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How extra seconds can buy you a lifetime

Sept. 16, 2019

How extra seconds can buy you a lifetime


Havana just started first grade. She likes M&Ms. She’s pretty quiet around grownups, but the slow, sweet smile that spreads across her face is contagious. She may sound like a typical kid, but her mom, Erica, describes her as “a miracle.”

That’s because, in November 2015, doctors told Erica that Havana may never walk again. Her spine was broken when Erica’s vehicle – in which Havana and her two brothers were riding – was hit head-on by a drunk driver. The fact that, despite the odds, Havana now walks on her own is indeed a miracle, but she wouldn’t even be alive if not for Erica’s actions before she started the car that day.

If Erica hadn’t strapped then-3-year-old Havana snugly into the five-point harness of her forward-facing car seat, made sure Havana’s brothers were similarly secure, and put her own seat belt on, it’s likely all four of them would have died in that awful crash. “I’m thankful I took those few extra seconds,” says Erica. “I would hate to look back and think ‘what if.’”

Too many parents in Minnesota face that nightmarish question: Of the children age 7 and younger who died in crashes over the last five years, only 39 percent of the children were known to be buckled in correctly. On the other hand, over 17,000 children were involved in crashes over the past five years but were properly restrained, and 87 percent of them weren’t injured at all. To put it simply, proper child restraints work.

That goes for seat belts, too. There are a million reasons to buckle your seat belt: It’s the law; it sets a good example for kids; and it can spare your family the grief of you being killed in a crash. Unfortunately, there seems to be just as many excuses for not buckling up, says Lt. Gordon Shank of the Minnesota State Patrol: “I’m just making a short trip.” “I forgot.” “It feels uncomfortable.” Lt. Shank points out, “None of these excuses can bring someone back to life.”

If your own well-being or Havana’s story aren’t good enough reasons for buckling up, perhaps the risk of a ticket is: From Sept. 16 through 28, over 300 law enforcement agencies throughout Minnesota will be participating in the Click It or Ticket extra enforcement campaign. It’s a reminder that fastening your seat belt is expecting the unexpected: You can’t control what other drivers do, but you can control what goes on in your own car.

Erica and Havana’s ordeal had the best possible outcome, but it could have been much worse if Erica hadn’t taken those few extra seconds to make sure everyone was buckled in properly. Because of that, Erica doesn’t have to ask herself “what if.” And as for Havana, she has an attitude that the rest of us could learn from in overcoming the damage that drunk driver caused. She told her mom, “This is really hard, but I’m not giving up.”