Seatbelts save lives
January 31, 2002 3:32 AM   Subscribe

Seatbelts save lives. Nineteen years ago today wearing seatbelts in cars became mandatory in the UK. Almost everyone agrees that they save lives but still many people don't bother, especially in the back seat.
posted by nedrichards (49 comments total)
Funny how attitudes change. I can well remember sitting in the back, leaning forward between the two front seats, driving my parents nuts. It seemingly never occured to them that if they braked hard I would be out through the windscreen in an instant. These days, it drives me nuts to see people driving around with their kids jumping about the inside of their car.

Mind you, it also grates that in the most recent UK gov TV campaign, the driver crashes into the car in front because she is conscientiously checking (365k jpg) her rear view mirror - I thought we were supposed to do that? (It's quite a grim little film too - realmovie here)
posted by jonathanbell at 4:09 AM on January 31, 2002

I'm wondering, are seatbelts mandatory throughout Europe and the US? And do people pay attention, or do they just jump in the car and go?
posted by iain at 4:48 AM on January 31, 2002

It varies state by state within the US.

I have a lot of friends that hate wearing seat belts for some reason. I make them wear belts, and they go on and on about silly it is.

I just tell them if I notice they've taken their belt off, I'm driving into the next tree I see. Funny how everytime I've followed through and pretended like I really was about to drive into a tree, these folks instinctively reach for their seat belt. ;)

I never have understood the problem personally. It's such a small thing, and an overwhelming majority of the time they'll save your life in an accident.
posted by Swifty at 5:02 AM on January 31, 2002

I work at a Level One Trauma Hospital, I wish I could bring
people to work with me that don't wear seatbelts. I'm sure I could change their mind. There are some people that are just convinced it can't happen to them, they are invincible (sp?).
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 5:05 AM on January 31, 2002

When I was in highschool, a kid a grade below me was driving his truck around, on a dirt road I think and wrecked and got thrown out the windshield, it killed him.

So, guess what people talk about? Not that fact that he would be alive if he had worn his seatbelt, but about how tragic it was he died. Bullshit! It was completely preventable, nothing tragic about it. But go to any highschool campus and you'll see people driving around without seat belts. If was in charge of the school I'd have really played out the importance or wearing a seatbelt card that week.
posted by Keen at 5:17 AM on January 31, 2002

i am slack on belting up immediately, but usually have my belt on by a mile down the road. please don't quote statistics at me about accidents within a mile of home etc..

Like jonathanbell says, the worst thing in this country (UK) is the amount of imbecilic peasants driving around with their kids standing up on the back seats, or jumping about. or baby's on laps. i see it too often and it is frightening. this really winds me up and i strongly believe we should bring in sterilisation of certain people who don't deserve children. saying that, the kids will probably end up being useful by peeling prawns for a living at Youngs Seafood in Grimsby.

that is all.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:18 AM on January 31, 2002

Some people hate to wear them but they do it when the fines are large and frequent enough.

When seat belts first became mandatory, I remember people complaining that belt use somehow increased the chances that you'd be hurt. If there's a fire, they'd say, you won't get out in time. Or you'd be somehow more likely to be hurt in a crash -- based on some vague floppiness theory, like the people who believe drunks have a better chance in car wrecks. Something to do with added mobility and the wouldn't-you-know-it-ness of fate.

There's this guy, who claims that wearing seat belts increases pedestrian fatalities by making overconfident drivers go faster.

And of course there are people who claim beltlessness as a right, a freedom, though they want the same insurance rates as people who wear seat belts.
posted by pracowity at 5:27 AM on January 31, 2002

i wore my belt long before it became law in canada.

many years later, that habit saved my life when i was t-boned on the driver's side of my car by a mack truck doing 100 klicks.

had i not been wearing it, i would have gone out the side window - of that there can be no doubt.
posted by bwg at 5:54 AM on January 31, 2002

In my state, seatbelts have been mandatory for a few years now; the desire to avoid a ticket finally got me in the habit of buckling-up. It's like insurance--you don't need it unless something happens, which it usually doesn't, but then again, US highways have been called "the most dangerous area in the world."
Still, this same state repealed the motorcycle helmet law which was unpopular with bikers. A separate but related issue.
posted by StOne at 6:21 AM on January 31, 2002

It's been a law in my state for years, but just recently they amended the law so that police could stop and ticket you for driving beltless as a primary offense (previously, they had to have stopped you for something else - speeding, etc - and then add the extra non-seatbelt fine to that ticket). Somehow or other, the day the new law went into effect, our local Black leaders deemed it racist. I'm still to figure that one out.
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:40 AM on January 31, 2002

I have worn a seat belt every time I've gotten into a car since I got my license.

However, I am totally opposed to legislating this behavior in adults. I have no problem with different insurance rates acknowledging the statistical differential in safety and resulting cost, but the government has no inherent right to interfere with one's life at this level.

If someone chooses to not wear their seatbelt, being fully aware of the advantages of doing so, then they accept that increased risk, and the potential consequences thereof. As adults, that is and should be their right of autonomy and self-determination.

People who won't do what is in their best interest for their own sake but who capitulate to the threat of punishment by a dominant authority to take exactly the same action...well, I don't understand this sort of person, to put it mildly.
posted by rushmc at 6:44 AM on January 31, 2002

Seatbelts have been mandatory in Australia since the 1970's so its just an automatic action to put one on. However if I was in an accident, I think I would probably be garrotted, as the belt slides across my throat all the time. So I guess I need to be taller or get bigger boobs...wait a minute, I,ll just go and design a new seatbelt.
posted by Tarrama at 6:47 AM on January 31, 2002

rushmc - Seat belt use impacts more than just the wearer. A driver wearing a seat belt is held in place and can continue to control their vehicle after the initial impact. A belted passenger will not be thrown into the path of otherwise uninvolved cars (and their drivers and passengers).

That, combined with the fact that operating a motor vehicle on a public road is a priviledge, not a right, makes it clear that for the government to require seatbelt use is both safe and legally sound.
posted by NortonDC at 6:52 AM on January 31, 2002

Tarrama, at least in the US there are clips that pull the shoulder belt closer to the lap belt. They are designed for use by children and shorter adults (my wife at 5'3" uses one). Are such things available/legal in Australia?
posted by tommasz at 7:09 AM on January 31, 2002

Tommasz, I,ve never seen one here but will certainly look into it. Thank you.
posted by Tarrama at 7:13 AM on January 31, 2002

Some new cars (BMW's confirmed) can sense the angle of the meeting of the belt and upper connection and automatically move the connection to accomodate drivers of various heights.
posted by NortonDC at 7:19 AM on January 31, 2002

Forty-nine states, excluding only New Hampshire, have laws that make seatbelt use mandatory. Passengers caught without seatbelts can be fined, and can also lose out in court in accident scenarios. There is variation mostly in the way these laws can be enforced, and details regarding child restraints, etc.
posted by raysmj at 7:24 AM on January 31, 2002

> Forty-nine states, excluding only New Hampshire...
Hey! Who died and made you Carol Anne?

posted by pracowity at 7:46 AM on January 31, 2002

I live in Oriole's state, and I think most people comply these days, except for teenagers, who are of course immortal. It felt strange when I first started wearing shoulder belts (I'm old enough to remember when there were only lap belts), but now it's impossible to feel comfortable without. And when I had kids, of course, the issue became much more compelling. My car doesn't move without everyone being belted up.

The last time I drove for any length of time in a vehicle without a belt, I was a passenger in an old truck that didn't have any belts. It fishtailed in a rainstorm on I-75 at 60 miles per hour, flipped and rolled over a couple times. I was thrown through the side window elbow first, flew 30 feet though the air and came to on the median with the truck's battery eight inches from my head. I had nightmares for a year, and was still picking glass out of my arm six years later (!). It was a pretty wild ride.

I've been fairly conscientious about belts since.
posted by rodii at 7:52 AM on January 31, 2002

bwg, same situation here. I would not have the luxury of sitting here typing this were it not for my seatbelt -- recently hit a patch of black ice and rolled the company pickup truck, which ended up lying on the passenger side with me held in (ie, suspended in mid-air) by said belt. Which really brought home, since there were no other vehicles involved, that much damage can be caused not only by high-speed collision but by flailing around loosely in the car's interior, impacting the instrumentation and other passengers. Not a pleasant thought, but there you have it.
posted by CleverHans at 7:52 AM on January 31, 2002

Actually, pracowity, I'm pretty sure that, initially, right after Nader's "Unsafe at Any Speed" came out, pedestrian and other automobile accidents did go up. However, fatalities went down. There's not much effect today, because seatbelts are required in every car, but before the legislation, they didn't use to be. People subconciously went faster because they felt safer. (I know I read about this or talked about this with my econ professor--just can't find the right way to Google it and find the statistics.)

Either way, I always wear my seatbelt. It's a habit I've formed due to constant nagging. Thanks mom.
posted by gramcracker at 7:53 AM on January 31, 2002

My parents 'forced' us kids to where seatbelts 100% of the time. As a consequence I have never felt comfortable without one on, even in my teenage invincible years. When I was 18 I was one of 5 passengers in a car that collided at 50 mph with a drunk driver who turned left illegally in front of us. Of the two cars involved I was the only one wearing a seatbelt and I was the only one who wasn't injured. The other driver was thrown from his car and critically injured. My friends all required short hospitalization for various non-life threatening, but still serious, injuries. I am glad nobody died, but it was only luck that somebody didn't.
posted by plaino at 8:16 AM on January 31, 2002

I think in places with a public healthcare system legislating it is the right thing, since it's likely to be more expensive to care for someone in an accident without a seatbelt than someone with. But I'm generally opposed to legislation designed to protect people from themselves (provide them with information, fine, but don't make it a law), and in places with private healthcare, where taxpayers won't have to pick up the tab for you exercising your freedom to be an idiot, I think it should be up to the individual. Not that legislating it is unsound, because as NortonDC said, there's a good case to be made for that. That being said, I've been in Texas on a number of occasions recently and I've seen people with children in the bed of their pickups doing 65 on the Interstate, and people on motorcycles without gives me the willies. I live in Canada, we have laws against that sort of thing!
posted by biscotti at 8:19 AM on January 31, 2002

Some new cars (BMW's confirmed) can sense the angle of the meeting of the belt and upper connection and automatically move the connection to accomodate drivers of various heights.

Surely you mean: Some new cars (BMW's confirmed) can sense the angle of the meeting of the belt and upper connection and automatically move the connection to accomodate rich bastards of various heights.
posted by kindall at 8:54 AM on January 31, 2002

And another point on the "it's only my life" claim: I recall hearing a number of statistics about crashes where passengers in the front (belted) were killed by the passengers in the back (unbelted) bouncing forward in a crash. Rear seat passenger propelled forward, into back of neck/skull of front seat passenger/driver - rear passengers tend to survive, with injuries; front seat inhabitants don't.
posted by jackelder at 8:56 AM on January 31, 2002

My BMW cost 8K. I'm still working on the "rich" part of your equation, while others seem to have the "bastard" part under control.
posted by NortonDC at 8:58 AM on January 31, 2002

my mother must have worked in similar conditions as RunsWithBandageScissors....

my first date was utterly mortified (as was I) when she gave him "the lecture" on picking him up to drive us to a show.

but I'll admit that all the iterations of the lecture stuck in my head, and I don't think I've ridden in a car w/out a seatbelt ever. (except maybe once or twice in ridiculously overstuffed cars.)

still, I'm ambivalent about the involvement of the law. I've heard good arguments from the libertarian side, and equally good arguments from the "social protection" side.

(personally, I think if you don't have the brains to wear your seatbelt, then you don't have enough brains to drive. but that's in my "if I were queen of the world" mode.)
posted by epersonae at 8:59 AM on January 31, 2002

My middle of the road Corolla has adjustable seat belts (you can change the height on the door column to better fit you). It may not be BMW's automated version but it still works the same.
posted by smcniven at 9:05 AM on January 31, 2002

biscotti: No nation on Earth, to my knowledge, has totally private health care - not even in the United States, the only significant industrialized power/democracy not to have universal care. What are you supposed to do in the U.S., have a seat belt law, but only ticket people who are on Medicare, or Medicaid, or a veteran's or country/city hospital which receives federal funds, etc., etc.? The largest percentage of health care costs these days, by the way, are borne by federal and state governments here - more than private insurance or anything or anyone else. Even with private insurance, the costs are passed on to someone other than the driver - they are passed on, primarily, to everyone else.
posted by raysmj at 9:11 AM on January 31, 2002

I used to work on safety system design for the big Three (I was a contractor, so really, all of them but mostly GM). Although a seat belt may feel uncomfortable if it's too close to your neck, it's still safer than no seat belt at all. I think the real problem is with children , where the seatbelt is way too big.

But children that small, should never, ever ride in the front seat. There are specific impact zones all over the inside of the car that are made for adult males and females (with enough statistical variation for most sizes), but not kids. Same goes for front airbags as well. Put your kids in the back. Please.
posted by costas at 9:19 AM on January 31, 2002

raysmj: thanks, I was aware that there was some government funding involved, but not to that extent.
posted by biscotti at 9:22 AM on January 31, 2002

IMO, we should allow people the choice to wear belts or not. There needs to be a consequence, though: those that don't, aren't insured (health nor auto; the latter because the seatbelt can help them remain in control of the vehicle; the former because the chances of injury skyrocket.)

Best auto-safety idea I've ever heard: a big bloody spike in the centre of the steering wheel. People would be a helluva lot more cautious if obvious painful death were on the line!!

(Thruthfully: I *always* wear my seatbelt, and I'm all for legislating it. When people are too fucking stupid to think for themselves, someone else has to do it for them...)
posted by five fresh fish at 9:39 AM on January 31, 2002

five fresh fish: Who's supposed to know whether the drivers are wearing seatbelts or not? A little camera the insurance companies install in your car? The cops, working with the insurance companies in old-style Latin American corporatist fashion? Also, most states have compulsory auto insurance laws now, so the effect is the same - no insurance, no (legal) driving.
posted by raysmj at 10:02 AM on January 31, 2002

I once flipped a car nose over tail. The car ended up upside down, with me dangling in the seatbelt. The roof of the car above where my head usually is was smashed down to the level of the headrest. I have no doubt that I would have been killed if I hadn't been wearing a seatbelt, and I always wear one now.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:47 AM on January 31, 2002

There are states without compulsory auto insurance?
posted by jonathanbell at 10:50 AM on January 31, 2002

janathanbell: Last I heard, the remaining holdouts were Tennessee, Wisconsin (which surprises me greatly) and New Hampshire.
posted by raysmj at 12:08 PM on January 31, 2002

NortonDC - in your (otherwise excellent) reply to RushMC you did omit to mention the burden that the adult, exercising his "right" of autonomy and self-determination (while presumably neglecting temporarily his responsibility to others to do so without compromising theirs), places on society for the care of his/her orphans after they shuffle off the mortal coil.
posted by RichLyon at 12:30 PM on January 31, 2002

raysmj sez: Who's supposed to know whether the drivers are wearing seatbelts or not?

Frankly, if the accident is severe enough that the wearing of the seatbelt is an issue, it's very likely that the accident investigators can tell from the impact marks and blood spatter inside the vehicle whether or not a given individual was wearing a belt or not. At any reasonable speed, it's simply not possible to "hold on" and resist the force of the impact. The head makes a very distinctive pattern when it strikes the windshield.

I think that seatbelts should be mandatory. I don't like that my tax dollars go to scoop the brains back into idiots who drive without them after they get into accidents. The additional costs for emergency services in a "25 mph fender bender" vs. "25 mph head through windshield" is simply not going to be paid back by the injured in the real world (if there were a "no belt you pay" type arrangement).

FWIW, in WA, the way the law works is that everybody must be restrained appropriately (seat belts for adults, boosters or child seats for kids). There are exceptions for cars without useful belts (busses, old cars, etc). There is no exception for being in the back seat. If the unbelted person is under 16, the driver gets the ticket, otherwise, the person gets the ticket (so, yes, you can be a passenger and get a ticket if the driver is stopped for something).

The police in WA cannot pull you over for not wearing a seat belt, unless it's a child (and don't expect a lot of mercy on that one). And, beginning in July, the rules for child restraint become much stricter.

Another problem is that the fine for not wearing a seat belt is too low to have a real deterrent value (it varies from place to place, but is about 50 bucks).

Driving is a privilege, not a right. Too many people think otherwise.
posted by doorsnake at 12:38 PM on January 31, 2002

RichLyon - I don't understand your point. Please restate it, paying special attention to connection with the topic of the thread.
posted by NortonDC at 12:51 PM on January 31, 2002

NortonDC - the tension between the libertarian's insistence on our right not to wear a seatbelt, and the authoritarian's insistence that we must is one of the examples that Amitai Etzioni cites in the opening chapter of his book, The Spirit of Community. Your first paragraph restated two of the reasons he provides to demonstrate the speciousness of this particular right - I was adding the third that he provides, which is that the individual burdens society with the cost of providing for his children in the event of his (self selected) death.

Fundamental to his argument for Communitarianism is that our responsibilities to each other, which are necessary in order to allow society to function, have become displaced by a devalued notion of our "rights". In fact the claim of a "right" is often nothing more than the frustration of a person with a Special Interest who hasn't got all they want, which serves to devalue the significantly fewer number of genuine rights that we do have.
posted by RichLyon at 1:29 PM on January 31, 2002

Thank you, that's much clearer to me. I thought you might have been hinting at an argument like "Who cares if it has a societal cost - so does child rearing, and I don't see you calling that a 'priviledge.'" I'm glad I got a clarification before tearing into it. :)
posted by NortonDC at 1:41 PM on January 31, 2002

doorsnake: I was talking about before an accident. You'd have to be paying higher rates for going sans seatbelt before anything happened - as you would for health coverage if, say, you had high blood pressure or some history of serious illness - for there to be much of an effect.
posted by raysmj at 2:56 PM on January 31, 2002

Coming to this topic a bit late, but personally I never drive without my seat belt on, even if its just moving it in the parking lot, and my car never moves if there's a single passenger who's not belted up. And this is coming from someone who's been accused of driving much to quickly and restlessly many times in the past, so I'm not just an anal safety freak.

Although I think that my driving habit does have something to do with my love of seat belts; when you're on a spirited drive, it's good to have something holding you into your seat as you take a tight turn at speed... I like seat belts with the locking feature (tug it out all the way, let it retract, and it locks and won't slide out until it's been retracted all the way again); they make it *almost* like having a proper racing harness.

Hell, if it weren't for the fact that they're ugly as sin in a passenger car, and total overkill for workaday driving, I'd love to have a 5-point harness in my car. IF only there were some way to have it there only when I needed it...
posted by jammer at 2:58 PM on January 31, 2002

frasermoo: you don't need to be going fast to get hurt. You know what hits the steering wheel and/or the windshield first in a low-speed accident? Your face. Even at 25-30 km/h. Just something to think about when you start to pull out of your parking space.
posted by swerve at 3:33 PM on January 31, 2002

You know what hits the steering wheel and/or the windshield first in a low-speed accident? Your face.

When someone usernamed "swerve" tells me this, I take it to the bank.
posted by Skot at 3:36 PM on January 31, 2002

When people are too fucking stupid to think for themselves, someone else has to do it for them

posted by rushmc at 5:05 PM on January 31, 2002

rushmc - Seat belt use impacts more than just the wearer.

So does everything else one ever does/does not do in life. One can't legislate everything. We just differ on where to draw the line.
posted by rushmc at 5:07 PM on January 31, 2002

jammer - Have you ever worn a five point harness? If you had, I'd think that as a man you'd soon start thinking that four point harnesses have their charms.
posted by NortonDC at 5:22 PM on January 31, 2002

> My middle of the road Corolla has adjustable seat belts...

If you're spending time cruising down the middle of the road, it had better have at least that much.
posted by pracowity at 10:24 PM on January 31, 2002

« Older Surely Pork and Apple?   |   Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments