Montana Outdoors

January 30, 2009


Back in the middle 70’s the company for which I worked furnished me with a company car. It was one of the early Cadillac Eldorados, large, and long, and heavy, and iridescent brown with a vinyl covered top and moon roof. It also had air bags, one of the first cars in the Phoenix Arizona area that was so equipped. That was hot stuff back then and I was informed that if I were in an accident with it there would be an extensive investigation and a lot of publicity, because it would be one of the first cars so tested.

The conventional wisdom in those days, unsubstantiated by anyone who understood what automobile safety was all about, was that with those bags, you no longer needed seat belts because the bags would keep you from striking the dashboard or being thrown through the windshield and therefore you were safe. The truth of the matter was thereby greatly distorted.

Tonight I responded with our Rural Fire Department team to an accident scene where all we could do was to recover a man’s body…. 50 feet from where the remains of his truck came to rest on its side. He was a big man, we noticed, as we carried his body up the hillside to the coroner’s van. If he had used his seat belt, there was a very good chance he would have lived. He did not and he was thrown out, rolled over by his truck, and whatever hopes he might have had for a long and happy life quickly ended a hundred feet from the highway on a rocky hillside on a very dark and cold night.

You’ve all got them in your cars, folks. Take a couple of seconds every time you start up and make them go “click”!


  1. YES! I can add my vote to “click” from personal experience. I was in a T-bone crash many years ago just after NY began requiring seat belts to be used. I know that I escaped very serious injury or death by using my seat belt that evening. The other car ran a light and literally drove into the back seat of the car I was driving. My door flew open on impact,… I would have been thrown into a busy intersection. Thank you seat belt! And thank you to my own common sense to use a safety measure that was provided.


    Comment by Cedar — January 30, 2009 @ 5:33 am

  2. I’ll admit, I never used to wear mine. Just didn’t care, I suppose. However, that changed when my son was born.

    That was when I realized that it’d be stupid to deprive him of a Dad just because I didn’t bother to put on a seat belt. Now it’s the first thing I do when I get in a car.


    Comment by wolf — January 30, 2009 @ 10:17 am

  3. Thanks for the comment, Cedar. Lots of times folks don’t realize that in severe impacts, especially in rollover situations of side crashes, doors will open and the centrifugal force on a person is overwhelming. I was thinking as I watched a Highway Patrol officer marking the scene (which covered a lot of real estate) for further investigation that he could tell a lot of stories about lives that were saved and lives that were lost because of seat belts.


    Comment by montucky — January 30, 2009 @ 10:43 am

  4. Wolf,

    That’s one of the very best reasons and a great habit to get in to. Over my lifetime I’ve also had four times when I credit a belt for saving my life, not because I was in a crash, but because it held me in the driver’s seat where I should have been and enabled me to take the actions necessary to avoid one.


    Comment by montucky — January 30, 2009 @ 10:47 am

  5. I simply don’t understand why everyone doesn’t wear a seatbelt. It’s idiotic not to.

    Unless you’re big enough that the seatbelt doesn’t fit. That question did come to mind as I read your description of the man above.


    Comment by Patia — January 30, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

  6. Years ago when the energy crisis and high gas prices hit in the late 70s and early 80s, small cars became popular. When I started driving a small car, and while pregnant, I started buckling up. And since that time, I’ve always worn a seatbelt no matter what. That photo Preston had posted on our website of the cross on the roadside was for a woman who had died on the road in the worst way. She lost control of her car, hit the embankment and was thrown from the car. Landing on the road, another car hit her, running over her. She was not wearing a seatbelt. I don’t know if she would have survived the crash buckled in, but there could have been a chance. It is sad that so many horrifically die in crashes because of not wearing a seatbelt.

    Thanks for this post, montucky. A good reminder.


    Comment by Anna Surface — January 30, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

  7. I loved the moral you offered up as well as a direct reference to “moon” roofs, which I had on my 72 caddie (one of my first autos… when I tell people of it they are always correcting me, “don’t you mean sun roof?” and I just nod… “Oh yes, that’s exactly what I meant.”) It made me laugh to read of your car in spite of the sober message at the end. I’m not only sorry to hear of the man’s passing but also your personal experience of it which must have been sad. Thank you for sharing it.


    Comment by loriaull — January 30, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

  8. montucky, I was sorry to hear about your experience today. It is such an important message you have given all your readers. Thank-you.


    Comment by Maureen — January 30, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

  9. Patia,

    It is a strange thing that some folks just won’t wear a belt. This man was big but certainly not too big for a seatbelt. I have a couple friends who are larger, but they buckle up.


    Comment by montucky — January 30, 2009 @ 7:15 pm

  10. Anna,

    That’s a very good point. Seat belts won’t save everyone, but in so many cases they give a chance. About two months ago we were able to extricate a driver from her overturned car by cutting the side out (she was trapped by the dash), and she lived. I think the worst of her injuries was a broken arm. Fastened in as she was, the design of the car protected her and gave her a chance.


    Comment by montucky — January 30, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

  11. Lori,

    It’s a sad thing for sure, maybe even more so because this one might have been prevented. It was a shock because I knew this man.

    When we respond to accidents, there isn’t always anything we can do, as in this case, but other times we can and do save lives if we’re given a chance. It makes out time and effort worth it, but it’s probably not for everyone.


    Comment by montucky — January 30, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

  12. Maureen,

    I think that anything that can be done to keep this from happening to someone else, even one person is worth trying. I keep hoping.


    Comment by montucky — January 30, 2009 @ 7:24 pm

  13. Ah, thanks. It was just a thought that crossed my mind. It does happen.

    I’m sorry you knew this man, and I don’t mean to demean the dead, but I have a hard time feeling much pity for people who are too stupid or stubborn to wear a seatbelt — especially on icy roads.

    Thank you for being one of those heroes who pick up the pieces.


    Comment by Patia — January 30, 2009 @ 8:35 pm

  14. Patia,

    I know what you mean, but it’s those who are left behind who suffer the most, and that’s why I will support an enforceable seat belt law. Not for the individuals necessarily, but for those who care for them. Ironically, last night the highway was clear and dry.

    I don’t think of Rural Fire as a stage for heroism though. It’s more like “Dirty Jobs”.


    Comment by montucky — January 30, 2009 @ 9:39 pm

  15. I don’t think of Rural Fire as a stage for heroism though. It’s more like “Dirty Jobs”.

    Same difference.


    Comment by Patia — January 30, 2009 @ 9:52 pm

  16. I began wearing mine when I quit smoking. Guess I got over the death wish thing all at once.


    Comment by Pinhole — February 1, 2009 @ 9:37 am

  17. I’m glad you did, Pinhole! If everyone could respond to a few of these accidents and see first hand the ones that are preventable, I think there would be more interest in safety. Too many consider seat belts an academic issue.


    Comment by montucky — February 1, 2009 @ 9:53 am

  18. It is wonderful you were there to help no matter the outcome. I’ve been were people died. You might not know them, but being around death makes a mark on one if they know it or not. Will make sure to keep my seatbelt buckled up.


    Comment by Preston Surface — February 1, 2009 @ 11:35 am

  19. so sad! I guess it’s just become a real habit for me and my kids. My husband has lost the habit since he got his motorcycle. when he gets in the car now, my daughter usually has to remind him to buckle up.


    Comment by silken — February 1, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

  20. Preston,

    Fatal accidents are always hard to see. Fortunately, we respond to many where we can make a difference and actually save lives. This one really bothers me, not so much because I knew him as because it might have been prevented. That’s such a shame!


    Comment by montucky — February 1, 2009 @ 9:15 pm

  21. Silken,

    I know what it’s like to ride a bike without a seat belt and it does make it harder to remember to use on in an automobile. A daughter is an excellent person to do the reminding!


    Comment by montucky — February 1, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

  22. Oh, my gosh, that’s so sad. And it must have been so awful. For him obviously, but also for you and the other first responders. I admire you *so* much for your work with the fire department. There really aren’t good words for how much.

    I always always use my seatbelt. I don’t even have to think about it, it’s so automatic.


    Comment by gradschoolsara — February 2, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

  23. Sara,

    I’m so glad you have made using the belt automatic! That can make so much difference, especially with the newer cars that are designed to help protect people.

    Things like this are so hard on the family of the person. They are the ones who bear the grief. For the first responders it’s just another part of the job of responding to emergency situations. For my part, I realize that a situation will be a little bit (or sometimes a lot) better if I can be there to help, and that’s worth the effort.


    Comment by montucky — February 2, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

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