Phoenix before seat belts
I enjoy collecting old photos of Phoenix, and I especially like the old cars. But one thing that always seems to bother me is that before 1965, most of cars didn't have seat belts, nor did the cars have much in the way of protection for passengers during a crash. There were no air bags, no crumple zones, no side impact protection. And the kinds of accidents that people survive easily today were very often fatal back then. And even in the 1970s, and '80s, most people didn't wear seat belts in their cars. I remember when it became a law, and how strange it felt for my parents. They were way too cool for seat belts, but they were law-abiding. They were more afraid of getting a ticket for not wearing a seat belt that having it save their life in a crash. People who drove cars back then just hoped for the best, and when they crashed, they mostly died.
No, I'm not trying to be a downer, man. I'm just saying that although I enjoy visiting old-time Phoenix in my imagination, I'd much rather be in my modern car, which not only has seat belts (including a shoulder belt), it has air bags, crumple zones, side impact protection, and probably things I've never heard of. If I make a mistake out there on the road, or if someone else does, my day will be ruined, but I probably won't die.
And that leads me into the strange comments that I often see on the internet that say something like, "We didn't have seat belts, and here we are, safe and sound!" Of course, the flawed logic is that the people who died back then can't say that. They're dead. And while I'm young enough to take seat belts for granted, I'm old enough to remember when I was a kid that for most people dying behind the wheel was just seen as "natural causes". As if it was just the time for them to go. I never liked that as a kid, and I don't like that train of thought now.
Comedian Dana Carvey created a character on "Saturday Night Live" of an old guy who said stuff like "when we hit the brakes, we went crashing through the windshield! And we LIKED it!" And while there were a lot of things that old-timers remembered, I can't believe that they actually liked stuff like that. There were a lot of thing to like "back in the day" but a gruesome death behind the wheel wasn't one of them. And it happened a lot. Junkyards are filled with the cars. I've spent a lot of time in junkyards, and I can read the stories there.
If you're interested in historic Motorsports, like I am, you know that "back in the day", racers refused to wear helmets, or seat belts, in racing cars because it made them seem less "macho". And a lot of race car drivers died. If you're interested in learning more about this, you can Google what Sterling Moss said about driving a racing car not being synonymous with creating a situation whereby a driver commits suicide for the amusement of the crowd. He changed everything, and nowadays it's hard to imagine a race car driver without a helmet, and not wearing a safety harness. I have a friend who raced in the 1950s, and he remembers that the guys who wore helmets, and thought at all about safety, were laughed at. My friend is still alive - he wore a helmet, and he used seat belts.
I enjoy visiting old-time Phoenix in my imagination, and IRL (in real life), too. And in real life I wear a seat belt. Buckle up and live!
Image at the top of this post: Looking west on Washington at 3rd Street in the 1960s, Phoenix, Arizona.
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Posted by Brad Hall