I

 tend to think about how things used to be. Usually when someone asks, “Do you remember this?” Usually I do, and also remember what was before that, whatever it was. Lately it has been about cars and it goes well beyond stick shifts or four on the floor. 

With cars being around about 50 years before I started driving, you would have thought they would have had rear view mirrors. I mean outside rear view mirrors. You could order a car with an outside rear view mirror if you wanted to wait. Few ordered one, much less two. Why did the passenger need a rear view anyway, I heard? 

You could buy a kit and put one on, but it nearly always looked like a DIY project. Rarely did I see one on the right door. Next thing you know people would want them for rear doors! 

And rarely did I ever ride in older car that had new tires. Mostly, our tires were retreads. No thread depth? No visible tread at all, no problem. There were no state inspections. These days, safety inspectors don’t find as many issues as before. Or maybe it’s me that has changed. 

Seat belts? Not even in a dream. I think I heard about one person who had seat belts added and bolted through the floorboard on both sides of the seats. I suspect there must have been reason for taking such a drastic step. 

Car seats for kids? When I was a kid, I didn’t need one. I would lie down on the front floorboard near the gearshift on the floor and use the hump as pillow. Usually as the car started down the road I went right to sleep. The vibration and warmth, on a cool day, made for a good nap. Sometimes I got up in the narrow space in front of the rear window, blocking the only possible rear view. 

Carpeted floorboards were unheard of. Carpet was an add-on or a special order. The standard issue was a rubberized floor covering. Later when carpets were standard equipment, my uncle, who often got into cars with muddy boots preferred the rubberized coverings, and he would special order those until that was no longer an option. 

Cars changed drastically in superficial, styling ways from year to year when I was a kid and on up until I started driving. It was later that substantive changes with regard to safety were mandated. Seat belts and safety car seats for children took a long time before these were required.

As a parent, a child seat was kind of like a platter where you put the kid. It had a very cheap and flimsy, tiny plastic strap. Other than keeping the child mostly in one spot, there was nothing safe about it. 

A walking child could stand close to the parent-driver whose right arm could serve as a seat belt of sort. It was a tough choice if you were about to turn left with your left arm sticking straight out the window and suddenly you needed to slam on the brakes. Do you let go of the steering wheel and save the child? 

Of course, the dashboards were not at all soft. And, as you have probably noticed, there were no turn signals. There were kits, but who knows what light came on when you pushed the lever up or down. Driving the rain, one needed a plastic left sleeve. 

It took years to get seat belts into cars and then more years to require their use and then, years later, to enforce their use. First, carmakers were required to make seat belts available as an option, but few purchased them. This meant costs stayed very high for the few who wanted them. 

I suppose it was the national government that required seat belts as standard equipment on all new cars. But even when life saving belts were right there in the car with you, and nobody bothered to put them on. At one point, children of certain ages were required to wear seat belts, but their parents weren’t. 

Later, states were required to pass laws requiring the use of seat belts or have their highway funding cut. Some states then passed the laws but didn’t enforce them. If they did, the fine was nominal. Never mind that data showed a significant decline in death rates per mile driven in states that strictly enforced seat belt laws. 

I have read about instances where seat belts have caused serious injuries and even deaths, but a miniscule number compared to the lives saved. Not to mention serious injuries avoided. Yet, I have a seat belt cutter in the car with me just in case I’m trapped. But I’m sure that if I should really need the cutter it will be just out of reach. 

Surely we should require the Nanny State to make the seat belt cutters standard equipment and place them in multiple locations around the car. Should there be an accident, these cutters should pop out of the doors or drop down from the ceiling. Ten should be enough, with 20 optional. I guess that would be going too far, but who knows? 

I’m thinking of the terrible accident near Orange Grove recently. Child seats are difficult to put into a car correctly, and it’s difficult to take them out of a car. Especially if you weren’t the one who put them in. The belts themselves are hard to release unless if you have done so many times. But the newer seats seem to have special emergency releases today. But if you don’t know about these . . . . About 4,000 a year in Texas die as a result of car and truck accidents. Fewer now days per mile driven, but still.

Long before automobiles, traveling people died from accidents on board ships or on trains. Some died falling of the seats of covered wagons pulled by oxen at 2 miles per hour. They fell off and a wheel ran over them. I read of fatalities when two horse-drawn vehicles ran together at 6th Street (then named Pecan) and Congress Ave. in Austin, in the 1870s. And all kinds of horse, mule and cow related accidents. I suspect that with 30 million Texans using horses and buggies, fatalities would be far greater than 4,000 per year. 

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