I’ve been a commercial pilot, and I was a cop for a lot of years. I’ve investigated well in excess of 2000 traffic crashes.* I’ve taught traffic investigation — as well as tactical driving — to rookie cops. I’ve scraped children off windshields — and also adults who should have known better. I’m a rabid believer in wearing seat belts.
There are a few basic arguments against them, including the “libertarian” position that I’ll deal with last. None of them have merit when considered objectively, but many are used every day as excuses by people who simply don’t want to be bothered buckling up. Let’s look at a few.
The “Officer Said I Would Have Been Killed” excuse. This is often presented as a Friend of a Friend story. A police officer at the scene supposedly looked at the vehicles and said that the person would have been killed for sure if he/she had been buckled in. Perhaps that is true. It’s also true that the officer is full of b.s. No competent investigator would make such a statement, because the dynamics of a traffic crash are such that you can’t just look at it and say what would have happened if one thing were changed.
This statement is most often applied to situations where the impact was on the driver’s door, the premise being that the person would have been crushed if they had not been free to move as the side of the car collapsed inward. Well, duh! Guess what — the seatbelt anchors, and the seat itself, collapse inward as well. Our “victim” isn’t going to be crushed because everything is going to be pushed in the direction of impact.
What a seatbelt worn in the above scenario will do is keep the driver from being catapulted across the car and sustaining secondary injuries from hitting the opposite door. It also minimizes the chance of a passenger being injured by a flying driver, and vice-versa.
“Seat belts are too uncomfortable to wear.” Not after you get used to them. New shoes are uncomfortable, too, but that doesn’t stop you from wearing them, does it? Once you get used to seat belts, you feel uncomfortable without them. Sure, it’s a little bit odd to begin with, and after years of doing without them they take a while to get used to. Eventually you’ll find yourself as comfortable as with an old, worn pair of shoes, and putting them on and taking them off will be as automatic as tying shoelaces. Fact is, most people find that being held securely in one place on the seat allows them to relax more while driving and actually become more comfortable.
“I might have to get out of the car in an emergency, like if it was burning or under water, and the belts might jam.” The old-fashioned “metal to cloth” belts that used to be used in airplanes could, indeed, jam when weight was put on them. Metal to metal belts don’t jam. If they did they’d be outlawed, instead of mandatory on every car sold in the US. Do you really think General Motors is going to install seat belts that jam in accidents? Get real! Think of the lawsuits!
Here’s the real skinny on those emergencies: you’re a lot more likely to be able to deal with them (on the very rare occasions when they occur) if your injuries are minimized and you are still conscious — all the more reason for wearing belts. This also applies to the possibility of fumbling around with the belts and wasting time. If you wear them all the time, operating them will be completely automatic and you won’t have to think about it.
Fact: the odds of being killed in a serious accident go up a couple of hundred percent if you aren’t wearing belts. The kinds of accident where they might contribute to fatalities are so rare as to be totally beyond consideration. I will not ride in a car without them, nor in a car with others who aren’t wearing theirs.
And now we come to the libertarian position — what I call the self-centered asshole defense, which also applies to motorcyclists who won’t wear helmets. This idiotic position holds that “It’s my life, and as long as I don’t hurt anyone else, whatever I do is OK.”
Well, let’s see who might be hurt:
- Loved ones who will have to bury them
- Families that will have to do without breadwinners and caregivers
- Families and close friends who will be traumatized by the loss and have to grieve it, whether or not the asshole survives
- Loved ones or others who will have to care for them as they convalesce
- Loved ones or others who will have to care for them extended periods — or for life — if they can’t take care of themselves
- Other parties to the accident who will also have to deal with the trauma (and, given that seat belts help you remain in control of the vehicle, may never have been in the accident at all under other circumstances)
- Taxpayers and those who pay future insurance premiums
- Other people who could use the services the asshole will eat up over the period of disability.
..and so on, and so on.
“So,” the so-called libertarian will say, “I have insurance for all that.” Well, tell me about that — where do you get insurance that will take kids and grandkids to ball games and do the other things that fill up the lives of normal families that aren’t led by self-centered jackasses? Do you love the others in your life, or just yourself?
In the final analysis, natural selection comes into play. People who don’t wear belts won’t breed as much, and eventually the gene pool will be improved. Come to think of it, I may be doing the human race a disservice here. On the other hand — hell, you probably won’t pay much attention anyway.
Have a safe, happy vacation!
*I don’t believe in “accidents.” Someone is always at fault if you look far enough.