Seat belt legislation
Seat belt legislation requires the fitting of seat belts to motor vehicles and the wearing of seat belts by motor vehicle occupants. Laws requiring the fitting of seat belts to cars have in some cases been followed by laws mandating their use, with the effect that thousands of deaths on the road have been prevented. Different laws apply in different countries to the wearing of seat belts.
In Australia, the use of seat belts by all vehicle passengers is compulsory. The states of Victoria and South Australia introduced a requirement for belt anchorages in 1964, although not for the belts themselves. In 1970, the use of seat belts by vehicle occupants was made compulsory in the state of Victoria, followed by the rest of Australia and some other countries during the 1970s and 1980s. The subsequent dramatic decline in road deaths, equivalent to thousands of lives saved in Australia alone, is generally attributed to seat belt laws and subsequent road safety campaigns. Seatbelts are not required for bus occupants, reversing drivers, and those driving some slow moving vehicles. The laws for these differ depending on the state or territory with jurisdiction.
In the United Kingdom, seat belts must be worn at all times if they are fitted to a vehicle. Passengers may be exempt from wearing a seat belt for different reasons. Since September 18, 2006, children travelling in the UK must also use an appropriate child seat in addition to the standard seat belt, unless they are 12 years or over and/or have reached at least 135 centimetres (53 in) in height.
In the UK, a requirement for anchorage points was introduced in 1965, followed by the requirement in 1968 to fit three-point belts in the front outboard positions on all new cars and all existing cars back to 1965. Successive UK Governments proposed, but failed to deliver, seat belt legislation throughout the 1970s. In one such attempt in 1979 similar claims for potential lives and injuries saved were advanced. William Rodgers, then Secretary of State for Transport in the Callaghan Labour Government (1976–1979), stated that: "On the best available evidence of accidents in this country - evidence which has not been seriously contested - compulsion could save up to 1000 lives and 10,000 injuries a year."
New York State passed the first law in the US mandating the use of seat belts in 1984 under the leadership of John D. States, an orthopedic surgeon who dedicated his career to improving automotive safety. Depending on which state you are in, not wearing a seatbelt in the front seat is either a primary offense or a secondary offense, with the exception of New Hampshire, which does not have a law requiring people over age 18 to wear a seat belt. In the front seat, the driver and each passenger must wear a seat belt, one person per belt. In states such as New York, New Hampshire, Michigan, etc. (See article State Seat Belt Laws), seat belts in the rear seats are not mandatory for people over the age of 16, though it is extremely advised. The driver and front-seat passengers aged 16 or older can be fined up to $50 each for failure to buckle up.
A primary offense means that a police officer can pull you over for the seatbelt law violation alone, and secondary offense that you can be punished for a seatbelt law violation only if you are already pulled over for another reason. By January 2007 25 states and the District of Columbia had primary seatbelt laws, 24 secondary seatbelt laws, and New Hampshire had no laws. In 2009, Public Health Law Research published several evidence briefs summarizing the research assessing the effect of a specific law or policy on public health. One stated that "Safety belt laws work, but there is strong evidence to support that primary enforcement safety belt laws are more effective than secondary enforcement laws in increasing seat belt use and reducing crash injuries."
Another found that "there is strong evidence that enhanced seat belt enforcement interventions can substantially increase seat belt use and its associated benefits."
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In many developing countries, pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaw operators and moped users represent the majority of road users. In the state of Gujarat in India, seat belts have been made compulsory in six major cities, Ahmedabad, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Surat and Vadodara.
In Thailand, there are four stages pertaining to the legislation of safety belt laws. The first stage was implemented in 1979, making the wearing of seat belts compulsory for the driver and front seat passenger. On January 1, 2009, the second stage mandated the wearing of rear seat belts. Passenger vehicles registered prior to January 1, 1995 and those weighing more than 3.5 tons are exempted from this rule. The third and fourth stages, which will deal with baby and child seats and the number of passengers in a vehicle, have not taken effect.
The table below gives an overview of when seat belt legislation was first introduced in different countries. It includes both regional and national legislation.
|Country||Compulsory wearing||Compulsory fitting||Source|
|Driver||Front passengers||Rear passengers|
|Australia||1970 (Victoria) 1971 (NSW) 1972 (National) 1986 (child restraints)||1969, 1971 (back seat)||1983 (≤3.5 tonnes)||;|
|France||1973 (outside cities), 1975 (cities at night), 1979 (all)||1990||2003||1967, 1978 (back seat)||2003|||
|Germany||1976||1984||1999||1970, 1979 (back seat)||1999||de:Gurtpflicht|
|Hong Kong||1983||1983||1996||2004 (minibuses)||1996 (back seat)||2004 (minibuses)|
|Italy||1989||1990 (where available)‡||2006‡||1988 (new vehicles); 1989 (all*, front seats); 1990 (new vehicles, back seats); 2000 (all*, back seats)||2006|||
|Japan||1971† (1985)||1971 (no fines), 1985 (fines on freeway), 1993 (all)||2008||2008||1969|||
|Netherlands||1976||1992||1975 (front) 1990 (rear)|
|New Zealand||1972||1972 (15 years and over), 1979 (8 years and over)||1989♣||1972 (vehicles registered after 1965), 1975 (after 1955)|||
|Sweden||1975||1986||1969 (front) 1970 (rear)||2004|| |
|United Kingdom||1983||1991||1967 (front) 1987 (rear)||RoSPA|
|United States||1984||Front lap 1965 model year; front shoulder & rear lap 1968; 3-point front 1974|||
* - actually only vehicles registered after 15 June 1976; in previous registered vehicles fitting is optional
† - required by the law, but no penalty for violation at the time
‡ - required by the law, but low enforcement
♣ - definitely introduced by this date, possibly earlier
Studies by road safety authorities conclude that seat belt legislation has reduced the number of casualties in road accidents.
Studies of accident outcomes suggest that fatality rates among car occupants are reduced by between 30 and 50 per cent if seat belts are worn. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that death risks for a driver wearing a lap-shoulder seat belt are reducing by 48 per cent. The same study indicated that in 2007, an estimated 15 147 lives were saved by seat belts in the United States and that, if seat belt use were increased to 100 per cent an additional 5024 lives would have been saved.[www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/811206.pdf]
An earlier statistical analysis by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claimed that seat belts save over 10,000 lives every year in the US. According to Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data:
- "Research on the effectiveness of child safety seats has found them to reduce fatal injury by 71% for infants less than 1 year old and by 54% for toddlers 1-4 years old in cars. [...] Among passenger vehicle occupants over 4 years old, safety belts saved an estimated 11,889 lives in 2000."
In Victoria, Australia the use of seat belts became compulsory in 1970. By 1974 decreases of 37% in deaths and 41% in injuries, including a decrease of 27% in spinal injuries, were observed, compared with extrapolations based on pre-law trends.
By 2009, despite large increases in population and the number of vehicles, road deaths in Victoria had fallen below 300, less than a third of the 1970 level, the lowest since records were kept, and far below the per capita rate in jurisdictions such as the United States. This reduction was generally attributed to aggressive road safety campaigns beginning with the seat belt laws.
A number of groups and individuals are opposed to seat belt legislation. The most common grounds for opposition are:
- The view that laws requiring the wearing of seat belts are an infringement of individual liberty;
- Claims that official estimates of the number of lives saved by seat belts are overstated or fail to take into account additional risks for other road users.
Risk compensation and other theories
The most common basis for disputing estimates of the benefits of seat belts is risk compensation and risk homeostasis advanced by researchers John Adams and Gerald Wilde. The idea of this theory is that, if the risk of death or injury from a car crash is reduced by the wearing of seat belts, drivers will respond by reducing the precautions they take against crashes.
In order to explain the disparity between the agreed improvement in crash survival and the observed results, Adams and Wilde argue that protecting someone from the consequences of risky behaviour may tend to encourage greater risk taking. Wilde states "... to compel a person to use protection from the consequences of hazardous driving, as seat belt laws do, is to encourage hazardous driving. A fine for non-compliance will encourage seat belt use, but the fact that the law fails to increase people's desire to be safe encourages compensatory behaviour."  Studies and experiments have been carried out to examine the risk compensation theory. In one experiment subjects were asked to drive go-karts around a track under various conditions. It was found that subjects who started driving belted did not drive any slower when subsequently unbelted, but those who started driving unbelted did drive consistently faster when subsequently belted. A study of habitual non-seatbelt wearers driving in freeway conditions found evidence that they had adapted to seatbelt use by adopting higher driving speeds and closer following distances In another study, taxi drivers who were habitual non-wearers were timed over a route with passengers who did, and others who did not, insist on the driver wearing a belt. They completed the route faster when belted.
In addition to risk compensation, Adams has suggested other mechanisms that may lead to inaccurate or unsupportable predictions of positive benefits from seatbelt legislation.
- Case-control studies based on voluntary use of safety aids can attribute to the aid benefits that actually come from the risk-averse nature of those likely to use them voluntarily (confounding), particularly early adopters.
- Fatality rates are subject to considerable stochastic noise and comparison of single years or short periods can be misleading.
Opponents have objected to the laws on libertarian principles. Some do so on the grounds that seat belt laws infringe on their civil liberties. They argue[where?] that not wearing seat belts is a victimless crime as the only person harmed is the one making that decision for himself about his own life.
The counterpoint to the libertarian view toward seatbelt laws is that mandatory usage may reduce injuries and deaths (while possibly increasing the number of accidents) but also reduces the economic cost to society. Another notable scenario is of rear-seated passengers being forced forward in a crash and thus inadvertently harming the driver or front passenger. A University of Wisconsin study demonstrated that car accident victims who had not worn seatbelts cost the hospital (and the state in the case of the uninsured) on average 25% more.
Side-effects of seat belts
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Critics have pointed to fatalities and injuries caused by wearing seat-belts. In neck injury cases, the deceleration from a high-speed impact can cause a seat-belt wearer's head to continue forward suddenly while the body is restrained, potentially causing paralyzing injuries. A study of such injuries notes "Seatbelts save lives. However, they may cause injury to adjacent structures and when they malfunction can cause injury to the abdominal viscera, bony skeleton and vascular structures. The motor industry has attempted to reduce these injuries by modification of vehicle design and safety equipment."
Long thought to be a side-effect, but rather its a psychological reflex that risk compensation is used as a result of some seat belt use.
- "A Potted Seat Belt History". Drivers Technology.
- Milne, P.W. "Fitting and Wearing of Seat Belts in Australia: The history of a successful countermeasureA". February, 1985. Department of Transport; Federal Office of Road Safety, Australian Government Publishing Service. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
- Helena Webb (15 August 2006). "Loose belts lose lives". Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
- 2005 Regulatory Impact Statement - Seatbelt legislation amendments
- "Seatbelts Saving Lives In Ontario For 35 Years" (Press release). Ministry of Transportation, Ontario. December 2010.
- "Wearing a seat belt and exemptions". Directgov.
- "RoSPA History - How Belting Up Became Law". RoSPA. Retrieved 2012-08-02.
- "RoSPA History - How Belting Up Became Law" (PDF). john adams.
- "The History of Seat Belt Development". School Transportation News. STN Media Group. Retrieved 2011-06-20.
- Click it or ticket
- "Most Wanted". National Transportation Safety Board.
- "Primary Enforcement of Safety Belt Laws". Public Health Law Research. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. December 7, 2009.
- "Enhanced Enforcement of Safety Belt Laws". Public Health Law Research. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2009.
- "Indonesia". US Department of State. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
- "All must belt up in MPVs". The Star. 29 December 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
- "?". fars.nhtsa.dot.gov.[dead link]
- Sexton, Reid (27 December 2009). "Victoria's road toll at record low". theage.com.au. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
- Lucas, Clay (9 July 2010). "How low can we go?". theage.com.au. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
- John Adams (2006). "The Failure of Seat Belt Legislation". John Adams. Retrieved 2010-03-04. (primary source)
- Wilde GJS (1994). Target Risk. Toronto: PDE Publications. ISBN 0-9699124-0-4.
- Streff FM, Geller ES (August 1988). "An experimental test of risk compensation: between-subject versus within-subject analyses". Accident Analysis and Prevention 20 (4): 277–87. doi:10.1016/0001-4575(88)90055-3. PMID 3415759.
- Janssen W (April 1994). "Seat belt wearing and driving behaviour: An instrumented-vehicle study". Accident Analysis and Prevention 26 (2): 249–2. doi:10.1016/0001-4575(94)90095-7. PMID 8198694.
- Wilde GJS (1994). Target Risk (1st ed.). ISBN 0-9699124-0-4.
- Jeff Jacoby (August 25, 1994). "Unbuckling the Voters" (Op-Ed). Boston Globe.
- Marion Ceraso; Keri Frisch; Stephen Hargarten; Timothy Corden (September 2006). "Primary Enforcement of Seatbelt Laws: A Means for Decreasing Injuries, Deaths and Crash-Related Costs in Wisconsin?" (PDF) 7 (1). University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
- Smith, J. E. (2005). Injuries caused by seatbelt - Trauma. tra.sagepub.com. pp. Vol. 7, No. 4, 211–215. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
References and further reading
- John Adams (1995). Risk. Routledge. ISBN 1-85728-068-7.
- Wilde G.S. Target Risk PDE Publications, 1994
- The Isles report "Seat belt savings: Implications of European Statistics", UK DoT, 1981, Sourced from Death on the Streets, Cars and the Mythology of Road Safety by Robert Davis, Leading Edge Press, North Yorkshire UK, 1992 and "Report questions whether seat belts save lives" by M. Hamer, New Scientist, 7 February 1985 p7
- Evaluation of Automobile Safety Regulations: The case of Compulsory Seat Belt Legislation in Australia. by J.A.C. Coneybeare, Policy Sciences 12:27-39, 1980
- Compulsory Seat Belt Use: Further Inferences, by P. Hurst Accident Analysis and Prevention., Vol 11: 27-33, 1979
- Wilde G. S. Risk Homeostasis and Traffic Accidents Propositions, Deductions and Discussion of Dissension in Recent Reactions, Ergonomics 1988 Vol, 31, 4:439
- Methodological Issues in Testing the Hypothesis of Risk Compensation by Brian Dulisse, Accident Analysis and Prevention Vol. 25 (5): 285-292, 1997
- RS 255 The initial impact of seat belt legislation in Ireland by R. Hearne, An Foras Forbatha, Dublin, 1981
- The efficacy of seat belt legislation: A comparative study of road accident fatality statistics from 18 countries, by J. Adams. Department of Geography University College, London 1981
- Casualty Reductions, Whose Problem? By F. West-Oram, Traffic Engineering and Control, September 1990
- The Puzzle of Seat Belts Explained, Press Release of the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society, April 1999
- Reconsidering the effects of seat belt Laws and Their Enforcement Status by T.S. Dee Accident Analysis and Prevention., Vol 30(1): 1-10, 1998
Links to sites/studies that endorse seat belts:
- U.S. Department of Transportation: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA): Occupant Protection
- PDF Seat Belt Wearing in Scotland: A Second Study of Compliance
- UK Department for Transport: THINK! Road Safety
- Prevention Institute: Seatbelts: Current Issues
- Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 85, pp. 828-843, 2003
- Fitting and wearing of seat belts in Australia - The history of a successful countermeasure by P.W. Milne (With updates by the Department of Transport Federal Office of Road Safety)., Australian Government Publishing Service, 1985
Links to sites/studies skeptical/critical of seat belt legislation +
- Seatbelt Laws Why You Should be worried
- Stick It to Click It or Ticket (SITCIOT)
- The Coalition for Seatbelt Choice
- Do Seat Belt Laws Work?
- Seat Belt Laws: A Clumsy Perspective by Professor John Adams pdf-format
- Review of Seatbelt Effectiveness
- Link to article on the Hawaii Seatbelt law