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Sunday, September 22, 2019  

Common sense legislationPublished 7/25/2003

We have a new addition to our family! No, it’s not a baby (whew!) or even a puppy. It’s Celia – our exchange student from Australia.

Since joining our family in April, Celia, a vibrant and very bright 18-year-old, has been a wonderful addition. We have had all the usual conversations comparing life in the U.S. to life in Australia. Here are a few of Celia’s observations, in no particular order, some surprising, and some not so surprising:

•Sandwich bread in the U.S. tastes sweet compared to Australian bread.

•High school in the U.S. is easier than high school in Australia.

•Australia does not yet have dryer sheets – those little squares that go in your clothes dryer and make your clothes smell good.

•Australia’s "women’s movement" as it was called in the ‘70s, is still about 15-20 years behind that of the U.S

•95 degrees in Oklahoma feels a lot hotter than a 95-degree day in her hometown of Brisbane, which despite similar humidity levels, draws the ocean breeze.

•Americans buy/use more "stuff" than Australians.

•Americans are more outwardly religious/evangelical than Australians.

Of course, being the safety nerd that I am, I have asked Celia lots of questions about how the two countries compare in terms of safety-related issues. No surprises here. Australians tend to be much safer than Americans. For example:

•Australia has a national motorcycle helmet law; in America, only 21 states have such a law.

•The fine for not wearing a seat belt or having your child buckled up where Celia lives is $105, compared to $25 in Oklahoma. Also, points are assessed against your license in Australia, but not here.

•In addition, in Queensland, children have been required to wear bicycle helmets since 1990. Oklahoma has no such law, and only a handful of other U.S. states do.

Guess what? Australia’s child injury rate (as well as those of 22 other industrialized countries) is lower than that of the U.S. Australia’s child injury rate (ages 1-14) is 10 per 100,000 population. By comparison, about 14 in every 100,000 American children die from an unintentional injury. The rate is even higher in Oklahoma. Although I could never prove it scientifically, I’d bet Australia’s rate is lower because of their stricter safety laws.

Jeff Runge, M.D., and head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said it best in a recent speech while visiting Oklahoma City: "The average 16-year-old is more worried about getting a ticket than they are getting killed." How true! Kids are immortal, right? Or so they think. But a ticket? That’s another story.

Therefore, a strict law (requiring seat belts, for example) that is strictly enforced is probably our best tool in combating preventable and unintentional deaths and injuries.

Which would prevent more drownings? Educating people about the need for four-sided fencing around their backyard pools? Or, a law requiring the same? I’d put my money on the law.

I know, I know — we can’t "legislate common sense." Or, can we?

Celia has made another interesting observation about Americans. In her opinion, Americans "seem a little paranoid about losing their freedoms." (Obviously, we have known each other long enough to be completely candid!)

Well, at the risk of starting a riot, I’d have to agree. Maybe it’s because our freedom has come at such a high price. Maybe some Americans’ aversion to legislating safe behaviors and practices is because there are still many in our population who fought in World War II and other conflicts that resulted in huge losses. Still, there is a big difference in being ruled by Nazis and having your own government (made up of ordinary citizens like you and me) enact laws meant to protect you from yourself.

Or, more likely, protecting your 16-year-old driver from himself. Think about it . . .

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