St. Louis, MO
Posted - 03/03/2011 : 10:23 AM
After four decades of "Buckle up for safety," it may surprise you to discover seatbelts aren't much more effective than a DOT-certified helmet. According to traffic safety expert Leonard Evans who spent years doing research for General Motors, "While theoretical considerations show that the effectiveness of occupant protection devices declines from 100% at very low crash severity to 0% at high severity...." the real effectiveness rate "averaged over all crashes, safety belts reduce driver fatality risk by (42 +/- 4)." [i]
However, people may believe that seat belts are more effective than they are-while they know that since fatalities still occur, they estimate seat belt effectiveness are about 80 percent effective in preventing fatalities-or about twice effective as they really are. But that's not the story you'll hear about seat belts nowadays. In fact, seat belts-when mentioned at all-are presented as highly effective.
In comparison, NHTSA estimates the effectiveness of helmets at preventing fatalities at 37 percent. Iow, not so far off from the effectiveness of seat belts. And riders can assume helmets, too, are much more effective than they are.
Whether it's 42 percent for seat belts or 37 percent for helmets, those are significant benefits-though not nearly as effective as those who use them believe they are. The truth is-neither seat belts nor helmets live up to the expectations of either those who wear them nor those who espouse their benefits:
From 1990-2007, motorcycle registration increased over 67 percent and helmet use remained the same (63 percent).[ii] And, as we've examined in the past, roughly the same percent of fatalities were helmeted and unhelmeted with more being helmeted. During these years, injuries increased 28 percent and fatalities increased 88.5 percent. Otoh, motorcycle crashes only increased by 17 percent-iow, riding a motorcycle became significantly more lethal even though helmet use remained the same.
In comparison, total passenger vehicle registrations increased a minuscule 3.17 percent and seat belt use increased 41.3% (from 58 percent to 82 percent) but fatalities had only decreased by a tiny 6.3 percent and injuries by 22 percent.
Iow, injuries decreased by almost half of what could be expected considering the increase in seat belt use while fatalities hardly decreased at all in comparison. As a study in Maryland[iii] found that "Belts appear more effective at preventing fatalities than at preventing injuries." Furthermore, as those 17 years progressed, more cars on the road had driver air bags and ABS brakes and the passenger airbags, better crush zones, safety-designed bumper heights and then side window air bags.
Despite all this, total vehicle crashes decreased by only 6.9 percent which is just about as much as fatalities decreased.
Iow, while there were extensive and drastic changes to automobiles and an enormous increase in seat belt use that made crashing safer, crashing itself didn't significantly decrease.
As we've discovered over the past months, the number of trained, licensed, sober and helmeted motorcyclists has significantly increased over the same period of time that fatalities zoomed up.
Both riding and driving, then, should be safer than they are-and yet aren't. So what's going on?
Some researchers say at least part of it is that drivers are no different than parents with lighters and medicine bottles or who allow their kids to bicycle or in-line skate, or kids on an obstacle course or young adult in-line skaters, bicyclists-and those who drive by bicyclists-soccer players and trained boaters. [iv] Stay tuned...
[i] Evans L., Safety-belt effectiveness: the influence of crash severity and selective recruitment. Accid Anal Prev. 1996 Jul;28(4):423-33. In fact, air bags alone are only 13 percent effective in preventing fatalities and airbags plus lap-shoulder belts are only 50 percent effective. Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal. TranSafety, Inc..September 2, 1997. http://www.usroads.com/journals/p/r...ri970902.htm
[ii] Bureau of Transportation Statistics Tables 1-11, 1-16, 2-17, 2-22 and 2-30 Transportation System and Traffic Safety Data http://www.bts.gov/publications/nat...n_statistics
[iii] Loeb, Peter D. The effectiveness of seat belt legislation in reducing driver-involved injury rates in Maryland. Transportation Research Part E 37 (2001) 297-310.
[iv] For this section see: Morrongiello, B.A., 1997. Children's perspectives on injury and close-call experiences:sex differences in injury-outcome processes. Journal of Pediatrics. Psychol. 22. 499512. Morrongiello, B.A., Major, K., 2002. Influence of safety gear on parental perceptions of injury risk and tolerance or children's risk taking. Injury Prevent. 8, 2731. Morrongiello, B.A., Rennie, H., 1998. Why do boys engage in more risk taking than girls? The role of attributions, beliefs, and risk appraisals. J. Pediatr. Psychol. 23, 3343.Viscusi,W., 1984. The lulling effect: the impact of child-resistant packaging on aspirin and analgesic ingestions. Am. Econ. Rev. 74, 324327. Viscusi, W., 1985. Consumer behavior and the safety effects of product safety regulation. J. Law Econ. 28, 527553. Viscusi, W., Cavallo, G., 1996. Safety behavior and consumer responses to cigarette lighter safety mechanisms. Managerial Dec. Econ. 17, 441-457. Braun, C., Fouts, J., 1998. Behavioral response to the presence of personal protective equipment. Hum. Factors Ergon. Soc. 2, 10581063. Walker, Ian. Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender. Accident Analysis & Prevention. McCarthy, Patrick and Wayne K. Talley. Evidence on risk compensation and safety behaviour. Economics Letters 62 (1999) 91-96. Derochea, Thomas and Yannick Stephanb, Carole Castaniera, BrittonW. Brewerc, Christine Le Scanff. Social cognitive determinants of the intention to wear safety gear among adult in-line skaters. Accident Analysis and Prevention 41 (2009) 10641069.
Volume 39, Issue 2, March 2007, Pages 417-425.