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Old 01-26-2008, 09:21 PM
UltraVires UltraVires is offline
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Seat Belt Laws: Why did the public opinion change?

I remember back in the 1980s when seatbelt laws were first proposed. IIRC, most people thought the idea was outrageous. The government could tell you to follow a safety directive that affected nobody else but you?

Never fear, said our legislature, because we are introducing a concept called "secondary enforcement". We don't want to STOP you for not wearing a seat belt, just add a small extra penalty for "bad" drivers who don't buckle up.

We were skeptical, but the feds mandated these laws and every state besides NH caved.

Then ten years later the laws needed "upgrading" to primary enforcement. Through no federal pressure, now half of the states have primary seat belt laws, but a strange thing has happened: The public overwhelmingly supports them!

A poll in June, 1993 of West Virginia residents showed that 76% opposed the new secondary seat belt law.

A poll in June, 2003 of West Virginia residents showed that 76% supported the enaction of a primary seat belt law (which ultimately failed)

I understand that education has shown the public that seat belts save lives, but the underlying issue isn't whether you SHOULD wear a seat belt, but whether you should be FORCED.

Has the public simply become accustomed to big brother?
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Old 01-27-2008, 12:24 AM
EddyTeddyFreddy EddyTeddyFreddy is offline
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Maybe the public, in the intervening years, got it through its collective skull that mandating seatbelt use benefits everyone, including them, in the same manner as enforcing such outrageous tramplings upon freedom as stop signs.
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Old 01-27-2008, 12:28 AM
Measure for Measure Measure for Measure is offline
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Interesting question, jt. A similar process occurred with smoking bans in restaurants. At first it was a nutty idea from hippyville, California. And yet after a few years, such restrictions were being enforced in Texas.

But let's remember. We're not talking about core human rights here. So talk of big brother is laughable.

Last edited by Measure for Measure; 01-27-2008 at 12:28 AM.
  #4  
Old 01-27-2008, 12:38 AM
Critical1 Critical1 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtgain
I remember back in the 1980s when seatbelt laws were first proposed. IIRC, most people thought the idea was outrageous. The government could tell you to follow a safety directive that affected nobody else but you?


the thing is even if you crash 800 miles away from me it still affects me.
every injury and death affects the cost of insurance at the least. nevermind increased hospital care.
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Old 01-27-2008, 12:48 AM
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Not wearing a seatbelt is dangerous to more than just yourself. In a particularly bad accident, your body will be thrown all the fuck over the place, possibly injuring other people in the car.

I imagine, though, that it's just the fact that it's no longer the "new" thing. Twenty years ago, a lot of people alive were people who not only never wore seatbelts, but probably owned several cars that never even had them! A lot less of those people are around nowadays, and a lot of current adults were children when these laws were introduced, and had years and years of parents telling them to buckle up. It just got ingrained.


Plus, it's just a plain ol' good idea. If you don't buckle up, you're pretty much an idiot. The extremely slim chance that something bad might happen because you wear a seatbelt (like getting trapped in a burning car,) is far outweighed by the bad things that can happen from not wearing it.
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Old 01-27-2008, 12:48 AM
susan susan is offline
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I don't remember it the way you're remembering it, but since my family had an ethos of wearing seatbelts, I'd already been doing it for years by the time it was legislated. I don't remember any of my friends or family, or even the community newspaper, having anything negative to say about seatbelt laws. In over 30 years, I've never driven without a seatbelt. Anecdote: If I did not wear a seatbelt, I would be dead or severely disfigured/injured at least twice.
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Old 01-27-2008, 01:00 AM
don't ask don't ask is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by susan
I don't remember it the way you're remembering it, but since my family had an ethos of wearing seatbelts, I'd already been doing it for years by the time it was legislated. I don't remember any of my friends or family, or even the community newspaper, having anything negative to say about seatbelt laws. In over 30 years, I've never driven without a seatbelt. Anecdote: If I did not wear a seatbelt, I would be dead or severely disfigured/injured at least twice.
I recall when the laws were introduced in Australia there was plenty of opposition. Many cars didn't have seatbelts to use and lots of people tried to get medical certificates to exempt them from using one.

Anecdotally we were the first country to introduce seatbelt legislation in 1970 in Victoria but before it was law I had an accident where my car was struck on the drivers door, crushing the door across the drivers seat. Luckily I was not wearing a seat belt and ended up sitting in the passenger's lap with a gaping hole under my arm where the door had hit me. Had I been wearing a seatbelt I probably would be dead or so the ambulance guys and police thought.

This made me dubious about wearing a seatbelt but I have never not worn one since it became law.
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Old 01-27-2008, 01:04 AM
Leaffan Leaffan is online now
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I'm old enough to remember it being put into law here in Ontario: maybe early 70s?

Anyway, when the government pays the health care bills they have some clout regarding personal safety laws.

Initially I thought it was intrusive. Now I can't imagine why any sentient human being wouldn't wear a seat belt; it's not like you have some place to go while sitting in the car. Put the damned belt on and increase your chance of survival.
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Old 01-27-2008, 01:11 AM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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For a while, the State Patrol here made a point of specifying seat belt status in their reports. And the media gets its info from that. So you'd hear at the end of a news report "Neither the driver nor the deceased passengers were wearing their seat belts." Enough repetition of that, and it seemed to sink in to people that seat belts really were a benefit.
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Old 01-27-2008, 01:29 AM
EddyTeddyFreddy EddyTeddyFreddy is offline
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Our news media will note whether people were wearing seat belts or not in reporting crashes, and the difference in survival rates, and in major versus minor injuries, is abundantly clear.
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  #11  
Old 01-27-2008, 02:57 AM
Cunctator Cunctator is offline
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I remember some opposition at the time when NSW made the wearing of seat belts compulsory (early 1970s). A feisty great-aunt of mine vowed that she would never buckle up. I suspect that public acceptance came quickly when people realised that wearing a seat belt wasn't really a great hassle after all.
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Old 01-27-2008, 06:15 AM
Billdo Billdo is offline
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Because people realized that, instead of being some massive contraction of their personal liberty, wearing a seat belt wasn't much trouble at all.
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Old 01-27-2008, 09:12 AM
Ca3799 Ca3799 is offline
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My mind was changed when I had a "near accident" and realized that my seat belt had kept me in my seat, which allowed me to maintain control of the car.
  #14  
Old 01-27-2008, 09:45 AM
Sarahfeena Sarahfeena is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Billdo
Because people realized that, instead of being some massive contraction of their personal liberty, wearing a seat belt wasn't much trouble at all.
Those two things have nothing to do with each other. Something might be the easiest thing to do in the world, but that doesn't mean you should be forced to do it. For that matter, something might always be the smartest thing in the world to do, but that also doesn't mean you should be forced to do it.

In my opinion, anyone who doesn't wear a seatbelt is an idiot, but it still should be their choice.

Last edited by Sarahfeena; 01-27-2008 at 09:46 AM.
  #15  
Old 01-27-2008, 10:14 AM
Chief Pedant Chief Pedant is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtgain
I remember back in the 1980s when seatbelt laws were first proposed. IIRC, most people thought the idea was outrageous. The government could tell you to follow a safety directive that affected nobody else but you?

Never fear, said our legislature, because we are introducing a concept called "secondary enforcement". We don't want to STOP you for not wearing a seat belt, just add a small extra penalty for "bad" drivers who don't buckle up.

We were skeptical, but the feds mandated these laws and every state besides NH caved.

Then ten years later the laws needed "upgrading" to primary enforcement. Through no federal pressure, now half of the states have primary seat belt laws, but a strange thing has happened: The public overwhelmingly supports them!

A poll in June, 1993 of West Virginia residents showed that 76% opposed the new secondary seat belt law.

A poll in June, 2003 of West Virginia residents showed that 76% supported the enaction of a primary seat belt law (which ultimately failed)

I understand that education has shown the public that seat belts save lives, but the underlying issue isn't whether you SHOULD wear a seat belt, but whether you should be FORCED.

Has the public simply become accustomed to big brother?
Public opinion has changed because behaviour has changed. We tend to support laws which reflect our personal behaviour and oppose laws which make us do things we don't want to do. Mandating the wearing of seat belts changed behaviour.

I am skeptical of explanations which explain opposition to laws using an assumption that Joe Public has (for instance) some sort of well-constructed paradigm that is anti-"Big Brother" and therefore opposes, in principle, laws which are inconsistent with that paradigm. If Joe Public doesn't wear a seatbelt, and doesn't wanna be made to wear a seat-belt, he will glom on to any reason which will support that behaviour, including suddenly becoming concerned about the slippery slope of Big Brother government. One should not infer from this that he has sat down and thoughtfully created a consistent construct of Good Government and appropriate boundaries that is now being violated. It's highly unlikely he would be equally irked by Big Brother government funding his retirement from the public coffer because he was too incompetent to manage a budget or too slow to succeed in the workplace.

We should keep in mind that about half the public in West Virginia has an IQ under 100. Most of the public has one main political paradigm: what is in it for me? The polloi evaluate laws based on the perceived effect on the citizen forming the opinion--not on a general benefit to society and certainly not out of an abstract Ideal which they have constructed on their own.

It is not unusual to find someone in favor of mandatory seat belt laws but opposed to laws which would prohibit recreational skydiving. This sort of hypocrisy makes the point nicely. If the law in question doesn't bother me personally (I already wear my seatbelt) then it's not a Big Brother problem--it's just creating a better society and saving the public from unnecessary spending on those too foolish to otherwise do the right thing. If the law in question steps on my personal behaviour (I love to skydive) then it's Big Brother intruding on my personal freedom. The risks I take with my own life are my own. It's my life.

I was, and continue to be, opposed to mandatory seat belt laws. I consider them an intrusion on my personal freedom of choice. I also consider those who do not wear seat belts to be idiots if one of their other goals is personal safety. But I cannot be bothered with spending time trying to stamp out the inconsistency of governmental regulation if I personally wear my seat belt anyway.

Last edited by Chief Pedant; 01-27-2008 at 10:18 AM.
  #16  
Old 01-27-2008, 01:36 PM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtgain
The government could tell you to follow a safety directive that affected nobody else but you?
Well, you and your insurance company. The insurance industry was losing billions when the insured was injured in an accident that would not have caused injury if a seatbelt had been worn. They were the primary interest group pressing for seatbelt laws.
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Old 01-27-2008, 03:11 PM
UltraVires UltraVires is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Critical1
the thing is even if you crash 800 miles away from me it still affects me.
every injury and death affects the cost of insurance at the least. nevermind increased hospital care.
Nah, this "social cost" argument is pretty absurd. If I die in a car crash at age 30 because I'm not wearing a seat belt, it saves society money because I don't live from age 71 to 97 in a nursing home on Medicaid.

And even if it did, then that is a sure argument against socialized medicine, or even what we have as it hampers personal freedom. It is a terrible slippery slope. Since my sicknesses affect your insurance premiums, then why shouldn't the government monitor my daily calorie intake, or a thousand other little things?

What if I was independently wealthy? Why doesn't the law allow me to sign a statement saying that I will personally incur all of my own medical costs, pay a bond, and be allowed to drive without a seatbelt?

As I said, I don't disagree that seat belts are very beneficial and I usually wear mine. If I am driving the half mile to the convenience store, I might forego it. A stupid thing, probably, but I will take the risk, and I think that is my right. Sometimes I am 20 miles down the road, and I realize that, damn, I didn't buckle up. But I learned to drive in the days when hardly anyone wore a seatbelt (in 1982 I believe it was 5% who wore belts). In fact, I remember that when someone would get into your car and buckle up, it was an insult because they were saying that you were a bad driver. Now you kids get off of my lawn.

However, there is something to be said for primary enforcement, because when I travel into a state with a primary seat belt law, I make it a point to wear it at all times so I don't get a ticket. Yes, an old cynic like me has caved.

I know that seat belt laws are a far cry from "big brother" or tyranny, but they do represent something very invasive: A government protecting you from yourself..
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Old 01-27-2008, 03:38 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Quote:
Maybe the public, in the intervening years, got it through its collective skull that mandating seatbelt use benefits everyone, including them, in the same manner as enforcing such outrageous tramplings upon freedom as stop signs.
That's not really true. The only person who's effected by whether or not he's wearing a seatbelt is that person. The chances of a person injuring another person because he wasn't wearing a seatbelt are so small as to be statistically non-existent. There have probably been more people injured by wearing setbelts than were injured by other people not wearing them.

So while wearing seatbelts is an obviously good idea, I personally don't feel it should be the subject of a law. People should have the fundamental right to choose for themselves as long as their consequences don't directly affect other people - even if some of the choices they make are stupid.

To answer the OP's question, I think the change in public opinion was the result of a subtle sales campaign by insurance lobbies.

Last edited by Little Nemo; 01-27-2008 at 03:38 PM.
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Old 01-27-2008, 03:49 PM
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Why didn't the insurance companies create policy exclusions for personal injuries sustained when no seat belt was in use?
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Old 01-27-2008, 04:16 PM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bearflag70
Why didn't the insurance companies create policy exclusions for personal injuries sustained when no seat belt was in use?
Difficult to enforce. Law enforcement is not always first on the scene, and whose word are you going to take if the victims are already out of the car when they arrive?
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Old 01-27-2008, 04:25 PM
JohnnieEnigma JohnnieEnigma is offline
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my mind has not changed, I still think it's a stupid law and I resent being forced to wear a seatbelt. We're adults ffs, I don't think we need babysitting laws to micromanage our every move. Where is the freedom in that?

But I'm tired of paying $100.00 tickets too... so I wear it... although lots of times it appears that I'm wearing it when I just throw it over my shoulder, like when I'm only going around the corner to run an errand.
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Old 01-27-2008, 04:55 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtgain
Has the public simply become accustomed to big brother?
Yes.
  #23  
Old 01-27-2008, 05:31 PM
JR Brown JR Brown is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant
We should keep in mind that about half the public in West Virginia has an IQ under 100.
Yeah, that's pretty much a problem all over this country.

JRB
  #24  
Old 01-27-2008, 05:45 PM
Yllaria Yllaria is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo
That's not really true. The only person who's effected by whether or not he's wearing a seatbelt is that person. . . .
That's assuming they die on the scene with no dependents. Try a woman alone in the car who gets a bad enough back injury to make her quadriplegic for life. She has three children under the age of six.

No one else affected?
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Old 01-27-2008, 08:03 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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That's assuming they die on the scene with no dependents. Try a woman alone in the car who gets a bad enough back injury to make her quadriplegic for life. She has three children under the age of six.

No one else affected?
I said directly affected. If you start talking about the theoretical indirect consequences, you can justify doing anything to anyone. To use jtgain's example, couldn't you use the same logic to argue that the government should criminalize over-eating? After all, obesity causes more health problems than car accidents do. Of course, we're already heading down this road; seatbelts and motorcycle helmets were first, then cigarettes followed, and now we're starting to outlaw trans-fat.
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Old 01-28-2008, 02:57 AM
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[QUOTE=jtgain]Nah, this "social cost" argument is pretty absurd. If I die in a car crash at age 30 because I'm not wearing a seat belt, it saves society money because I don't live from age 71 to 97 in a nursing home on Medicaid.


Only if you die. It affects me and my insurance rates if you become a veggie in a nursing home at the age of 30 and live until you are in your sixties.

The hypocrisy that I don't understand though, there are states that require seatbelts but don't require helmets for motorcycle riders.
  #27  
Old 01-28-2008, 09:38 AM
Lanzy Lanzy is offline
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The only reason I started wearing my seabelt regurlarly is the design of my car. It's too damn hard to not wear it and the beeping NEVER stops until it is buckled.

I really agree with the helmet thing. Just look up Florida fatalities after the helmet law was revoked for drivers over 21.
  #28  
Old 01-28-2008, 10:57 AM
AskNott AskNott is offline
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In the US, states didn't pass seat belt laws because public opinion changed. Heck, no. It was federal money. The federal highway funding law was written with a big hook in it. Here's all these truckloads of highway money, but you can't have any of it if you don't pass a firm seat belt law. The lawmakers, coast to coast said, "Never mind those angry voters, we'll take the money! Click it or ticket."
  #29  
Old 01-28-2008, 11:10 AM
JThunder JThunder is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo
I said directly affected.
Are direct effects the only legitimate considerations?
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Old 01-28-2008, 04:47 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Are direct effects the only legitimate considerations?
They should be. The burden of proof should be on society to prove it needs to restrict the liberty of any individual.
  #31  
Old 01-28-2008, 04:54 PM
MaxTheVool MaxTheVool is offline
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Another way it affects others: If I'm in an accident with someone and we both walk away, well, no biggie. If I'm in an accident with someone and they die, it's going to have a huge and quite real impact on me, regardless of who is at fault in the accident.
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