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Why you should wear your seatbelt
April 16, 2007 4:46 PM   Subscribe

James D. Macdonald on why you should wear your seatbelt. Not for the squeamish. I haven't been to a rollover with unrestrained passengers and driver since ... Thursday. Public safety messages. Response to James Adams paper (PDF). Besides being an EMT, Macdonald is a SF/fantasy author (with his wife Debra Doyle); he's also the author of Red Mike's Reviews. Via Brad DeLong. Previously.
posted by russilwvong (82 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
So easy a caveman could use it.
posted by stavrogin at 5:19 PM on April 16, 2007


Excellent post. Thank you.
posted by Dizzy at 5:28 PM on April 16, 2007


I'm all for the dismissal of seatbelt laws, so long as health coverage is withdrawn from those who choose to go beltless. There are acts so stupid as to fully deserve one's removal from the animal kingdom: not wearing a seatbelt is one of them.

But I'm more for personal freedom than forcing people to be smart. Educate and provide a carrot; that's enough.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:30 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Pro-freedom argument vs. Reality
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:31 PM on April 16, 2007 [10 favorites]


I've heard people complain of a fear that they will be trapped in their seatbelt. I actually bought a little device that hangs from my keychain that's designed to cut through seatbelts, and also to smash car windows should one not open. $15. Beats getting tossed out of the window and under a rolling car.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:34 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Less people ought to drive. Cars are way more trouble than they're worth. I can imagine a future where everybody agrees the whole car thing was a mistake and they're just outlawed in many urban centers. Of course by then dolphins will be in charge and dry land will be extremely expensive and tightly controlled.
posted by nixerman at 5:41 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Erica Rogers, opinion page editor at the Daily Nebraskan, said Derek's brains ... would be missed.

When you're ejected from your moving vehicle your brains could be pretty hard to find.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 5:42 PM on April 16, 2007


I still can't understand why anybody would go driving around without a seatbelt. Putting my seatbelt on is one of the first things that I do when I get in my car. Even in the back of the ambulance, we wear seatbelts. We seatbelt the patients in as well.

Heywood Mogroot: Excellent find.
posted by drstein at 5:44 PM on April 16, 2007


James McDonald and Debra Doyle once came and spoke to a class I was in. It was the weirdest 80-minute stream-of-consciousness-Abbot-and-Costello-take-my-wife-please-but-first-let-me-tell-you-weird-stories-about-the-military routine I've ever witnessed.
posted by Partial Law at 5:47 PM on April 16, 2007


I'm all for the dismissal of seatbelt laws, so long as health coverage is withdrawn from those who choose to go beltless.

I can get behind this. You want to forego taking one of the simplest, least intrusive safety precautions available in modern life? Fine. Just don't expect anyone else to foot your medical bill (or the bills of the family your dumbass left behind) when you go through the windshield.

I feel the same way about motorcyclists that don't wear helmets, BTW. Don't whine about not being able to roll the dice if you're not willing to take the chances.
posted by Cyrano at 5:54 PM on April 16, 2007


Great post, thanks!
posted by agregoli at 6:00 PM on April 16, 2007


I wear a seatbelt from habit, but I'm short so the edge always digs into my neck. In the back of my mind I worry that if I ever actually get into a crash they will find my body in perfect condition and my head neatly sheared off into the passenger seat.
posted by casarkos at 6:03 PM on April 16, 2007 [4 favorites]


Cyrano, the problem with that is someone with a seatbelt on may be able to maintain control behind the wheel longer. So yeah, it benefits everyone that you where your seatbelt.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 6:04 PM on April 16, 2007


casarkos: There are solutions.
posted by dhartung at 6:12 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


I am fine with all the take-the-health-insurance-away arguments until some asshole who won't buckle up lands on my hood and I crash into a median. Nanny state whatever. Wear the damn belt.
posted by oflinkey at 6:27 PM on April 16, 2007


Seat belt advocate dies from not wearing seatbelt.

While some people view seat belt laws as infringement on their rights, I view it as a minimum safety standard set while using public roadways. The government requires all sorts of things to use the roads, airbags in cars, vehicle construction requirements, and tests for driving fitness and such.

Do you think anyone who owned a private road would skip out on the seat belt requirement? Do amusement companies let you on rides without restraints?
posted by jon_public at 6:27 PM on April 16, 2007


"While some people view seat belt laws as infringement on their rights"

That's true. Of all things to start waving your arms over, seat belts is an odd issue.

There are plenty of other more productive things to wave your arms over anyway.
posted by drstein at 6:35 PM on April 16, 2007


Heh. Having mioved to the US from the Uk I almost miss the scarey-as-hell adverts showing the evils of driving whilst drunk / not wearing a seatbelt /eating pizza, usually made by some coked-up young sociopath who would clearly prefer to be directing the latest Saw film. Probably they're working on an advert where someone uses a mobile phone whilst driving and ends up with their brains all over the camera right now.
posted by Artw at 6:41 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Corzine wasn't wearing his seatbelt, despite being Governor of a state that has a mandatory seatbelt law.

/hypocritical condition?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:42 PM on April 16, 2007


Why are anti seat belt people so vehement in their beliefs? If the dead advocate linked is typical, I am aghast at the intensity of his seat belt hate. (I also noticed the phrase 'my body my choice'. I wonder if he was pro choice since the obit. mentioned he was a republican).
posted by clockworkjoe at 6:48 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


New Jersey Governor's crash was caused by driver trying to get out of the way of his car, which had its lights flashing while responding to a talk-show related emergency.

A talk-show related emergency? Man, I so want to use that as an excuse for something someday.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:51 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


People who claim to have been spared a more serious injury because they did not wear their seatbelts and people who claim to know someone who is "alive today only because he didn't wear a seatbelt" are exceeded as a collective group of liars only by people who claim to be a member of the Mile High Club.

I am aware that there really are people who fared better in an accident because they weren't wearing a belt and that there really are people who have had sex in an airplane. I am just saying that the number of people who make such claims is enormously greater than the number of people for whom the claim is true.
posted by flarbuse at 6:54 PM on April 16, 2007


Why are anti seat belt people so vehement in their beliefs?

Their chance to play John Galt against the Oppressive Nanny State.

pro choice

I respect, to some moderate extent, the pro-life argument when it comes from a desire to preserve the blastocyst/fetus/infant's life.

The straight big-L Libertarian Party is pretty much rent down the middle on the legal abortion issue for this reason.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:55 PM on April 16, 2007


A seldom discussed topic is wearing seat belts in the back seat. This op-ed may be of interest: It's time for a law to make back-seat riders buckle up...

A total of 1,880 unbuckled passengers were killed in the back seats of passenger cars and light trucks nationwide in 2002, the most recent year for which the National Traffic Safety Administration keeps statistics. Far fewer - 855 - were killed while wearing restraints in back seats that year.
posted by exhilaration at 6:57 PM on April 16, 2007


I can't understand the seatbelt hate either. There's a lot of helmet hate too. Motorcyclists don't want to be bothered with wearing helmets, which baffles me. We used to have a helmet law, but now you can forgo a helmet on a motorcycle if you have the proper insurance coverage. It always creeps me out to see a biker without a helmet. I fear for her brain.

I flipped my SUV four times across a five-lane highway. A car pulled out in front of me and a flipping I went -- with my 10-month old baby in tow. We both survived, unscathed, because of seatbelts and a properly installed carseat. The only injury I sustained was to my left forearm. It was abraded on the road and broken glass window while flipping. Seatbelts are a good thing. I'm not so sure about Jeep Grand Cherokees.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:01 PM on April 16, 2007


it benefits everyone that you where your seatbelt.

I don't disagree in the slightest. But if an insurance company can charge you more because you smoke, I don't see why they can't ding you if you don't wear a seatbelt. Or at least charge you more.

Or to riff off what flarbuse just said: I know a lot of people who claim to have an uncle or someonesuch who smoked two packs a day and lived until he was ninety. I know people who never smoked a day in their lives and died of lung cancer. Is it really worth the lack of a simple *click* to bet on which side of a similar bell curve you might fall?
posted by Cyrano at 7:02 PM on April 16, 2007


I've read that smokers that die from lung cancer cost less, medically, in the long run because they die early, sparing the expense of a long, elderly life. If "somebody" were to run the numbers, I wonder if the same would be true of seat beltless accident victims. I suspect it would.

I do think that anybody who doesn't wear a belt is an idiot. In fact, after spending some time behind the wheel of a race car, enshrouded in all its safety gear (fire suit, helmet, padded roll cage), I feel pretty naked in a street car with all that hard stuff I could whack my head on. (Hell, I bet if people wore helmets in cars, we'd reduce traffic fatalities by over 80%.) If you're riding in my car, you *will* wear your seat belt.

But I'm pretty against seat belt laws (and helmet laws) on principle. Stupid (adult!) people should be free to risk their own personal health and safety for whatever perceived benefit they gain from it. Heart disease kills more people than traffic accidents by far. Should we have laws mandating 4 hours of cardio exercise a week? Round up the fatties into mandatory Richard Simmons cardio camps...
posted by LordSludge at 7:14 PM on April 16, 2007


Seatbelts are a good thing. I'm not so sure about Jeep Grand Cherokees.

It's not just Jeeps - people buy SUVs thinking they're safer, which is true if you're mashing some smaller car and killing its occupants. But SUVs flip way more often than other cars because of their higher centre of gravity, and they're less manoeuvrable. It's the difference between active and passive safety, nicely discussed (among other attributes of SUVs) in this piece by Malcolm Gladwell.
posted by Dasein at 7:16 PM on April 16, 2007


The anti-helmet lobby is amazing. I heard a figure on NPR a few weeks ago about how something like 35 states had revoked mandatory helmet laws. How can we have almost universal seatbelt law, but not the same for helmets?

I don't care if cyclists want to "ride free", or whatever, as long as they give up their right to government supported emergency care if they crush their brain and don't have health insurance.
posted by rsanheim at 7:20 PM on April 16, 2007


There are plenty of other more productive things to wave your arms over anyway.

I know a guy whose three pet causes are
1. Fighting bans on smoking in public places.
2. Fighting the ability the cops have to take you to drunk tank when you have any level of BAC. (The reasoning? Unfairly targets alcoholics)
3. Combating Feminism.

Some people just have zero perspective.

In the back of my mind I worry that if I ever actually get into a crash they will find my body in perfect condition and my head neatly sheared off into the passenger seat.


casarkos: first, you can get a device that pins the belt together so it hits you lower. Second, just think how nicely it'll catch you if flip sideways. I was knocked from the left by a drunk 21 year old doing 105 in a rental car into a Sometimes I tuck my belt under my arm. So glad I didn't then.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:23 PM on April 16, 2007


omg I hate my trackpad so. into a ravine.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:24 PM on April 16, 2007


Nothing impinges on individual freedom more than dying, eh?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:29 PM on April 16, 2007


Our governor has proven he is an idiot. Everyone else walked away from that accident with minimal injuries. Guess who wasn’t wearing the belt. Moron.

Of course, they will now have to give him a $46 ticket for failure to wear a seat belt. I think he can afford it, despite the absurdity of the law. His hospital stay is the real penalty. Can you see I might be somewhat lacking in sympathy. Wear your f***ing seat belts you morans!
posted by caddis at 7:38 PM on April 16, 2007




Plus if you're in the backseat the top of your head can end up mashing in the skull of the guy in the front seat, leaving them dead and you relatively unharmed but covered in blood, skull fragments and brains.

...another aspect that's frequently displayed in those horrorshow ads in the UK.
posted by Artw at 7:52 PM on April 16, 2007


The anti-helmet lobby is amazing. I heard a figure on NPR a few weeks ago about how something like 35 states had revoked mandatory helmet laws. How can we have almost universal seatbelt law, but not the same for helmets? --rsanheim

IANAB, but I can sympathize with the argument that not wearing a helmet allows greater field of vision and thus better situational awareness, so accidents can be avoided in the first place. On a bike, at any non-negligible speed, you're pretty much screwed in an accident, helmet or no. Better to not find yourself in one. That said, I'd probably opt for a helmet myself and I agree that every passenger should be required to wear one.

There's no corresponding argument for seatbelts. You're simply an idiot for not wearing one. As for it being a law, I'm all for just letting evolution sort it out... but honestly, I'm not rabid enough about that opinion to jump in the debate.
posted by Bugg at 8:15 PM on April 16, 2007


Helmet laws, seatbelt laws, don't smoke cig laws, don't eat more than 20% fat laws, run at least 15 miles a week laws, don't worry the state is holding your dick hand laws - well they all suck. That doesn't mean folks who don't wear seatbelts are not morons.
posted by caddis at 8:21 PM on April 16, 2007


IANAB, but I can sympathize with the argument that not wearing a helmet allows greater field of vision and thus better situational awareness, so accidents can be avoided in the first place. On a bike, at any non-negligible speed, you're pretty much screwed in an accident, helmet or no.

Wrong and wrong.

The argument is bunk, and had I not been wearing head to toe protective gear in my crash I would've been seriously hospitilized instead of arguing with the ER staff about whether or not I'd just been run over on the freeway.

I could've survived - painfully, and missing a lot of skin - without the other stuff. But my helmet was mashed on all sides. I doubt I would've survived without it.

As it is I walked away from the hospital which was checking me out on principle to make sure nothing internally was mashed.
posted by flaterik at 9:03 PM on April 16, 2007


The law that says you have to wear a helmet/seatbelt = stupid
The fact that you fail to do so = stupid cube.
posted by caddis at 9:10 PM on April 16, 2007


And some people are stupid cubes with or without a helmet.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:13 PM on April 16, 2007


First, I just want to say that Macdonald and Doyle assemble some great stories -- I've enjoyed the books they've written.

Along with using seatbelts, I would assert that securing heavy objects/kids/animals which are riding in the car beside you is also a good idea. Doubtless, the offhand remark Macdonald made about a bowling ball derives from some squishy real-life example.
posted by Kikkoman at 10:14 PM on April 16, 2007


flaterik: Anecdote aside (and I'm glad you're here to share it), do you know what the survaivability rate of a motorcycle accident is at highway speeds? I'm having trouble finding that particular bit of info. Every statistic I find seems to be for the sole purpose of supporting one side of the helmet debate or the other. Conventional wisdom wouldn't give the rider much of a chance. Of course, conventional wisdom never manages to be all that wise most of the time... I'm honestly curious here. You're far closer to the subject than I am.

As for the significance of awareness and accident avoidance, that seems a bit harder to show... accident rate with or without a helmet doesn't really tell you this. More dangerous riders may simply be more likely not to wear a helmet. In fact, I'd bet that's the case. I think I'd be difficult to demonstrate either side on this one.

I'm just throwing out the argument I've been given, devil's advocate and all. You can count me among bad people for giving it credence. It just sounds plausable enough to me that I would opt for allowing the person at risk to decide. Once again, I'd probably wear the helmet. I suspect you're right.
posted by Bugg at 10:24 PM on April 16, 2007


survivability, plausible... spellcheck and uh, yeah...
posted by Bugg at 10:26 PM on April 16, 2007


...had I not been wearing head to toe protective gear in my crash I would've been seriously hospitilized instead of arguing with the ER staff about whether or not I'd just been run over on the freeway...

posted by flaterik at 9:03 PM on April 16
Now that's how eponysterical is done, ladies and gentlemen!

On-topic, I've been an EMT since 1991, and am currently a paramedic. The only dead bodies I've ever had to cut out of seatbelts were victims decapitated by the semi trailer they ran under in a convertible. While drunk.
posted by scrump at 10:53 PM on April 16, 2007


An interesting related piece of history:
There was a time (I think in the 70s), before air bags, when all cars were required to automatically put the seatbelt on the front seat passengers--either when the door closes or with a motor. You could disconnect the seatbelt, but then the car wouldn't start.

They were mechanical monstrosities. People put groceries in the passenger seat, then the car wouldn't start until they buckled the groceries in.

My car had the motor, but if the visor was on the side, it would get sliced in half by the seatbelt putting itself on me.

Car companies fought air bags, but the automatic seat belts made them realize that maybe the air bags aren't so bad after-all.

Still, a seat belt and an air bag are much better than an air-bag by itself (I was once in an accident where the air bad didn't go off--but my seat belt held me nicely in place while my car flew around).
posted by eye of newt at 11:18 PM on April 16, 2007


This is an interesting debate. As I'm in a country that has mandatory seatbelt and helmet laws for such a long time, imagining a situation where you were not required to wear seatbelts is just weird.

That said, Taxi drivers in australia are not required to wear belts. I inquired about it once, and it turns out that a taxi driver was strangled to death by a passenger with his own seatbelt. As a result, australian taxi drivers are no longer legally required to wear belts. They often let them hang loose, or buckle them in and then sit on top of them.
posted by Jerub at 11:52 PM on April 16, 2007


I don't care if cyclists want to "ride free", or whatever, as long as they give up their right to government supported emergency care

Then how are they supposed to harvest the organs?
posted by zippy at 12:12 AM on April 17, 2007


The law that says you have to wear a helmet/seatbelt = stupid

As someone else mentioned, seat belts keep you in front of the wheel, and thus (marginally) more in control of the vehicle, preventing or lessening the effect of accidents. This saves the lives of more than just the driver, and as someone else pointed out, seatbelts for backseat drivers prevent (literally) flying bodies killing front seat passengers. Are you still against seatbelt laws, and if so, are you also against mandatory licensing and testing of automobile drivers?
posted by dirigibleman at 12:14 AM on April 17, 2007


I'm just throwing out the argument I've been given, devil's advocate and all. You can count me among bad people for giving it credence.

I don't count you as a bad person, it's just an argument that strikes a nerve - especially after hearing about so many minor accidents that ended in death because of a little bonk on the head.

Of course, you were talking about the freeway. Where I can't even imagine not wearing a full face, even without the crash danger. The risk poised by minor debris at 80 mph is significant - like, say, a dragonfly to the eye. It also becomes dangerous to those around the rider. Other gear is also terribly important since the freeway is basically a belt sander at those speeds. But check out footage of race riders sliding and tumbling along at a triple digit speeds after a crash, and then walking away. Without the gear the abrasion damage alone would kill them, but gear really does work for that.

Of course if a car hits you right no gear in the world will help, but assuming that'll happen isn't very prudent, because it's by no means guaranteed.

That argument also seems to come primarily from the same crowd who thinks using the front brake is dangerous, among other.. interesting.. beliefs. That doesn't lend much credence to it for me.

I can't cite numbers of the top of my head, but I'm pretty sure the oft-cited Hurt report backs up the general goodness of helmets.

I'm much more in tune with "the government shouldn't be able to tell me I have to wear one, even if not doing so is stupid" than any argument about them REDUCING safety. Even with all of the above I cringe somewhat at the fact that I'm not ALLOWED to be stupid, even if I wanted to be.

I had the nickname well before the accident, but it fits far too well since I evidently fit folded up under a camry.
posted by flaterik at 1:02 AM on April 17, 2007


When I was younger I did some work experience with a criminal lawyer. One of his clients was a young man, 18 years old, who had been driving two of his friends to buy fish & chips. The car, which wasn't speeding, for some reason rolled over going down a hill (I know this seems a little unlike, but that is what the expert witnesses from both sides agreed).

The driver and front seat passenger were wearing seatbelts and walked away with minor cuts and bruises. The back seat passenger was ejected through a window, their head came into contact with the carriageway and they were killed instantly. I always wear my seatbelt now...
posted by prentiz at 1:46 AM on April 17, 2007


Car companies fought air bags, but the automatic seat belts made them realize that maybe the air bags aren't so bad after-all.

However, they HAVE led to some hilarious Mr Bean-esque slapstick routines over the years.
posted by antifuse at 2:43 AM on April 17, 2007


Interesting read, and well written; wearing a seatbelt was drilled into me from an early age, and has saved my life in two crashes.

It's law over here that seatbelts must be worn in the front and back, and that the driver is liable for any rear passengers who aren't wearing their belts...

There's been a few well produced public service advertisements on UK TV over the years that provide a graphic, gruesome and shocking example of what can happen if you (and your passengers) aren't belted up. Would be interesting to see if it's available on YT or something.
posted by Chunder at 7:04 AM on April 17, 2007


There's been a few well produced public service advertisements on UK TV over the years that provide a graphic, gruesome and shocking example of what can happen if you (and your passengers) aren't belted up.

I've seen a bunch of these gruesome ads over here in Ireland, and I think (heh) that they are of the Think! variety. Here's one
posted by antifuse at 7:09 AM on April 17, 2007


I seriously doubt that anyone has ever joined the mile-high club while wearing a seatbelt.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:36 AM on April 17, 2007


The risk poised by minor debris at 80 mph is significant - like, say, a dragonfly to the eye. --flaterik

Ah, that's the piece I was missing and would probably find obvious if I'd ever ridden a motorcycle. So yeah, that argument sounds kind of silly then. Thanks.
posted by Bugg at 8:08 AM on April 17, 2007


since I evidently fit folded up under a camry --flaterik

And holy crap, you actually got run over, as in were underneath the other vehicle? Wow.
posted by Bugg at 8:14 AM on April 17, 2007


Also, from that report:
17. The typical motorcycle pre-crash lines-of-sight to the traffic hazard portray no contribution of the limits of peripheral vision; more than three-fourths of all accident hazards are within 45deg of either side of straight ahead.
posted by Bugg at 8:22 AM on April 17, 2007


What mystifies me most are the people who ride around on motorcycles wearing a helmet while dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. Hope you enjoy the skin graft, asshole.

Yep. Don't kill all the idiots. Just remove the warning labels and let nature run its course.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:02 AM on April 17, 2007


Oh, and count me in as a fan of those Think! adverts since I moved to the UK. Nothing like watching 2-3 people (recently especially teenagers and kids) die during a good advert break.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:05 AM on April 17, 2007


Yep. Don't kill all the idiots. Just remove the warning labels and let nature run its course.

I'm with you, slimepuppy. We don't need seatbelt (or helmet) laws. If people are too stupid to protect themselves, natural selection will eventually remove their DNA from the gene pool.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:38 AM on April 17, 2007


Obscure: thats great, until someone without a seatbelt or helmet ends up in on life support on the tax payer's dime for months because they are uninsured or their insurance runs out. Or the people involved in the accident are emotionally damaged for life, having seen or killed another human being (who might have lived had they used a minimum of common sense).
posted by rsanheim at 9:47 AM on April 17, 2007


Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) thinks that the data shows that air bags are over-rated. Seat Belts are pretty good on the other hand.
posted by pharm at 11:13 AM on April 17, 2007


Why don't automobile drivers and passengers wear helmets, also? An ER MD told me that, statistically, it makes as much sense for all drivers of motor vehicles to wear helmets as it does for them to wear seatbelts. Helmets and knee pads. (And yet, you'd think a commuter was nuts if he drove to work wearing a helmet.)
posted by Faze at 11:40 AM on April 17, 2007


From Heywood Mogroot's link:
$138 million spent on seat belt laws. But the kicker is this: It is estimated, by researchers for Congress, that only 6,100 lives are saved per year because of new seat belt wearers.
If you do the math, that's under $23,000 / life. Pretty good deal for society, if you ask me.
In industrial settings, a life is worth about $8-13 million.

But if driving without a seatbelt is a fundamental freedom that you're willing to dig in your heels for, well, this debate can go on.
posted by anthill at 12:11 PM on April 17, 2007


Also from the article:

Erica Rogers, opinion page editor at the Daily Nebraskan, said Derek's brains and intensity would be missed.


She could start by looking in the cracks on the I-80, I guess.
posted by anthill at 12:14 PM on April 17, 2007


Faze: Why don't automobile drivers and passengers wear helmets, also?

Yeah, I mentioned this. (What, does nobody read my parentheticals? such as this one?) I predict that some liberal, safety-conscious country such as Sweden will mandate helmets for passenger vehicles. We'll laugh at them at first, cuz it seems like a silly idea, until the statistics come in that they have reduced traffic fatalities not by 20-30%, but by 70-80%. Then we'll follow suit.

I still oppose mandatory seat belt laws on principle. What other risky, potentially self-harming behaviors should be outlawed? Rock climbing? Snowboarding? Mountain biking? Showering? (yikes, too many slip-n-fall accidents in the tub!)

The argument that other people are harmed is pretty weak, really a tacked on after-thought. The insurance angle applies to all of the above activities and, pretty much, anything that's fun. Shall we outlaw anything that's dangerous? As for maintaining control of a vehicle in an emergency, I submit that Joe Public is pretty clueless in that regard anyhow. Send all motorists to racing school to teach them real car control if that's a genuine concern. (I'm serious -- it's prevented at least two accidents for me so far.)

I'm surprised this hasn't been mentioned: Seatbelt laws are an integral tool in the "War on (Some) Drugs".
Rather, once the police officer has initiated an encounter based on the seat belt violation, he can simply ask for consent to search the car. Such "consent searches" do not require probable cause, since they are based on the "consent" of the driver. but unless the driver is a lawyer, it is unlikely that the driver will understand that he has a real right to refuse consent. The inherently coercive atmosphere of a traffic stop, along with the presumed authority of the policeman, means that almost all drivers who are asked for "consent" will allow a search.

In the rare case where the driver does not consent to a search, the police officer can use the seat belt stop to develop probable cause. For example, "When I asked for consent to search the car, the driver seemed nervous. I thought his explanation of where he was going was suspicious. I saw him make a furtive movement as I approached the car. Based on my training as a police officer, I knew that the driver was traveling along a road commonly used for drug deliveries..."
They give police a reason to set up seatbelt check roadblocks or randomly pull people over... then, they ask some probing questions, ask (ok, "threaten") if it's okay to search your vehicle, find your stash or a pipe... and we end up with more lives ruined. As a big civil rights advocate (and a proponent of pot legalization), I'd rather they don't have one more specious reason to pull people over.

The real core, however, of the mandatory seat-belt argument is that these laws save lives. Yes, they do; no question.

But is it ethical to protect adults against their will?
posted by LordSludge at 1:48 PM on April 17, 2007


But is it ethical to protect adults against their will?

Yep.
posted by Jerub at 3:04 PM on April 17, 2007


Huh. Well, that was easy!

Did you flip a coin or...?? Nah, never mind; don't answer that.
posted by LordSludge at 7:17 PM on April 17, 2007


What other risky, potentially self-harming behaviors should be outlawed?

It's all about taking *reasonable* risk mitigations for the good of the present (quasi-socialist) society. It's arguably more efficient to have subsidized EMT & medical services, but to avoid having to devote limited resources towards idiots said reasonable risk mitigations should be required when & where they make sense.

Buckling the f'in seatbelt isn't that big a sacrifice, John Galt. Do your part to reduce the societal footprint of your life, when measured at the macro level.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:03 PM on April 17, 2007


The Steven Levitt co-authored article is interesting. But he admits: a) That he didn't have data on every accident, only non-fatal ones, and I don't see how his alternative selection of data gets around that substantial problem, and b) His equation takes car weight, etc., into account? He's an economist, not a fucking engineer.
posted by raysmj at 9:37 PM on April 17, 2007


Note: I admit to having a bias here, having had a car totaled (in 2001) in which a non-insured motorist with a gunshot to the hand ran a red light and ran into my car--the third vehicle in a row of cars turning left on a left-turn green signal. The airbag shot out, and I feel fortunate for that.

On the other hand, here's where I don't have a bias: The Saturn, however much it weighed, fell apart so nicely that police gawked at it and told me how awesome the falling-apart was, that it was a model of how this was supposed to work in a crash situation. Levitt doesn't know the first thing about any of those safety design elements, and he doesn't have a clue as to how air bags might be integrated into a larger auto safety system.
posted by raysmj at 9:46 PM on April 17, 2007


But is it ethical to protect adults against their will?
posted by LordSludge 9 hours ago


and hence we give birth to the nanny state which knows better than you how to take care of you. F*** that S***! Let people live their lives, mistakes and all. Give them information but don't give them orders. George Bush loves the authoritarian state. Don't be a Bush drone.
posted by caddis at 11:40 PM on April 17, 2007


caddis, you're confusing the strawman-populated nanny state with our current ninny state. While they appear superficially similar, there are fundamental and significant differences.

For instance: we have cameras. The strawmen also have cameras, but theirs wear helmets.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:55 AM on April 18, 2007


Let's outlaw motorcycles. People get killed on those things.
posted by LordSludge at 5:57 AM on April 18, 2007


Actually, most of them are killed during or after the dismount.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:23 AM on April 18, 2007


Cars kill more people, and pollute too. Ban 'em.
posted by caddis at 7:25 AM on April 18, 2007


mein Gott you're dense, caddis.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:11 AM on April 18, 2007


The "Nanny state" already exists for you if you follow all the other regulations on cars. Seatbelts is just one more.
posted by agregoli at 8:12 AM on April 18, 2007


jeez, some people just can't take a joke
posted by caddis at 8:49 AM on April 18, 2007


Riiiiight....THAT'S the problem.
posted by agregoli at 9:01 AM on April 18, 2007




My seatbelt broke my collarbone when I got broadsided at 60 mph. It sucked, but it was certainly better than the non-belted alternative.

Great link. Thanks.
posted by liet at 8:54 PM on April 18, 2007


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