Down Campbell Road
The tragedy of not wearing a seatbelt on a P.E.I. dirt road
It’s red clay, like many smaller Prince Edward Island sideroads, and straight as an arrow — the Campbell Road, outside Montague.
Nine years after the fact, it’s hard to imagine a fatal automobile accident there. But there was one, a 16-year-old girl thrown from a vehicle and fatally injured, the second teenager from the same high school killed in automobile accidents in less than a year.
Neither girl had been wearing a seatbelt.
Why talk about this accident now? (I’m deliberately not naming the victim on Campbell Road. I’m not naming any of the victims I’m going to be writing about here.)
I’m talking about it because of the remarkable frankness of one of the police officers connected to the investigation of the crime.
“To my mind, single-vehicle accident, nobody should be killed,” Cpl. George Cumming of Kings District RCMP told the CBC at the time. “Single-vehicle rollover accident, nobody should be killed. … It’s very frustrating when you’re looking at young lives that are lost, and because of a simple thing like not wearing a seatbelt.”
It’s something that emergency responders deal with regularly, even now, though the police often — perhaps unintentionally, perhaps because they are addicted to police jargon — don’t fully explain. It’s a lot like suicide: if a person dies and “no foul play is suspected,” then it’s quite possible the death could have been a suicide.
Likewise, if a police officer tells you a victim was “ejected from the vehicle,” chances are, they weren’t wearing a seatbelt. In the last few months, there have been a number of accidents with “ejections” in and around St. John’s — the toll of injuries has been brutal.
Seatbelt buckles may fail, and sometimes, people do end up outside vehicles despite wearing a seatbelt.
But the vast majority of people who are thrown from vehicles are not wearing seatbelts — and many of them are teens or young adults.
“Of the teens (aged 13-20 years) that died in crashes in 2012, approximately 55 per cent of them were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash,” according to research done for the U.S. Center for Disease Control.
The CDC also points out that the use of seatbelts reduces serious injuries and deaths by 50 per cent.
Airbags, when you’re already restrained by seatbelts, reduce those injuries even more.
Cars are built to be as safe as they possibly can be in car accidents, but every one of the pieces — from crumple zones to seatbelts to air bags — is designed to work together. Leave the belt unbuckled, and you’ve broken the chain.
I’ve been at plenty of accidents where people in a car wearing seatbelts walked away with minor injuries, while those in the same accident who weren’t wearing belts were seriously injured.
The girl who died on the Campbell Road had a name that was fairly typical of the year she was born.
Run her first and last names together through Google, and you come up with other girls with close to the same name — girls who are now in their 20s, posting Instagram photos, setting up bridal registries, graduating from university, having children.
Girls who didn’t die on the Campbell Road.
Standing on the red clay road, it’s something you can’t easily forget.
The Campbell Road, near Montague, P.E.I., in this July 2015 file photo.