Sunday, May 22, 2022

When the car seatbelt becomes a death trap

It’s Saturday afternoon, and two youthful buddies from Mahalapye are in high spirits as they cruise to Gaborone along the A1 Highway, their safety belts unstrapped.

Pako and Molebatsi still have the AFCON fever, talking loudly about how unbelievable it was that Ivory Coast’s superstars did not progress to the final stages of the tournament.

Their gay chatter abruptly ends at the sight of Police Commissioner Keabetswe Makgope’s men in intimidating gear and that puzzling ‘Michael Jackson’ glove. One of the men signals them to stop. Panic stricken, the two friends frantically grab their seat belts as a show of adherence to road safety.

Makgope’s man has already spotted their road indiscretion and vigorously signals. Feeling invincible in their BMW 530, Pako and his mate toy with the idea of speeding off and spray-dusting the officer.
Their fantasy is short lived, for after all, this is not South Africa where criminals rule the streets with the police at their mercy. Reluctantly they stop and the exchange that follows with Sergeant Setlhare exposes them for breaching the number one road safety rule.

Sergeant Setlhare is no mood for small talk and issues the fine on the spot, to be paid within 14 days. The two friends drive off with bruised egos from the humbling encounter, dishing unkind words to the man in uniform.

Molebatsi, the driver, secures his seatbelt still throwing tantrums over the fine. Pako follows suit briefly, but the seatbelt irritates him, almost as though it’s ‘suffocating’ him, and he continually pulls it away from his neck.

Once out of sight of Makgope’s men, Pako unfastens the seat belt. Molebatsi remains buckled up, perhaps compelled subconsciously by the hefty fine they have received. Amid the boy talk and whining about bars and nightclubs regulations and the alcohol levy, tragedy strikes as Molebatsi enters a bend a little too quickly, although within the speed limit. He fails to negotiate the bend and loses control of the car sending it into a wild spiral roll.

In the crazy momentum, Pako, buckle free, is forcefully ejected, smashes through the windscreen, and lands on the ground. He sustains serious cuts from the shattered windscreen, twists his neck, and breaks some ribs.

Molebatsi, secured by the buckle, is trapped inside the BMW to face the tremendous impact each time the car hits the ground from the wild roll. He faces all the jagged metal as the pitching car gives way to the crushing force of each smash to the ground. Every inch towards the car being transformed into a metal scrap, Molebatsi is trapped helplessly.

It would be interesting to ask the Department of Road Transport and Safety how many people die in car crashes, trapped by a safely secured seatbelt. Statistics would no doubt reveal more deaths from car accidents for those who weren’t buckled up, but any record of deaths linked to the seatbelt as a facilitator are still worth noting.

Pako and Molebatsi are just characters I used to reveal the dark side of the seatbelt. For every Molebatsi out there, there are loved ones involved whose lives will never be the same again because Molebatsi wore a seatbelt on the fateful day!

Molebatsi’s wife, children, parents, siblings and friends will always torturously and agonisingly wonder what could have been had Molebatsi ignored the Sergeant’s enforcement to buckle up. Unfortunately, only Pako’s family knows what has actually been following his defiance of the Sergeant’s call to buckle up.

This is not in any way a call for drivers to disregard road safety regulations, but it’s a caution that the seatbelt can be a death trap.

Over ten years ago, I lost a family member in a car accident. He was a Molebatsi. Last year, I received more bad news of a similar nature. Two people I knew lost their lives in separate occasions. Molebatsis, with a Pako (survivor). With this painful trend before my eyes, you would appreciate how I’m starting to look at the seatbelt differently. More car accident survivors have shared how conveniently ‘forgetting’ to buckle up has saved their lives.

The seatbelt has been enforced for years now as a safety measure with a total disregard for exceptions, special cases, particularly observed with those not wearing one. Perhaps if special cases are appreciated, some lives can be saved.


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