Do Seat Belt Laws Actually Save Lives?

My daughter’s high chair has a seat belt affixed. It is helpful for keeping her in place when she’d rather be climbing up and over the back of the chair. She is almost a year old. She doesn’t understand that if she climbs out of the chair she might fall and get hurt. The seat belt saves her from injury, but only if I remember to buckle it for her. I don’t want her to get hurt so I do remember to buckle the belt whenever I put her in the seat. The seat belt doesn’t protect her, I protect her by using the seat belt.

 

seat belt

When I’m driving my truck I can choose to wear my seat belt or not. I always wear it because I don’t see any good reason not to. I don’t find the belt uncomfortable, I don’t think it makes me look stupid, and I don’t find it a threat to my manliness to exercise manufacturer recommended safety protocol. I wear a seat belt because it seems like a good idea…oh yeah, and it’s the law. That’s what I’d like to write a little bit about.

 

English: Seat belt laws in the United States a...

English: Seat belt laws in the United States as of 2009 Primary enforcement Secondary enforcement, but primary under certain ages Secondary enforcement No laws (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is now a primary law in most states, and a secondary law in the rest (except NH where it is neither), for adults to wear a seat belt while occupying the front seat of a vehicle. A primary law means that failure to comply is probable cause for a police officer to make a traffic stop. Secondary means that a citation can be issued for it if the traffic stop is made for another condition. IT IS THE LAW. Don’t worry that it just makes sense, it is the law. Click it or ticket, as the ad campaign goes. Exercise common sense or pay the fine.

 

On one level I don’t care about the seat belt law. It’s like making a law that says breathe or go to prison. Fine, I automatically breathe anyway, I can’t really turn it off, frankly, I wouldn’t want to. But if I did stop breathing, who suffers except for me? Why would there need to be a law to require me to breathe? The point is, I’m always going to breathe as long as I can, just like I’ll always wear a seat belt if the option is available. To me it makes sense.

 

On another level I am strongly opposed to the seat belt laws because I don’t see what purpose the law serves for the general population, at least when we are talking about adults. When I go out driving, the likelihood of my involvement in a traffic accident is not increased or decreased dependent on whether or not I am wearing a seat belt. If not wearing a seat belt doesn’t interfere with anyone else, then why am I required to wear one? Unless the law is in place to keep my body from becoming a missile of flesh and bone in the event it is thrown through the windshield during an accident, potentially endangering other people. Who is the law protecting? If it is protecting the individual only then I don’t think it is necessary.

 

They say that seat belts save lives. If that is true then New Hampshire without any seat belt laws should have way more traffic fatalities per capita than any other state. This isn’t the case. Granted, there are many other factors that play into road deaths, but they say the seat belt laws save lives, so I have to take them at their word. In the event of an accident you are likely better off wearing the seat belt, but the seat belt won’t prevent the accident.

 

What is my issue with seat belt laws then? I don’t like that the government thinks they need to control every aspect of life as though the citizens are not capable of managing their own affairs. I don’t wear a seat belt because it is the law, I wear it because I think it is safe to do so. But it is my choice either way. They can claim it is for public safety, but I don’t accept that. I think it is for increasing the treasury balance through extraneous fines or it is for the purpose of creeping more and more control onto the public.

 

It starts with seat belts, then it becomes bike helmets, then it becomes surgeon general warnings, then caloric counts on menus, then beverage cup sizes, then style of firearm. But where does it end?

 

What do you think? Am I off the deep end without an approved personal flotation device, or is there a faction working fast to make us the United Nanny-states of America?

 

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About paulbrodie

I am a writer and a musician. My education is in psychology with emphasis in industrial/organizational psychology. My work experience has been primarily with electronic document management. Academically and intellectually I am interested in criminology and sociology. I am married to my favorite person in the world and we have one daughter.
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10 Responses to Do Seat Belt Laws Actually Save Lives?

  1. Ned's Blog says:

    From my viewpoint as a firefighter, there’s no question seat belts save lives. I’ve seen too many people — drivers, children, passengers, animals — ejected from their vehicles because they weren’t wearing one. Your question about whether it should be a choice and not the law is a good one, though. If you’re not hurting anyone else with your decision not to wear it, then what difference does it make? In my opinion, people who don’t see the benefit of wearing one, and who then become a statistic, are just part of the natural selection process. As a humor columnist, I always wear a seat belt. Period. Especially when I’m in a vehicle.

    • paulbrodie says:

      Thank you for adding the professional perspective. I agree, wearing a seat belt will keep you alive in situations where not wearing one will likely lead to death. Seat belts are good. I always wear one and I will always require it of my children.

      As you said, the results of not wearing a seat belt are tragic, so people should want to wear one. It’s sad that for some people the consequence of paying a fine is all that gets through to them and makes them “click it.” While I’ll always see the seat belt laws as either a Nanny State tactic or a government revenue increasing tactic, the end result is that people who don’t wear their seat belts do effect a lot of other people. You, for instance, in your role as a firefighter, have to deal with the after math. As well as any passing motorists who see the carnage and the family and friends who are left to grieve over the deceased.

      It’s an interesting case because having a law about it really does come through as “for the public welfare” but when you look at it in concept it isn’t much different than making it illegal to walk around with your shoes untied. I think the congress concerned with something like that is a little off the mark from the intended purpose of congress.

      As for natural selection, I’m with you on that one all the way.

      One more thing, Ned, do you have to special order your desk chairs or does Staples usually have a few in stock that feature seat belts? My birthday is coming up and I’d like to let my wife know ahead of time where to do the shopping.

      • Ned's Blog says:

        Well said, Paul. And as for the seatbelt chair, it’s not special ordered. I attached the seat belt from a 1974 VW, which I bought from the junk yard. As you can imagine, I am the envy of the news staff. I’m also working on an under-the-desk air bag system.

      • paulbrodie says:

        I’m going to nominate you for the safest blogger a-weird…I mean, award.

  2. fmgrund says:

    First of all, I can see your point. The state regulates something that should be common sense and therefore it is unnecessary if not dangerous regarding your personal freedom.

    But on the other hand, one should consider this:
    Your example with your daughter is pretty good. You are responsible father who cares about the safety of his children. And here comes the main problem of nearly every single theory or philosophy who tried to explain the behavior of mankind: We are stupid.

    Not all of us in the same way, that is for sure. Nevertheless, one cannot deny, that there are some people less intelligent than others. What I am trying to say is, that there are many people who would not use the seat belt for their kids if it was just an advice. I don’t want to blame them or say that they don’t love their children etc. Maybe they are too young and unexperienced or simply not aware of the problem.

    And there we reach the point where you cannot longer say: It is my personal freedom to choose the likelihood of dying during an accident. It’s the life of someone else, of a child and it would affect his future. So the law is necessary, not to protect the self-thinking individuals of our society but those, you cannot see all risks.

    Once again, I can see your point. The (other) main problem, the one you mentioned, is the question of where to stop. I don’t know. It is for sure, that a state to takes care of everything is not desirable (nor achievable). But there are always two sides of the medal.

    Maybe, one should suggest an age border for the seat belt discussion. And once again, where do you draw the line?

    Take care

    fm

    • fmgrund says:

      And please, make allowances for my bad English. Just rereading this, I stumpled over some very stupid mistakes. Kind of proved my own point…

      • paulbrodie says:

        Don’t even worry about it! This is a blog, there are not rules for grammar or anything like that on a blog. I see blogging as a conversation, so as long as we can understand each other we are all set.

    • paulbrodie says:

      FM,

      Thank you for contributing to the discussion. Absolutely you are right, some people are stupid, or at least, less intelligent or aware than other people. And this isn’t being mean it is just simply the facts of life. We are not all equal in ability and intelligence, but we are equal in worth. Whether we appreciate or depreciate in value over the course of life is up to us.

      I can definitely see the argument you are making for the seat belt law and other similar ones that ensure those in society who are vulnerable (ie children) are provided for. I respect that and appreciate it, but I think it is dangerous still to make a law to cover for those situations if it impedes on the general liberty of all. It can be debated for sure whether or not seat belt laws impede liberty. I’m sue many people wouldn’t agree, and that’s fine. Personally I think these types of laws do impede on liberty.

      I do think it is important to protect children or anyone who is in a vulnerable state. I have a brother who is classically autistic. His ability to provide for his own safety is significantly impaired compared to mine, but he wears his seat belt on his own accord. He was taught to do so and he does it. But in general he does need continued guidance to be kept safe. He is 25 and can’t live independently. There are people that need to be provided for. My wish is that we wouldn’t need to be required by law to provide for those who can’t do it themselves. Sadly, I see a lot of people who aren’t willing to take care of each other unless they are forced to do so by threat of high dollar amount fines.

      You mentioned philosophy and theory, that’s essentially what this discussion amounts to: theory. In theory I’d like to see less Nanny State laws because I think they impede freedom, but without them would more people be in danger? Perhaps, because stupidity seems to run rampant. So there might be some sacrifice going into removing the Nanny laws and increasing freedom, meaning that some innocent people will be hurt. That sounds uncaring and monstrous, but that’s nature’s course. It’s not an easily answered discussion, but I think it is worth having.

      I guess in the end I think that if we increased our efforts on education and unity, rather than relying on government taking care of our every need, that people would be better able to handle the important matters and such Nanny laws wouldn’t be necessary. Of course, there will probably always be a need for it to make up for those who simply do not care or are unwilling to work.

      Obviously I have a lot to say about the topic. I just have a lot to say about things in general. Not even that, I just like to say a lot of things, to be honest. Thanks for the comment and allowing me to say more! I appreciate your perspective on this and I do agree with you, I just worry about the danger for the future and hope there can be other ways around it.

      • fmgrund says:

        Thank you very much for your long answer. It is rarely a bad thing having a lot to say about something, so thanks for explaining your points of view.

        I think you have a good point there and, after all, it comes down to priorities and, as you mentioned, theory. And in theory I would always support your point, that the freedom of the individual is the noblest aim and we should pursue this with all our efforts.

        But even with all that in mind, I must disagree to your point, that it would be worth having. Not for the result, but for the hard way you mentioned. Though it has been excessively used in many superhero movies, it is still true: With great power comes great responsibility. And I, personally, don’t think that we are more accountable to some ideal world (which would be very “nice” to live in, no question”) than to those people who are less gifted and need help.

        It is one of these questions that are linked with the utilitarism. And so, the crucial point is: What worth has a life and is it an acceptable price to pay for the happiness (or whatever) of others?

        But this discussion is getting very philosophical (and theoretical) and heavy, so once again: thanks and have a nice day, with or without a seat belt.

        Take care

        fm

      • paulbrodie says:

        Once again, I appreciate the discussion. You are probably right about the ideal world I hope for not being a possible reality. And it is a tough point about letting some people suffer at the hand of irresponsible people so that everyone can enjoy the most liberty. I understand that, which is why a lot of this remains theoretical.

        Thanks for discussing it and sharing your perspectives, it helps me understand things better to hear what other people believe. That’s how I like to learn. I hope you have a great day, too!

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