Char-Koosta News

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Saved by the belt

by Diana Schwab

Tony Isbell of the Montana Highway Patrol (left) and Joe Garcia (center) received the Saved by the Belt Award from Dan Yonkin, of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Yonkin nominated Garcia for the award when he realized that it was the seat belt that saved Joe’s life. (courtesy photo) Tony Isbell of the Montana Highway Patrol (left) and Joe Garcia (center) received the Saved by the Belt Award from Dan Yonkin, of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Yonkin nominated Garcia for the award when he realized that it was the seat belt that saved Joe’s life. (courtesy photo)

ROLLINS — In early February, during the time we were having heavy snowfalls along with snow-packed and icy roads, Joe Garcia was driving south on Highway 93 near Rollins when another vehicle, going the opposite direction, lost control and veered into his lane. The two vehicles collided head-on. Fortunately, Mr. Garcia had his seat belt on, and although he sustained some minor injuries, he was able to walk up the steps of the Lake County Courthouse with his wife and father to be able to receive the “Saved by the Belt” award on March 24. The Saved by the Belt Award is a collaborative effort between AAA Mountain West, the Montana Department of Transportation, and Montana’s Highway Patrol of the Department of Justice to highlight the importance of wearing your seat belt.

The driver of the other vehicle was not wearing her seat belt. Even though she was not ejected from the vehicle, as often happens to those not belted in, the force of impact threw her into the steering wheel, breaking her pelvis. It appeared that she was on her way out the windshield when the steering column caught her at the hips. Even though both vehicles were stopped dead, anyone unbuckled keeps going – at the speed of the vehicle right before the crash. Her injuries were severe enough that she had to be life-flighted to a local hospital. According to first-responders on that accident scene, she is still recuperating from the crash, in a wheelchair and very lucky to be alive.

The injuries sustained by the belted driver versus those of the unbelted one are stark, along with the medical and emergency response costs associated with each. Looking at a photo of Mr. Garcia’s jeep, with the front-end of the vehicle completely demolished, you can see the tremendous forces that were involved in this crash. However, the cab of the jeep was completely intact. This is what is known as the “safety cage” of the vehicle. One of the most important safety features of a seat belt is that is it designed to keep you inside that safety cage in the event of a crash. A safety cage is a cage built around any workstation to protect the person it. In an automobile, the safety cage is that part of the body structure that surrounds and defines the passenger compartment and provides impact and crush protection for passengers during a collision or roll-over. Seat belts, along with airbags, both of which deployed in Mr. Garcia’s case; are designed to keep you inside that reinforced safety cage and prevents that second collision from occurring, that is, your body with some part of the vehicle: head meets windshield, rib cage meets dashboard, or pelvis meets the steering column.

Talking to Joe after he received the award, which includes a one-year membership to AAA, he said that he learned his lesson about the importance of seat belts when he was only 19. He and two other teens were riding in the front cab of a pickup truck when they were involved in a crash with a tree. All three were thrown from the cab, and all three landed on the concrete. “All I got was a scratch on the back,” he said, but he realized that he and the others were thrown out because they were not strapped in. What a valuable lesson at such a young age. Remember, it only takes 3 seconds: That’s how long it takes to put on your seat belt - the most important safety device of a motor vehicle.

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