
We all tend to get numb to statistics, though we all know (well, we must not all know) that most people who die in vehicle accidents in Wyoming do so because they are not wearing seat belts. Maybe a real life story will make a better illustration here.
During Thanksgiving vacation 1994, a family I know well, mine was traveling across Montana on I-90 in an extended cab four-wheel drive pickup, heading east from Bozeman and trying to make Sheridan, Wyoming by evening. It was a beautiful day, driving conditions perfect, and we were making good time. About 40 miles north of Hardin, I noticed that traffic had slowed considerably from the usual 75-80 m.p.h. down to about 40 or 50. Since I was driving, I slowed down to about 50, thinking maybe there was an accident ahead. Pretty soon, we started passing cars and trucks off in the right-of-way, so I slowed even more and tried to figure out what the problem was. There was no snow on the road and the sun had been out for hours.
I finally realized there was treacherous "black ice" on the road surface. It was after 2 p.m. and had been warm, so no one had anticipated this freak condition, but a quick drop in the temperature had iced up the highway like a hockey rink and cars were skating off it in every direction. About the time I figured all this out, our truck went into a slow spin and headed into the center right-of-way.
I did all the right things: no panic; didn't try to steer the truck just let it slide and planned ahead to hit the soil and just drive right down the borrow pit to a stop. The soil turned out to be mud and when I tried to drive out of my slide, the front wheels stuck and momentum twisted the truck into a rollover that went one and a quarter turns. It came to rest passenger side down; my 9-month old daughter, strapped in her car seat in the jump seat in the back, was resting face down against the window. My four-year old was dangling above her from the other side in a shoulder harness-seat belt. I, too, dangled above the passenger side door where my husband, who had not been belted in, came to rest in a tangled pile of arms, legs and heavy cowboy boots. He had tumbled all over the cab beating the rest of us up like a tennis ball in a dryer.
My husband and I were bruised a little, him from the tumble, me from him. Our girls came out without anything more than tears from being scared. The truck was totaled, and after we hitched a ride into Sheridan, we were stranded over 500 miles from home.
If your child is in your lap, even if you are at a complete stop and someone runs into your vehicle from behind, that baby, your precious child, will probably slam head first into the steering wheel and either be killed or critically injured. Your sweet little toddler standing up on the front seat will either hit the windshield or go through it, if you have to hit the brakes at even 20 miles an hour.
Moral of the story? Children (and adults) who are restrained in a vehicle have the best chance of surviving an accident, either living through it or not being seriously injured. Be the adult. Strap those kids in and keep them strapped in, no matter how much they protest and scream and holler. The other choice could cost you, and them, more than you ever want to pay.
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