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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Unsafe at Any Speed

Published May 13, 2011 7:42 PM by Rich Krisher

As a child of the 1960s and '70s, I often wonder how I made it through my childhood. My friends and I roamed the neighborhoods unaccounted for pretty much from breakfast to dinner, and often well after dark. On foot and bike, we were all over the place, hanging out in local stores of all kinds, even the "lounge" at the bowling alley where I remember the fries being pretty epic.

I remember having trouble with some other kids, but never feeling threatened by an adult. Today, the kind of hands-off parenting I enjoyed would be viewed as borderline criminal. My wife and I often pull and tug over how much freedom to give our sons, with me wanting to let them explore and make their inevitable mistakes. The stakes seem higher today somehow, so I see her point too.

However, one area I am very glad changes have been made is the safety of kids in cars. As a toddler, I sat in a "mini driver" seat whose clamp rested over the back of the front seat. When I got a little older, I sat in the middle of the front seat on a fold-down arm rest. Seat belts were never in use. In either case, I would have shot through the windshield like a missile in the event of a frontal collision.

Today's car seats mounted in the back seat, booster seats for older kids and seat belts worn by all is an incredible leap forward in safety. It's a long way from sitting in the front seat next to my mom, with her right hand serving as a primitive air bag in case of close calls with other cars.

The CDC released fact sheets highlighting state-based costs of U.S. crash deaths to coincide with the May 11 launch of the Decade of Action for Road Safety. The Decade of Action for Road Safety begins this year and continues through 2020, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly to highlight the need for protecting lives on the world's roads.

Reading the summary of recommendations for improvements made me think of my youth on the roads, both as a passenger and later a beginning driver. I took my written exam for my driver's license before I turned 16, the age in my state to obtain a license, and was at the driving test center with my mom's AMC Pacer on my 16th birthday so I'd have my license at the first possible date. I passed the test and the rest is highway history.

I received a junior license, which entitled me to drive until some hour of the evening. That status lasted for a year, I think. (More hands-off parenting: I don't think my parents knew about this and I therefore was able to drive at pretty much any hour.)

The CDC recommends: "Comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems, which are proven to reduce teen crashes. GDL systems help new drivers gain experience under lower-risk conditions by granting driving privileges in stages. The most comprehensive GDL systems have been associated with up to 40 percent decreases in crashes among 16-year-old drivers."

I'm about 2½ years away from having one of my sons become old enough to get his license, and I can imagine his mom's all-out terror at the prospect.

Do you have memories of days when it wasn't uncommon for parents to bring along an alcoholic drink for the road? Have you benefitted from auto safety improvements? Does your hospital have a program to teach new parents how to properly use a car seat? I'd love to hear your reflections.


In 1987, when my daughter was 5, we had a station wagon with a back door that didn't latch well, so we kept it locked. She managed to unlock it one day while I was driving, and as I turned a corner, the door opened and she fell out. Thankfully, I was only going about 5 mph, and she wasn't hurt. I was horrified. That was the day I started wearing my seatbelt all the time and making anyone riding with me wear theirs, too.

Candy Goulette, Regional Editor, ADVANCE for Nurses May 14, 2011 12:33 PM
Lincoln CA

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