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The Truth About Seatbelts

Stefan Schreier
Safety Choice Coalition

January 23, 2006

In the annals of Junk Science there is surely no better example than the seatbelt scam, although calling it science, even junk science, might be too generous. Con artist's pitch might be more accurate.

The original justification put forward for seatbelts was that they would "save lives in automobile accidents by preventing vehicle occupants from being thrown through the windshield". According to the FARS data base (supposedly the complete, official, U.S. Government record of all fatal accidents since l975) for 2001, out of a total of 36,281 vehicle occupants killed that year in traffic accidents, 144 were killed by being "ejected through the windshield". The total number "ejected through the windshield" is given as 182. If we include "partial ejections", the total killed is given as 205. Even in this small percentage of cases, there is no evidence that wearing a seatbelt would have saved these people, due to the injuries caused by the seatbelt itself. If we look at all head-on collisions, we find that, according to NHTSA's own figures for 2001, head-on collisions account for only 1.8% of all collisions and only 13.7% of fatal collisions. An inspection of available accident reports indicates that most of those killed in head-on collisions are killed as a result of being crushed when the vehicle is stove in, a fate from which seatbelts cannot save them. (After 2001, the government stopped reporting head-on collisions as a separate category).

When their first rational for seatbelts was questioned, the government (NHTSA) then asserted that "seatbelts would save lives in roll-over accidents". Again, available accident reports show that the vast majority of victims in roll-over accidents are killed as a result of being crushed when the roof caves in, a fate from which seatbelts cannot save them. In fact, wearing a seatbelt makes that more likely.

The government then tried to justify seatbelts by saying they would "save lives by preventing people from being "ejected" ". Just how the people would be "ejected" was not specified. When we look at the FARS data, we find that verified cases of "ejection" are actually quite rare. That is not surprising, because actual accident reports show that "ejections" generally occur only in unusual accidents of extreme violence where a person remaining in the vehicle is just as likely, or more likely, to be killed. In fact, there are cases in which accident victims survived because they were "ejected".

Finally, in desperation, NHTSA asserted that "seatbelts would save lives because it would enable the driver to better control the vehicle". In fact, the opposite is true because a seatbelt restricts a driver's mobility in an emergency.

The government then asserted that seatbelts would reduce injuries. Again, when we look at their own data for 2001, we find that 88% of those injured were wearing seatbelts at the time as opposed to a stated national average of 75% seatbelt use rate. This is not surprising because accident reports and the medical literature are full of reports of injuries caused by seatbelts. Injury accidents far outnumber fatal accidents, 2,817,000 vehicle occupants being injured in cars and light trucks versus 32,614 killed for 2001, according to official U.S, Government figures.

63% of all fatal accidents in 2001 involved a reckless driver and 68% of those killed were drivers, indicating that the number one cause of fatal automobile accidents is reckless driving. In fact, the chance of a safe driver being killed in an automobile accident is less than than one in a billion vehicle miles.

The government has never done any honest research on the effect of seatbelts in automobile accidents, in spite of hundreds of millions of dollars supposedly spent on "research". They have started with the conclusion (i.e. "seabelts are good") and then tried to twist the evidence to fit it. Incredibly, in the FARS data base, there is not a single word about what caused the injury which led to the death of any of the victims. This is spite of thirty or forty other data points for each accident. A careful study of available accident reports and photographs, along with the statistical evidence, indicates that the vast majority of those killed in automobile accidents were killed as a result of being crushed when the vehicle was stove in. Many others were killed by their seatbelts.

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