Today I opened up my email from my 14-year-old’s soccer coach. Practice this week is canceled because his 19-year-old niece was killed in a car crash, and he has to go out of state for the memorial. She wasn’t wearing her seat belt. Every week I read or hear about teenagers who are killed in car crashes, and my first thought is: “Were they wearing their seat belts?”

Most teenagers die accidentally from various causes. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, death from automobile accidents is the NUMBER ONE  cause.  How does this happen? Do we not put them in car seats from the minute we take them out of the hospital? You can’t leave the hospital without a car seat. They will give you one for free. We transition them into car seats, then booster seats. Each state has their own laws as to how old and how much a child can weigh before they sit in the front seat of the car. However, they all have laws regarding seat belts.

So tell me, do you wear a seat belt? Most likely if a parent does not wear a seat belt, neither will their children. Last year during career day at a local elementary school (I am an Emergency Room doctor), I was shocked to see how many 3rd graders were eager to raise their hands when asked, “Who doesn’t wear their seat belt in a car?” The reasons were varied, but the theme was the same: A negligent adult didn’t put it on them.

Why would any adult in today’s society risk the life of a child by not putting a seat belt on them? Children grow up to become defiant teenagers. They think they are invincible. Research now tells us that their frontal lobe of their brain is not fully developed so that can’t biologically make mature decisions. We as adults who love our children and want to see them become productive adults and add to this society, have the responsibility to teach them and monitor them about the need to wear a seat belt.

I have sutured and put back together the faces of countless non-seat belt wearing patients who were lucky to just have facial injuries. Each time, as I am suturing their faces, I have a conversation about why they didn’t have their seat belt on. I am always quick to point out that they are very lucky this time, and that G-d has given them a small warning. Do they heed my advice? I am not sure. I can only continue on my campaign to promote seat belt use. That is why I am writing this blog.

Today’s email saddened me even more. The coach’s niece’s name was the same as my teenage daughter(just spelled a little different). My 19-year-old daughter is named after my sister, who was 17 and killed in 1961 in a car accident. She wasn’t wearing her seat belt. My sister was the front seat passenger, in a car with a teenage driver and 2 rear seat passengers. They were only going out for a quick bite to eat, so she told my father. “Be right back,” she told my father.

In those days, they called you on the phone and told you that your daughter was dead and that you should go to the ER to identify her body. After ripping the phone from the wall, my father drove up to the hospital, entered the morgue all alone, to see his beautiful daughter’s body lying on the stretcher. Something that he talked about until the day he died at age 92. A long life time for “what ifs.”

So please, don’t ever have a life filled with “what ifs.” Wear your seat belt. Always make sure that your teenager, and their friends are wearing theirs, too.