Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Seat belts. Again.

This overnight story from northern Israel is nothing short of horrendous and heartbreaking. Eight members of the same family, parents and six of their children killed in a car accident. A seventh child, a seven-year-old girl, survived after she was thrown clear of the car as it rolled down an embankment before bursting into flames.
The aftermath - the destroyed car and body bags

I've read the story and some of the pseudo-analysis now on several websites, both in English and Hebrew. The thing that has stuck in my throat the most are the "talkbackists", the nickname given to those who comment on news websites, who have commented on the fact that the one person to have survived this awful tragedy, probably did so because she was not wearing a seat belt. The warped logic that flowed was that in order to save lives, the government, the police and whichever other authorities are involved should mind their own business and let people decide for themselves whether to wear seat belts or not.

It may well be true. It may be that in this one horrendous incident a life was saved by not wearing a seat belt. I don't know, nor do I think it should make a difference. I do know that being thrown from a moving vehicle is just as likely to kill, if not more so. 

Twenty or thirty years ago, as the idea of everyone in a vehicle wearing a seat belt was starting to take hold, there were plenty who mocked it. There were cries of government sticking their noses where they weren't wanted, cries of the trampling of freedom of choice, cries that as it was once good enough to drive around without, it should continue to still be allowed.

Times change, technology changes and we must change and adapt with them. Seat belts in the modern car are designed as part of a package of safety features. Crumple zones, airbags, seat belts and a multitude of other features - all work in conjunction to save the lives of the occupants in the case of an accident - and they do work. To claim that this case proves otherwise is nothing short of misleading gobbledygook, or, to avoid putting too fine a point on it, a lie. 

This case, whilst tragic, proves nothing. The only facts we have are that eight people have died, adults, youths, children. The vehicle involved was carrying nine passengers, undoubtedly more than it should have been and possibly being a contributory factor to the initial assessment of brake failure and excessive speed for the road. One child survived. Perhaps she wasn't wearing a seat belt. I'd hazard a guess that more than one person in that vehicle was equally unrestrained. As more facts come to light, we may yet find out that she managed to crawl out, rather than being thrown from the car, further disproving the ridiculous arguments. 

A case such as this is so rare as to be statistically insignificant in the argument for or against seat belts. 

Seat belts save lives. Fact. 

More often than not, it's stupidity that kills. 


Rebecca said...

This strikes me as being similar to smoking - everyone you speak to always has one old uncle john who smoked two packs a day for 50 years and only died cause he got hit by a bus.. etc etc. One case does not make something true for all.
The following link is to Australian information on road fatalities, you can quite easily note the decline in deaths post 1970, when seat belts became mandatory in new vehicles. In my mind this says multitudes more than one example. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/featurearticlesbytitle/9AFD4E13D7DA281FCA2569DE0028B40C?OpenDocument

Geoff said...

I've fought the good fight on this topic for 12 years or so. I had the "privledge" of seeing an ejected body at an intersection when I was younger. It never dawned on me back then why Mom suddenly stopped letting me climb all over the car.

As a Paramedic, I've done everything I can to give the speeches, explain the physics and help people towards this very simple life saving technique.

One of the things I use in class and appropriate venues is a couple of great clips the NHS made a couple of years back. I always try and stress that if you're alone in the vehicle, it might well be your choice, against the law or not, but that when multiple people are in the car, not wearing a seatbelt could become the moral equivalent of the act of murder, and that unrestrained things become projectiles...

Its a shame these things continue to happen, my heart goes out to the loved ones and friends and sole survivor.

burned-out medic said...


Nick said...

Poor driving kills. Seatbelts only provide mitigation when the driver (or another driver) has screwed up.

The answer to improving road safety is to improve driving skills.

Volvo may made seatbelts widely available, but we're still stuck with poor driving.

Anonymous said...

Actually, seatbelts help your driving too. They keep you in the seat so you can feel what the car is doing and react accordingly rather than sliding around and having to brace against the interior.

Steve'nLubbock said...

Tell folks who drive a modern car to visit the NHTS site to view a dummy w/o the belt hitting the airbag. Talk about two forces coming together to a bad end!

bobball said...

There are very few places/times when seatbelts are inappropriate. The only one that really strikes me as common in my area is if one is driving on the lake in the winter (yes...some of our larger lakes even have "roads").

In those areas, it is considered wise to drive with belts off...and windows down so that if you hit a patch of previously unidentified thin ice, you can egress quickly. Of course, one never drives more than about 10-15mph on a lake...and wise people are always spaced apart to prevent ice failure.

ambuman said...

I remember reading a while ago one of your posts where you came across a convertable with the persons inside not wearing belts, you asked them to.. and they did..

I've been to two incidents pretty much on the excat same spot of road,and the same mechanism, one was restrained, the other unrestrained, i'm sure i dont need to tell you who came off better