Bouncing Babies

This past Thursday, on my monthly morning spot on KLFY TV, I wanted to demonstrate the forces that apply to babies and children in car accidents.  To simulate the effect of a 10 mph car crash on an unsecured infant, I dropped a life-sized baby doll from a 6-foot ladder, face down.  The doll went smack, to a collective gasp from the morning team.  For my own curiosity, the day before, I simulated this in my own car.  I revved up to 10 mph with the unbuckled doll in the back seat and stomped the brake. That baby flew! 

Some people neglect to buckle their infants into car seats, or fail to secure the seat to the car.  Older kids and teens sometimes don’t wear seatbelts. They just don’t understand the danger of sudden decelerations to their bodies. Looking for ways to demonstrate this for TV, I went to the internet.  I found myriad physics lessons that would be confusing to anyone not willing to brush up on higher math. The best I could find: A 30 mph crash into a solid object, like a tree or another car, would be like driving your car off of a 30 foot high building, landing nose first.  Sure, your seatbelt, airbag, and car crumple zones would protect you, but wanna try it?  How about without your belt on?

Humans (and animals) have a much better understanding of falling from heights.  Our ancient ancestors needed to have a fear of heights to survive: don’t jump off that cliff or you’ll die, or at least it’ll really hurt.  We’ve lived with heights for eons and fear of falls is baked into our DNA.  Cars have only been with us for a few generations, so understanding the dangers is an intellectual matter, not a visceral one.  And some people don’t use their intellect.

Thus food for thought: we’ve seen lots of unbelted kids and teens in the past few weeks in car wrecks.  Some had broken bones, including broken hips and femurs, which takes lots of energy.  Like driving your car off of a 3 storey building.  So when your kids get in the car, have them visualize you plunging off that building, the ground rushing up in the windshield.  Buckle up!

In the 1930s, the Boeing Corporation was developing a new, “heavy” bomber for the military.  It was far more complex than any airplane to date: it had four engines, with lots of controls and dials for each. The flaps and rudder were so large that they had to be locked when the plane was just sitting there, lest gusts of wind make them flop around and get damaged.  One day the test pilots took this “B-17″ for a flight, forgot to unlock the controls, and crashed.  Thus Boeing invented the first “checklist,” so pilots wouldn’t have to remember all the important steps it took to fly such a complicated machine.

We discussed above the human perceptions and misunderstandings about the danger of riding in a car without a seatbelt.  It’s not easy to foresee the forces that would slam your body around in a car crash, as opposed to knowing how it will hurt if you fall off a roof.  Though cars are more simple to operate than airplanes, there’s safety considerations that are often forgotten by parents, kids, and especially teens.  Here’s the checklist:

First of course, make sure your kids are buckled properly, in seatbelts or car seats.  Some parents “short-circuit” this step in certain situations. I’ve been told, when talking to parents after a crash, that “we were only going down the street,” to the store or grandmas.  However, the majority of car crashes happen close to home.  Sometimes they let their kids continue trying to buckle up, while starting driving in a parking lot.  Then the crash.  Sure it’s a low speed “fender bender,” but remember our story from above, where a 10 mph crash is like falling from a 10 foot ladder, baby making a horrifying smack.

Some parents just expect their kids to listen.  They say, “buckle up,” and then don’t double check that the belts are on, the doors are closed, or the car seat is properly strapped to the car.  Thus I propose a checklist, taped to the steering wheel (I’ve done this myself!), to remind them that the car should not move an inch until they visually inspect that all is secure in the back.  Boeing Corporation would be proud.

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