Seat belts really do save lives

The phone call from my teacher wife came in during the afternoon.

“Cameo was driving and got hit by a bus,” she said, choking back tears and almost whispering. “I just got a call from my sister. Her car is totaled. I can’t teach any more today. I’m too nervous. I asked God to take care of her and this happens.”

I stopped listening, not wanting to hear the rest.

My mind immediately conjured up scenes of my stepdaughter’s tiny car crushed under a huge bus in Flint, Mich. I could see her on an operating table with doctors frantically trying to save her life.

I started thinking about how quickly we could get to Michigan.

And then I heard my wife say: “It’s amazing that she’s OK. I can’t believe it.”

How does your car get totaled by a city bus and you’re OK?

I wanted to believe it but had a difficult time doing so.

I called Cameo’s hospital room.

She sounded more scared than hurt.

Which was amazing considering that she and her 2,500 pound Ford Fiesta had collided with a 40,000 pound city bus only a couple of hours earlier.

“I’m OK,” she said, her voice sounding as though she didn’t quite believe it herself.

Test after test was done and doctors could find no broken bones, no concussion, no nerve damage.

There was a scratch on her chin from an airbag and she was plenty sore. She was going to leave the hospital for home soon. She sounded tired so I let her go with the promise I’d call her back at night.

I called my wife back.

“God did take car of Cameo,” I said. “We should also thank Ralph Nader.”

“You’re right,” my wife said.

It turned out Cameo had been in a hurry to get a graduate course paper in at the University of Michigan, Flint, and tried to drive through the last part of a yellow light.

The camera that caught the accident on tape showed she had run a red light, the bus hitting her flush on the passenger side, demolishing the subcompact and spinning the wreckage around.

Pictures of the mangled mess make it seem highly unlikely anyone in the Ford Fiesta could have survived, let alone do so with no more than a scraped chin.

A police officer, aware that it seemed a miracle that she was alive, actually apologized for having to give her a ticket.

Fortunately, no one on the bus — in Flint, Mich., schoolchildren take the city bus — was hurt.

I got back on the phone.

I told Cameo that she was alive because of the Good Lord and consumer safety advocate Ralph Nader.

Like so many young people today, she had heard of Nader but didn’t know much about him. She didn’t know that it was because of his consumer advocacy that her car had a seat belt and air bags and other safety equipment.

She had assumed her car had seven airbags, a safety harness and a safety cage reinforced with high-strength, lightweight born steel because car manufacturers always have safety in mind.

I told her how when I was growing up in the 1960s car manufacturers did all they could to fight safety features because they didn’t want to spend money on them.

Seat belts, which safety experts now say reduce the risk of crash injuries by 50 percent, were nonexistent 43 years ago.

I also told Cameo that after Nader authored “Unsafe at Any Speed,” an expose of the flawed design of General Motors’ Corvair, GM paid a private investigator to dig up dirt on Nader, even hiring prostitutes to approach him in public.

“Oh,” Cameo said.

Today, tens of thousands of lives are saved every year by safety equipment in automobiles and safety experts estimate that millions of injuries have been prevented or reduced in severity since seat belts became mandatory equipment in cars in the 1970s.

Did the fact that Michigan had a primary seat belt law — unlike in Nevada, police can stop drivers there solely for not wearing a seat belt — have anything to do with Cameo wearing her seat belt?

Well, I can tell you this: When my wife and I last visited there, one of the first things Cameo told us was that unless we wanted to pay a fine, we’d better buckle up.

“The cops really go after you here,” she said.

The law in Nevada allows police to write a driver or passenger a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only if stopped for another offense.

Even though she knows she would have been ejected and met almost certain death in her recent accident, Cameo likes the Nevada law better than the Michigan law.

“I think people should have the choice about what they want to do,” she said.

Well, Cameo, your mother and I are sure glad you made the choice you did.

Merry Christmas.

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at or 702-387-2908.