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Archive for Friday, January 28, 2005

Belts and bags

Save 25,000 lives per year? Seat belts, air bags and other safety measures DO work.

January 28, 2005

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Time was when American motor vehicle accidents claimed in excess of 50,000 lives each year. That figure now is under 35,000 despite the fact more people and equipment are jamming overcrowded roads.

Item: Seat belts, air bags and other vehicle safety features have saved 329,000 lives since 1960, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. More than half those lives were saved by seat belts, the DOT report said. In addition to seat belts and air bags, safety seats, energy absorbing steering columns, improved roof and side protection and shatter-resistant windshields figured in the drop in fatalities.

Then there is evidence that nearly 2,200 pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists were saved by improved vehicle braking systems. In view of the all-too-common carelessness of walkers and various types of cyclists, motor and manual, that is quite an achievement.

Then get this: DOT says the number of lives saved annually from safety devices increased from 115 per year in 1960 to 25,000 per year in 2002, the last full year for statistics. That is a phenomenal gain.

Even though they were under considerable pressure to act, vehicle industry people deserve credit for listening to what is needed and trying to reduce the chances of death and injury.

Many motor vehicle denizens seem to be in as great a state of denial as cigarette-smokers. For some 50 years now, there has been growing evidence about the harmful, even fatal, effects of tobacco use. Look how many still smoke. For years and years, at least 50, there have been constant campaigns for the use of seat belts, child restraints and such. Yet how many motorists can you spot who has never bothered to don that seat belt or secure a child in their car or truck?

Ideally, the first thing a motorist does when getting into a vehicle is to affix a seat belt. In its last two sessions, the Kansas Legislature has considered bills that would have allowed law enforcement officers to stop drivers specifically for seat-belt violations. Currently, they can only be ticketed for not using seat belts if they have been stopped for another moving violation. If such a change would increase seat-belt usage in Kansas, perhaps it should be reconsidered.

It's great to see how the number of lives being saved by seat-belt use has risen since 1960, but it is sad to consider how much higher that figure might be if more people had used safety restraints properly for the past 45 years.

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