PSA: Always Wear Your Seat Belt

About two weeks ago, my wife and our five year old son were in a pretty serious car accident.  No father wants to get a call from his wife saying that a tractor trailer skidded into their van on a wet road, there was an airbag deployment, and that they were still waiting for the police or ambulance to show up.  It took every ounce of will power that I have to not drive home at 120 miles per hour that day.  Fortunately, they both survived, and thus far seem to have fairly minor injuries.  (We’ll know more after my wife’s follow-up appointment on Friday).

I didn’t think it would be so hard to write about this a week later.

The van – a 2008 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD that we bought new the day after our second son was born – was completely destroyed, as one would expect when a tractor trailer hits it.  The old Sienna was a gas hog – around town, 17 MPG was the norm.  But now, all thoughts and ideas that we had batted around about what to buy after the Sienna was worn out – you know, in another five years, since it only had 60,xxx miles on it – have now been thrown out the window.  Fuel economy be damned, we’re buying another one of those vans that saved the life of my wife and son.  Sorry, no C-Max, Q5, Forester, or the like for the Haak family hauler.  We just bought another Sienna – this time, a 2013 model.

Go ahead, take away my car-guy card.

When we decided to take the minivan plunge 5+ years ago, I did so only reluctantly.  And a Toyota minivan?  The Honda Odyssey drove better, but Toyota’s trump card was that it was the last minivan to offer optional all-wheel drive.  For that reason alone, we picked the Sienna.

I have been a seatbelt zealot from the time I was about seven or eight years old.  I can remember, growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, a time when nobody in my family wore seat belts.  Those public-service campaigns seemed to pay off, though.  Pennsylvania passed a mandatory seatbelt law (though it’s still only a secondary offense) while I was growing up.  Eventually it became a habit.  Without a seatbelt across my chest, I feel incomplete when sitting in a car.  I like the security of the strap across my hip bones and diagonally across my ribs and sternum.  The car is holding onto me, keeping me safe.

Of course, seat belts don’t guarantee you will survive an accident.  Nor do airbags, ultra high-strength steel, reinforced A-pillars, crumple zones, and the hundreds of other safety technologies built into modern cars.  But each of them working in concert does an amazing job of making motor vehicle transportation many, many times safer than it was when I was growing up.

On a side note, I strongly feel that two important things kept my five year old from nearly any injury other than brush burns from his restraints.  First, he was sitting in the second-row seat far away from the impact zone (he was behind my wife, the driver – the police officer on the scene recommended that he sit on the opposite side, but that isn’t particularly feasible since his brother rides in that spot when he’s in the car, and they are different sizes).  Second, he was wearing a five-point harness, even though he’s legally large enough to use just a booster seat that uses the vehicle’s safety belts.  Not every five-point seat can accommodate bigger kids, but we use the Britax Frontier 85 for both kids, which costs about $205 on Amazon and – as the name hints – can hold kids safely up to 85 pounds in the five-point harness.  After that, the kids can be held in the seat in its booster mode, which we haven’t tried yet (about another 20+ pounds to go).

After the accident, we immediately ordered two new Britax Frontier 85 seats (we let the kids pick their color schemes) – even though one was unoccupied during the accident, nobody with my level of expertise can tell if that seat is still safe, and I’m not playing games or guessing when it comes to the safety of my children.  Plus, the truck driver’s insurance company indicated that they would reimburse us for them.

We have already settled on the personal-property claim (the van and its contents) and we’re hoping that the injury settlement goes as smoothly.  Important advice:  seek legal counsel.  The insurance company (either yours or the other driver’s) may try to sound like they are concerned about your well-being, but they are actually most concerned about closing out the claim and limiting their exposure down the road.  If, heaven forbid, you do have to pursue a lawsuit as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident, here is one resource on the automobile accident lawsuit process that you might want to refer to.  Or, just ask any local lawyer who specializes in the field (that’s what we did).

Stay safe out there, hug your kids and spouse, tell them how much you love them every time you see them.

Bonus: our new Sienna – which happens to be the same color – is in the final photo in the gallery below.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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