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Click it or Ticket

The Myth of "Safety Belts"

By Shawn K. Hall

How does one define success when it comes to imposing legislation like seatbelts? The article that inspired my rant suggests that success was achieved by fining 66 Sonora residents and visitors for not wearing their seatbelts over the course of the California 2-week "Click It or Ticket" campaign. How wonderful (can you sense the sarcasm?).

State government busybodies are cracking down on use of phones while driving. They think more laws solve every problem. They don't. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) study showed crash rates rose in three out of four states after texting bans were put in place.

That equates to between $80-$91/ticket for adults (up to $350 for a child passenger), or $6,336 in revenue for the state of California (in 2007). But at what cost? The govern-mantra "seatbelts save lives" has been around as far back as I can recall, but there are exceptions. Exceptions to laws requiring you to wear a seatbelt? Yes, there are those, too. But there are also exceptions to seatbelts saving lives. The authors own brother was strangled to death by his seatbelt ten years ago during an accident. I guess you can't win them all, right?

No. Not exactly. This campaign demonstrates the epitome of political promotions for the good of politicians. Like the Prop 82 campaign and other "feel good" legislation which always claims it's "for the children," seatbelt laws do not succeed in preventing accidents, nor do seatbelts prevent death when an accident actually occurs.

Even more, you're probably not aware that this campaign is financed by grants from the state and federal government to the city of Sonora. The small town of Sonora was paid $7,000 in order to bring in that $6,336. But that's a loss of over $600? Yes, well, you don't want to know how much they paid for the production and air of public service ads on radio, television and online. To put it in perspective, Rob Reiner managed to spend $23 million on the same types of things over the course of two years to promote preschool in anticipation of Prop 82. The Click It or Ticket Campaign eats over $90 million per year.

According to The Foundation for Economic Education:

"People have been talking about seatbelt laws and there have been attempts to pass them for well over 10 years. It's been a snowball effect, once the money poured in."

That sudden flow of money began in 1984, when then-Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole promised to rescind the rule that required automakers to install passive restraints by 1990 if states representing two-thirds of the U.S. population passed seat-belt laws by April 1, 1989... Dole's promise amounted to an invitation to the automakers to use their financial resources to lobby states for seat-belt laws, something the Department of Transportation (DOT) was forbidden to do by law, in exchange for the government's not forcing them to install air bags. In effect, the DOT surreptitiously used the financial resources of the private sector to further the political agenda of the federal government through blackmail.
[Read The Fraud of Seat-Belt Laws]

Save Lives - Abolish Telephone Poles

Seatbelt Information

But how could this money have been better spent? It's a common misperception that most deadly accidents are the result of two or more vehicles striking each other. In fact, most deadly accidents are a result of striking a stationary object. The most common stationary object responsible? The telephone pole. Instead of spending their money on promoting something that has only cursory success at preventing death, they could go with a guaranteed win: move telephone lines underground, get rid of the telephone poles, and you'll immediately save over 10,000 lives every year in the United States. That's about 25% of all the deaths caused in motor vehicle accidents each year in the United States. I wonder how many telephone wires could be put underground for $90 million?

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

I enjoy reading the "facts" in articles and pondering the purpose they are attempting to justify with the statements they make. For example, in the inspiring article, two interesting facts are presented:

And the point of these, no doubt, is to convince locals in rural Sonora that they are far more likely to be killed in an accident without their seatbelts on. Let me get this straight... There are significantly more fatal accidents in rural America? Wow. That's like, common sense or something. There are very few places downtown where you can drive 75 mph, or, where you think you can get away with 90 mph. What does it have to do with seatbelts? Absolutely nothing. Notice that they left out that little tidbit, in hopes you wouldn't question just how many of those fatalities were wearing their "safety belts." The second fact, cleaned of geek-speak, says that only half as many of the accidents in the city are fatal. Again, there's a big difference between an accident on a rural highway where everyone is going 60 and in a school zone where they top out at 25, or in congested downtown traffic where you'll be lucky to break 10. And again, they forgot to keep on the subject of seatbelts.

Another misrepresentation of fact is that if you're in an accident, without a seatbelt on, you'll die. With over eleven million accidents in the U.S. each year, and an estimated 82% "use" rate, that would indicate that roughly two million accidents each year involved passengers without their seatbelts on. Yet, fewer than 45,000 MVA deaths occur each year. And, get this, 5% of the people ejected from their vehicles - and dying - wore their seatbelts [pdf]!

Here's a novel set of statistics you aren't likely to find anywhere; the number of driver fatalities where the driver is using his seat belt - is almost double that of those without, and it climbs by more than one percent every year. Yes, more people die with their seatbelt on than without. And, here in California, it's not a small margin of 2:1, as in the rest of the country; here it's a margin of 4.2:1. No joke, in California, almost four and a half times as many motorists die strapped to the wreckage. Not exactly "safety", is it?

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Updated May 10, 2013

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