May 25, 2007

First Person


By Al Carlos Hernandez

The other day I was trying to install my niece’s high tech baby seat into my car and the process was frustratingly complicated. There is an arcane left wing conspiracy protocol of straps and buckles. In order to secure it in properly, I almost straight jacketed myself upside down while doing a hand stand in the back seat. Got it in all right, but it may not ever come out again.

I don’t think my Dad ever used a seat belt in his life. The traditional thinking on motion physics at the time was, if the car is in motion you are in motion too. If the car stops you will eventually stop with it, don’t hang out the window because a telephone pole might bonk you on the head, or, with your big lips, you might mumble yourself silly.

As a kid I remember car rides being simple, get in the car and go. Some of us would sit in the seats, others would take a snooze on the back panel warmed by the rear window rotisserie, and some times we would ride the transmission hump like a horse, sometimes stand on the seats, seat surfing. The motoring theory being, you can do anything you want just as long as you stay in the car until we get there, and, we will get there when we get there.

Pops used to have this really fast black and white Ford station wagon with a T bird engine and red interior. He would fold all the seats down in the back, making it flat then do a major mash burn out and we would all slide all the way to the back, crumpling in a pile at the tailgate. This was our version of an amusement park ride.

The child safety seat for us at the time was the seat directly behind Pop, which was the only place he couldn’t reach around and slap you while driving. We were all quite thankful for the fact that Dad wasn’t double jointed.

Sometime later Dad bought this aqua two tone Buick Super, unfortunately it was a two door and when he did the burn out mash thing, I like an idiot, was bending over tying my cheap tennis shoe and when he took off I kneed myself in the bunny teeth, saw stars and nearly knocked myself out. My sibling’s who almost laughed themselves into convulsions, tricked me into re-enacting the boney knee to the chops incident, and few intersections later, Dad put the petal to the metal mash down again, this time almost breaking my nose. I have never owned a Buick.

Adults too, in my family were not immune to injury and humiliation for not being buckled in or owning cars that were buckle friendly. One of Pop’s running buddies almost got a divorce over an incident where he slammed on the breaks (We later surmised he stopped for a hallucination) his wife went flying into the windshield cracking it with her forehead. The police came, a huge argument ensued, as he was convinced that she broke the windshield on purpose.

I have always been a fan of seat belts and always use them; maybe kneeing myself in the grill had a positive effect on me. It seems incredulous that back in the day, car makers had no interest at all in making motoring safe for kids. It was common practice to hold babies in the front seat, stand next to the dashboard, and in Texas you could drink a cold one while driving.

Now days we cannot conceive of taking any of the kids anywhere without the proper child seat properly securing them in insuring their safety. Kids under the age of 12 are not allowed to ride in the front seat because of modern airbags.

It is disturbing to see folks from other countries who maintain old world customs, who drive around town with the kids all over the place in the car. There are good laws on the books now, making sure that kids are protected from their parents ignobility.

All kids outgrow the child seats, there should be a place where folks can take their used and outgrown child seats and make them available for folks who can’t afford them. Child seat are not usually sold at second hand stores because there is a liability issue, should the chair fail in an accident.

All cars sold to families with kids should include child seats for free as part of the deal. If the car buying parent has a lousy driving record, then helmets for child passengers should be available as well.

Cars don’t cause accidents, people on cell phones do.

Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.

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