Feet off the dash

BY Lorraine Sommerfeld. Jul 22 04:00 am

When does your foolishness become my business? When it becomes my problem, such as when you cut me off with no signal or back down an off ramp.

I know when it becomes my problem, such as when you endanger my life or those of your fellow motorists. When we are left trying to predict what you might do while you’re on the phone or while you’re perfecting your DUI: driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or sheer stupidity. These all become my problem the second you drop it into drive.

A friend sent me a picture the other day. He saw a truck driving on the highway. I could hear him gnashing his teeth and I understood why. I get sent at least one pic or story a week about something similar.

Ever since I wrote last year about Bethany Benson, who had her life implode because she’d had her feet propped on the dash when the airbags went off in a collision, people want me to know it’s still happening.

It’s not my problem, I think. It’s just not. But is it my business? I think it is.

I had a Santa Fe behind me on the highway in Mississauga, Ont., two months ago. Mom driving, her 13-year-old daughter in the passenger seat; I’m pretty good at kids’ ages, so I’ll stick with 13. Anyway, the girl had her feet up on the dash, and I was horrified. Traffic was heavy, with conditions that are perfect for those chain-reaction crashes you see at low to moderate speeds. The kind where the airbags deploy. Heading down Highway 400 a few weeks later, I saw the same thing.

If we can’t get through to teenagers that they’re risking their lives doing something as simple as propping up their legs on a dashboard, can’t we at least get through to the parents? Right after Bethany’s story was published, I saw a young couple with U.S. plates on their car and they both had a leg on the dash. Yes, the driver had his left leg propped up on the dash.

Airbags are glorious things, truly. They have saved so many lives, even with the massive Takata recall underway (one in seven cars on U.S. roads, 34 million cars worldwide). Experts agree it is far safer to leave the potentially dangerous bags in vehicles than run the risk of not having them there at all.

Airbags, however, are created to work with a vehicle’s other safety systems. They work in conjunction with seatbelts, for instance, and if you have reclined your seat, you’ve compromised both systems — and you are not being protected.

Airbags are aimed at car occupants, quite literally. The one in the dashboard is supposed to hit your upper torso, not behind your knees as it did Bethany. It shattered her.

Deploying at more than 300 km/h, its work is done in a fraction of a second. You have no time to reposition yourself. If I see someone with their feet on the dash, it’s not my problem, but if I can, I’ll make it my business.

The frequency of headlines about pets or kids left in cars never abates, either. The numbers hold steady despite ad campaigns, warnings and news stories. I put myself through that sweaty nightmare a year ago making a video, so you wouldn’t have to.

The problem with defining things that are my problem and things that are my business is one of human nature. I can write articles and make videos and give talks and always, without fail, I get responses that basically say, “I would never do that so that could never happen to me.”

The more distance we can put between ourselves and something horrible, the more comfortable we are in our righteousness. The problem, of course, is you can’t speak for everyone who matters to you, for those you love. Put aside your determined rightness for a moment, and simply explain the implications of things they might do.

Anyone who has pets should know exactly how fast a car heats up to deadly levels — several minutes, not 45. They should know a window cracked is like an oven door opened a little: useless.

Quit dismissing those doing dangerous things as morons who shouldn’t have a licence. Those morons might, quite honestly, be members of your family or people you love. People do dumb things all the time, though it’s only those who get caught doing them who make the headlines.

Don’t bother sending links and clips to people if you’re one of those people, like my late father, who cut out everything and foisted his opinions and interests on us repeatedly; we tuned him out. By all means follow up with the links, but next time everyone is around, simply say, “Don’t put your feet on the dash or the airbags could blow your legs off.” Simple. In the next breath, remind them if they leave their pet or kid in a car for even a minute, there is very likely someone willing to smash the window to get them out. And then move on and get some potato salad and a beer.

Make it your business, even if it’s not your problem.

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