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Riding around in Cars without Seatbelts: How Did I Survive the 80s?

Riding In Car No Seatbelt

On March 21 of this year, the American Association of Pediatrics issued a whole new set of guidelines for the use of car seats and boosters for children. Now they recommend that kids stay in rear-facing seats until the age of two, and that children use booster seats at least until the age of eight—some children may be twelve by the time they reach the height/weight guideline not to use a booster. Research has time and time again shown that car seats and seatbelts save lives. That’s a given, at this point, as inarguable as gravity. Do you know what I wonder? How the hell am I alive today?

In my family, we never wore seatbelts. It wasn’t until I was in the seventh grade and saw an episode of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” that showed how seatbelts increase safety when riding in a car, especially if you’re in an accident! BELIEVE IT OR NOT! Watching those crash test dummies fly through the windshield, I made a face roughly like:


and begged my parents to start using their belts. I insisted we all buckle up after that.

When I was a little kid, boy, did we live on the edge! As much as my parents worried I’d be kidnapped from the mall or even the backyard or secretly poisoned by the cafeteria food, they let me do some crazy ass shit in the car. I was the baby of the family, so they insisted I ride in the center of the backseat—the safest place in the car. However, they let me sit on the optional backseat armrest so I could play "horsey."

Sometimes when I was feeling carsick, they’d let me sit on my mom’s lap in the front passenger seat. No belts for anyone. I remember one time cupping my mom’s hands in front of me so I could barf in them. I’m sure she appreciated that.

On long-distance drives, they’d let me stretch out on the backseat and sleep all the way home.

One time, we drove to Florida in the station wagon, and my parents folded down the backseat and put in a mattress, and the three of us kids sat on an unsecured mattress in the back of the station wagon, hurtling down the highway at 60-70 miles per hour. Good times!

And it’s not as though we were never in car accidents—we were. Honestly, I do not know how I made it through my childhood. But after that episode of “Ripley’s” (allow me to pour some of my malt beverage on the floor in honor of Jack Palance), I always, always put my seatbelt on, and forced everyone else in the car with me to do the same.

Except for that one time I had to ride home in the hatchback of my cousin’s car.


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