Straddlin’ the Fence: Modern safety devices

Jean Schwieder

Three of us women were visiting the other day about the frustration we have with some of the appliances in our homes.

It seems like manufacturers of household appliances are trying to save us from ourselves. We especially are frustrated with the washing machines. Why are they programmed to lock before they start? It never fails but what I find something else that I would like to throw in with a batch after the washer has started agitating. The only way I can do that with these new machines is to cancel the wash program and wait for the machine to turn off, put the forgotten article in and then restart.

Are the manufacturers afraid I’m going to throw one of my kids in the machine, or the neighbor’s dog or cat? And if I did do that, the consequences should be mine and not the fault of the machine. Or maybe the big company lawyers are trying to avoid lawsuits because someone did something stupid and sued.

I used to wash with a wringer washing machine that had no locks on it. There was a handle to turn the wringer off and on, forward and backward. When my daughter’s long hair got caught in the wringer, we all knew how to stop the wringer and switch it to run backwards and move the hair back out. But some of us had to learn that by having it happen and suffering the consequences – a sore scalp. I think one time one of the kid’s hands started through the wringer, but I was able to get the wringer stopped and get the hand out before any damage was done except to my ears because of the screaming.

All the bells and whistles on anything from dish washers to automobiles to tractors are merely means to keep us from doing stupid things. So then I have to use my stupid genes on other items like screen doors where I put my elbow through the screen because I try to go through with both arms full of groceries or clothes from off the clothesline, or maybe with a kid or two in my arms.

The vehicles have a warning beep if I don’t put on my seat belt. I am in the habit of doing it now and maybe that “beep” helped teach me. However, my husband, Boyd, can let the beeper beep until I have to remind him to put on his seat belt. The other day I told him that if he died in a vehicle accident because he didn’t have his seat belt on, I was going to have a beep put in his casket to be buried with him and let it beep him all the way to eternity.

The other day, we were picking up meat at the butcher’s, so Boyd had to back up. He has this special beep in his pickup that tells him something is behind him. He ignored it and about threw me through the front window when the pickup hit a large metal pole. He grinned, pulled forward and got out. Sure enough, there’s a dent on the fender but the pole doesn’t even have a scratch. Why put those things in our vehicles? Let us learn by taking the consequences. Of course, Boyd learned even with the beep. And I realize that these do help if a child or dog or other animal is behind the vehicle. So there is good from a lot of these safety devices.

I agree that seat belts are a good idea, and probably air bags are also. But I’ve also heard of people getting hurt from both of these safety devices. I haven’t ever heard of anyone getting hurt or drowning in a washing machine that didn’t have the lock device on it.

There are consequences for being stupid! And if I am stupid, maybe I should suffer the consequences and then won’t do that stupid thing again. Are we going to try to save everyone from stupid mistakes by adding safety devices on everything? I will admit, just putting a written warning on something doesn’t stop people from following instructions. And I’m fully aware that there are many frivolous lawsuits being filed any more. But I think sometimes we all need to use some common sense and then maybe we wouldn’t have to have so many safety gadgets on our common everyday appliances.

Jean Schwieder is a writer who has spent her life involved in eastern Idaho agriculture. Her books, including past columns, are available by calling 208-522-8098 or by email at