Why mandatory seatbelt laws are bad for highway safety
For most of you, this will probably come as a surprise. Seat belts save lives, right? That's what we're told. Well, many experts who have looked at the statistics with a critical eye have actually found that the opposite may be true.
John Adams, risk expert and emeritus professor of geography at University College London, found that mandating the use of seat belts in 18 countries resulted in either no change or actually a net increase in road accident deaths.1
Hawaii, the state with the most rigorously enforced seat belt law and the highest compliance rate in the nation, has experienced an increase in traffic fatalities and fatality rates since its law went into effect in December 19852
How is this possible? The most widely-accepted hypothesis is that seatbelt users take more risks than non-seatbelt users. They drive faster, brake harder, and follow other cars closer. In 1975, Sam Peltzman conducted a famous study that arrived at this conclusion. 2 More recently, Professor Christopher Garbacz of the University of Missouri-Rolla found that the seatbelt user himself may be safer, but he makes the road less safe for everyone else.3 Who, you may be asking. The answer would be passengers of other cars, pedestrians, and cyclists.
Between 1974 and 1982 cycling mileage in Britain increased 70%, but there was no increase in fatalities until the seatbelt law was introduced in 1983.4
Think this idea is absurd? Imagine if a sharp stick were sticking out of your steering wheel. Would you drive just a bit slower? What about if there were explosives built into your bumper? These are extreme reasons why you'd drive much more carefully, but consider the opposite. You feel safer when you wear a seatbelt, don't you. You don't worry about having to stop suddenly, because that seatbelt will keep you nice and secure.
There are countless studies that arrive at the same conclusion, but I feel like I've driven home this point enough for today. If you'd like to read part 2 of why mandatory seatbelt laws are bad for completely unrelated reasons to what was given here, shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll consider writing it. Otherwise, stay tuned for our next article, why speeding can be a good thing!