The stories of Ed Beaudette and Monika Samtani are the same in many ways, but unfortunately, not in the most important way.
On July 20, 2003, Ed was driving home from a family vacation with his 9-month-old daughter, Nora, and her mother, Heidi. It was the last leg of their journey that included three flights earlier in the day. The sun was shining bright and Nora seemed hot and uncomfortable, so Ed suggested that Heidi unbuckle their baby for just a minute to take off some extra layers of clothes. Heidi did.
On September 22, 1992, Monika, now a reporter for WUSA-9 the CBS Station in Washington, D.C., had a healthy baby girl. Monika had purchased a car seat but didn't install it before her daughter was born. As she left the hospital, she and her husband struggled to put the car seat in correctly. They were excited to get home and it was just a short ride, so they thought maybe Monika could just hold her new baby on her lap. As they considered all their options, a nurse came out of the hospital, saw the situation and showed Monika how to install the car seat correctly.
You can probably guess what happened next in both of these stories.
For Ed, the crash happened just before Nora was buckled back up in her car seat. The shoulder of the highway was only about a foot wide. The right tire went over the edge, which was about 15 feet down. The car rolled end over end, bounced hard on its tires and flipped upside down onto the roof. Nora died before she arrived at the hospital.
Monika's car was rear-ended at full speed just a few minutes from her home. The car was totaled but her baby was safe, still buckled in her car seat.
I share these stories because as a mother of three, I know that sometimes, it's easy to forget how important it is to buckle up every ride, every time, especially when there are so many other factors to consider.
As part of Child Passenger Safety Week, my organization, Safe Kids Worldwide, and the General Motors Foundation released a study that found one in four parents admit to having driven without their child buckled up in a car seat, booster seat or seat belt.
They don't do it all the time, just occasionally in certain scenarios, including driving a short distance, during overnight travel, as a reward for the child or if they chose to hold the child in their lap. We dug a little deeper and learned that more affluent parents, parents with higher levels of education, men and young parents are more likely to make exceptions when it comes to buckling up their kids on every ride.
The problem is it only takes one time to be riding in a vehicle without buckling up for a life to be changed forever. In 2011, a third off all the kids 12 and under who died in car crashes were not buckled up. That's 221 children who might be alive today. There is no reason important enough to take the risk.
During several interviews this week, Ed talked solemnly about how following his parental instincts to comfort his child was the worst decision he ever made and how if he had just waited a few extra minutes until he reached the next exit, he would be celebrating Nora's 11th birthday this year. In memory of Nora, Ed and Heidi became nationally certified child passenger safety technicians to help make sure the same tragedy doesn't happen to anyone else.
Monika's memories are much happier. She beams as she talks about daughter, how she grew into a strong, smart, beautiful young lady, who is ready to take on the world. She will be celebrating her 21st birthday on Sunday.
Naturally, Monika's smile fades when I tell her about Ed. "That easily could have been me," she says. "I think about that day all the time. I can't even imagine."
For more information on how to keep you kids safe in and around cars, visit Safekids.org.