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by Abigail Van Buren

Don't Learn the Hard Way That Seat Belts Save Lives

DEAR ABBY: A few weeks ago, you printed a letter from a reader who was disturbed when she saw young children who were obviously not secured in safety seats in automobiles. Her concern is valid. Parents who do not buckle in their children properly and do not fasten their own seat belts risk their lives and the lives of their children.

Two years ago, I was driving from my home to a friend's wedding. Twenty miles from my destination, I glanced at my radio to change stations. When I looked back at the road, I saw I was heading off the highway. I panicked, overcorrected my steering and ended up rolling on the median.

I cannot express what was going through my mind when the accident occurred. I know I screamed as the car skidded and suddenly felt blood trickling down my face. My passenger had to break the windshield to escape. Luckily for me, a good Samaritan stopped and pulled me out of my car. We were taken to a hospital.

My parents were terrified when they received the call informing them of the accident. They later told me that the two-hour drive to the hospital was the longest two hours of their lives.

My passenger and I were fortunate to escape with only cuts and bruises. As we left the hospital, a Texas state trooper who had been dispatched to the scene of the accident, said, "The seat belts saved your lives."

A few weeks ago, one of my neighbors was killed in a car accident similar to mine. His family said he always used his seat belt, but for some reason, he chose not to use it that night. He would have been 19 on his next birthday. -- ROBYN A. SANDERS, ARLINGTON, TEXAS

DEAR ROBYN: It cannot be repeated too often -- seat belts save lives. A day or so after your letter arrived, a mother sent me this tragic letter about two of her five children:

DEAR ABBY: On June 14, I received the phone call that every parent dreads. Three of my five children were returning from a ski race camp in Montana when the driver fell asleep. My two eldest children, both boys (Christopher, 17, and Travis, 15), were fatally injured. Travis died immediately; Chris died three days later.

The teens and the father of one of the boys had been caravaning home from camp when the 16-year-old who was driving our van fell asleep. The van slid for about 300 feet on the grassy shoulder of the road. The tires blew out, and when the rims hit the pavement, the van rolled end over end. Chris was ejected through the sliding door; Travis was thrown out the back hatch and the van rolled over on him.

The driver of our van, one other teen and our 14-year-old daughter Monica survived the accident. We are grateful that Monica suffered only a few scratches as did the other survivors; however, she still suffers from the emotional trauma of seeing her brothers die -- she was especially close to Travis.

No drugs, alcohol or horseplay were involved in the accident. The driver was just tired. We harbor no hard feelings toward him -- we know it was an accident.

Abby, we will never be able to thank all the people who helped these kids -- the doctor who arrived at the scene and helped the survivors; the emergency personnel; and the motorists who went hours out of their way to bring some of the kids and the ski gear home.

I can't describe the pain that we as a family experience every day now. Our talented, handsome sons are gone -- because they didn't buckle up. They were diligent about wearing their seat belts, but that night, for some reason, they didn't. I'll always wonder why.

Abby, if sharing our tragedy prompts even one person to buckle up, writing this letter to you will not have been in vain. -- TERRI W. HARTLAUER, SALT LAKE CITY

DEAR TERRI: Please accept my deepest sympathy on the loss of your sons, Chris and Travis. My heart goes out to you and your family. Losing a child is devastating, but to lose two under such tragic circumstances is almost more than a family can bear.

Readers, this could happen to anyone. Please be sure that your young children are fastened in their safety seats every time, and insist that your older children wear seat belts. Set a good example for them by wearing one yourself.

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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