The following was written by Beatriz Fuentes, the Bilingual Community Outreach Coordinator for the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts, founder of Friends of Natalie and a member of the BEST Coalition.
Four years ago I lost my 21- year-old daughter Natalie in a car crash. She and her boyfriend left my house to visit a friend who lived just a few miles down the road. I watched from my porch as she jumped into the passenger seat and told me they’d be back in an hour or two. Unfortunately Natalie was wrong and I never saw her smiling face again.
Just minutes after leaving, the car Natalie was riding in was involved in an accident and she was tossed clear of the vehicle. She survived the original impact of the crash, but was thrown from the car with such force that she sustained massive, fatal brain injuries. Had she been wearing her seatbelt she never would have been ejected from the car so violently. Had she been wearing her seatbelt, my little girl would still be with us.
As a parent, my worst nightmare had come true; I lost a child. To this day my heart still breaks when I think about Natalie, but I know that if I am to properly honor her memory, I can’t wallow in grief. With a mixture of love and sadness driving me, I’ve devoted myself to seatbelt advocacy so other parents might avoid the pain I’ve known. In my efforts I’ve joined forces with the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts to help gather support for a primary seat belt law in Massachusetts. With their help I’ve started the Friends of Natalie, a grassroots, bilingual seatbelt campaign to push for stricter seatbelt laws and lend a human face to Massachusetts’ frightening seatbelt statistics.
Recent estimates show Massachusetts has one of the lowest percentages of seat belt use in the whole country, costing us 135 lives a year and $6.3 billion in healthcare costs, insurance claims and lost wages. But stricter laws and more consistent enforcement could change that. The experts suggest that by adopting a primary seatbelt law Massachusetts could save 18 lives, reduce serious injury cases by 600 and save the state over $168 million every year.
Words alone cannot describe how much I miss my daughter, but her loss has become a call to action for many, and I believe that together all of these voices can make a difference.
Last year, Massachusetts State Senator Patricia Jehlen re-named the Massachusetts primary seatbelt bill “Natalie’s Bill” after my daughter. It’s a special honor and empowers me to push for change, even in the face of criticism. Stricter laws and violation fines aren’t always popular with voters, but they are proven to increase compliance with state regulation. When those laws can help protect our children, as would be the case with Natalie’s law, I hope people will keep an open mind; there are so many lives at stake.
Please join me in reaching out to your Senator and Representative at the Massachusetts State House. (You can find their State House contact information by visiting http://www.malegislature.gov/People/FindMyLegislator.) Let our elected officials know how important Natalie’s Law is and how you’d like them to join us in making the world a safer place for all our children.
From my family to yours, please always remember to buckle up, because parents who use seatbelts have kids who use seatbelts. Or, as we say in Spanish, AOCHABRATE! (Choose to click.) It’s a simple message and simple action, but one that can make a world of difference.
For more information on seatbelt safety and supporting a primary seatbelt law in Massachusetts please visit the following sites: