Saturday, 20 August 2011

Belt Up 1984 - Part 1

July 1984 saw the publication of the first edition of "Thinks!", the Channel Island Mensa Magazine.

The editor Ken Webb, decided to mark the launch with a topical debate - on seat belts. He was annoyed that the JEP motoring correspondent seemed to be lobbying for seat belts rather than having an informed debate about the advantages and disadvantages, and giving equal time to protestors.

It seems strange to imagine now, because we are so used to seat belts as part of our way of life. But back in 1984, the debate was happening in Jersey, and legislation was not on the statute books. TV campaigns had been run in the UK since 1971 and seen in Jersey on television, where popular presenter from "Top of the Pops" and "Jim'll Fix it", Jimmy Saville exhorted motorists to belt up with the slogan "Clunk Click Every Trip". Nostalgia buffs can watch one - which makes clever use of an egg and a tin box - here:

What is fascinating is that the same kind of argument - which is basically a libertarian one that citizens should be free to make their own informed judgments - resurfaced, albeit in a slightly different guise, when cycle helmets were an issue. For the record, I didn't agree with Ken, despite the fact that not wearing a seat belt saved my sister's life on one occasion.

The piece by Ken was intended to provoke a response, and it did. Later, I'll post the replies that came in the next issue.

THE SMOKE SCREEN by the Editor.

So someone in the Jersey Evening Post decided it would be a good thing if every motorist in Jersey be forced to wear a seat belt. There followed a highly pressurised campaign all designed to convince people that wearing a seat belt is always a good thing. Of course, under certain circumstances it is good, it can save your life or prevent serious injury. But why has no mention been made of the other side of the coin? That, under different conditions, seat belts can kill you or seriously injure you. The duty of a responsible journal is to inform the public not to attempt to brainwash it. A good journalist reports the news, he does not try and make it.

Now, led by the nose, the Jersey States is to introduce a law forcing each motorist to wear a seat belt - even if it kills him/her! I object to legislation promoted by a newspaper irresponsibly taking advantage of its monopoly position. That there exist in Jersey people who, from their ivory towers of ignorance, have the arrogance to play at being God with your life and with mine - this I find most worrying. Only you know the circumstances of your driving - the type of car; its condition; your reflexes; re-action time; alcohol intake; speed of driving, etc. These decide the conditions of the crash. Seat belts play no part in the cause or prevention of crashes - they operate for good or ill only at impact.

Let us dispose of the smoke screen. The argument is not if seat belts are good or bad, they can be both. The only point to consider is:- "WHO DECIDES?" You who know, or those who do not know? I drive a large, heavy estate car. I sat and considered the problem. If involved in a crash I face a ball of fire; a steering wheel going through me; my going through the windscreen. With a large engine and a heavy chassis in front of me and a petrol tank tucked away in the back, I reasoned that the probability of a ball of fire was not great; the probability of being impaled on the steering wheel was also not great; the probability that I hit the windscreen was greater. Knowing the facts I formulated a judgement - seat belts are fitted and I wear them. But that is my judgement and, I believe, it is an intelligent one.

The second car I drive is a light, rear engined run around. There is nothing in front of me but an empty space and a petrol tank six inches from the front bumper. The probability of a ball of fire is much greater; the probability of being impaled on the steering wheel is also much greater; the probability of contact with the windscreen remains the same. On balance I believe that I am better off not wearing a seat belt in this car and I do not. My judgement - my life - my decision.

Remember, seat belts can be both good and bad. Which ? - no one knows !

The issue is a very simple one:-


You after an intelligent appraisal,



The Editor requests your views. (He can duck ! )

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