Q: My husband won’t wear a seat belt. The kids are now questioning why they need to stay in their booster seats if Dad doesn’t need to wear his restraint. I think this is setting a bad example – how can I get him to buckle up?
A: When my father-in-law rode in our car we had to address this issue, too. He was convinced that his chance of surviving an accident would be much better if he was not restrained. The thought of traveling on a bridge over water was particularly nerve-racking to him. How would he swim to safety if he was buckled in? Your husband may have similar fears, and overcoming them can be a challenge.
It’s the law!
Whether your husband wears a seat belt or not, you are obligated to make sure your children are! Every state in the country has a law regarding child restraint devices when riding in a car. The laws vary regarding the type of restraint required at each age/weight and there also are differences in terms of enforcement. Most state laws allow the police to pull over a vehicle solely on the basis of a child-restraint violation (these are primary enforcement states). What about adults? If you and your husband are traveling through New Hampshire, then his behavior remains within the law. But in the other 49 states and the District of Columbia, he is violating a law regarding seat belt use if he is sitting in the front seat (and even in the back seat in many states). Picking and choosing which motor vehicle laws to obey is not a behavior most parents want to model for their children.
Address the emotional response.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Motor Vehicle Safety site reports that, “Wearing a seat belt is the most effective way to prevent death and serious injury in a crash.” But knowing this fact doesn’t change the emotional response or anxiety that your husband may feel. Talk to your husband about his reasons for avoiding the use of a seat belt. Is he concerned about being trapped in the car? Several manufacturers make tools that can cut through seat belts and break through the safety glass of car windows. Knowing that this tool is stowed in the glove compartment or interior car bin may reduce his anxiety. Wearing a seat belt increases the chances that he will avoid head injury and be alert enough to use the tool. If his anxiety is intense, treatment by a licensed psychologist using cognitive-behavioral therapy is effective for treating phobias.
Once inpiduals become parents, the phrase “Practice what you preach” becomes quite salient. Remembering the words of the psalmist may be encouraging when trying to overcome these emotional hurdles: “When cares increase within me, your comfort gives me joy.” (Psalm 94:19)
Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor and certified spiritual director.