Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Belt Up 1984 - Part 4

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.

In the second edition, two people replied, Rod Bryans (who is standing for election this year) and second was Andrew Christensen. Bryans argued that the government had a democratic mandate to govern, and therefore the government's decision is final.

In the third edition, this debate came to a close with two letters. In one, Gregory Stevens-Cox challenges this thinking, and also provides a critique of the way in which statistics can be spun - those same statistics upon which both Bryans and Christensen placed so much weight. He also demolishes Christensen's argument that injuries from not wearing a seat belt causes extra costs to the taxpayer, and therefore it should be implemented.

The effects of seat belts is lessened by air-bags which are fitted in most modern cars. He doesn't say what "better techniques for preventing injuries" are, but perhaps he had this in mind.

The other letter by Ena Irwin addresses, in  a humorous way, the fact that seat belts are really designed with men in mind. This issue has not really been addressed (apart from the S-Clip, which I don't think ever went into production) , perhaps because all the motor enthusiasts tend to be men. If Jeremy Clarkson had breasts, Top Gear would probably look into it.

On a more serious note, a number of medical journals report that seat belt trauma to breasts after accidents can cause fat necrosis in breasts. Of course that is a better risk than a broken neck and glass in your face, but it shows how the design of seat belts could do with improvement for women.

Contributed by Gregory Stevens-Cox

The seat-belt issue is far from being as simple as Bryans and Christensen would seem to suggest. May I make the following brief comments, just a few of many points that should enter any evaluation of the matter.

1. The statistics of the Minister of State for Transport are quoted by both your correspondents, with the conclusion "at this rate 2500 people are alive in July 1984 who would have died (statistically) had they not been made to wear seat-belts in the previous months". Linda Chalker & Co. are here possibly falling into the logical fallacy known to philosophers as post quod ergo propter quod (after which therefore on account of

A simple form of this fallacy is the housewife's statement "I did my washing yesterday so of course it rained half an hour later". To express this in another way, I am surprised (and dismayed) that the DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE campaign of the government did not prevent a single injury or death - despite the millions of pounds spent on advertising and the (rightly) harsh sentences meted out to convicted offenders.

2. The Adams report some years ago studied the effects of seat belt legislation in some countries. The conclusion was that in some countries there had been a decrease, in others an increase, in fatal and serious accidents. The report also suggested that there was some evidence to suggest that drivers wearing seat-belts drive slightly faster than previously.  (Seat-belts = confidence = faster speeds)

3. Drivers who do not wear seat-belts tend to sustain dreadful facial injuries (from the broken glass of the windscreen). Drivers who wear seat-belts tend to sustain chest and stomach injuries which are often not as serious as the facial injuries. Seat-belt wearers sometimes suffer the "whiplash" effect which breaks their neck.

4. A great deal of pressure for seat-belt legislation came from the motor-car industry. There are some much better techniques for preventing injuries but these would be expensive and would add perhaps £500 - £1500 to the retail price of cars. Moreover the initial tooling-up would be very expensive for car manufacturers. It is therefore not difficult to see the industry had an interest in the debate.

5. The fact that a government is elected democratically does not logically entail that its decisions are democratic.  This is a difficult topic; see John Stuart Mill's writings.

6. Christensen's thesis about the cost of accidents to the taxpayer can equally be applied to mountaineering, smoking and drinking. Are we going to be consistent?

I have been thinking about seat-belts for some years. On balance I think that the odds are somewhat more favourable for the wearer (see point 3 above) . I only wish that the advocates of the seat-belt would recognise that the issue is complex; that it involves important matters of political ethics; that the statistical evidence is not simple; and that the opponents of compulsory seat-belting are not simple minded loons. A Mensa journal is the
one place where we should hope to have a sensible discussion.

Contributed by Ena Irwin

The seat-belt must have been designed by a man for 'it fits comfortably across a firm and evenly padded
male chest. Now some of you sharper eyed gentlemen may have noticed that women are not evenly padded. In fact, they are padded on each side of the chest.

Seat-belts don't fit women and no amount of wriggling and adjusting helps. One side or the other gets squashed.

In my case as I am very large as well as unevenly padded, it is only with great determination that I can get the damned thing done up at all. Then I am pinned tight to the seat unable to take a deep breath; this renders me speechless. (And that doesn't happen often!)

While this strange silence is a bonus for my husband, it leaves me with the thought that it must be possible to design a seat belt with lumps in mind.

I don't use mine, I prefer to breath and let fate take its course.


alane said...

An airbag won't keep you in the vehicle. Often injuries are as a result of being ejected in the course of the crash. Please wear your seatbelt!

TonyTheProf said...

I'm certainly not recommending not wearing seat belts, but the kind of injuries caused to the driver and stearing column, for example, can be reduced by airbags.

Nick Palmer said...

If you know in advance what type of accident you are going to have, then you can make a sensible decision as to whether using seatbelts, air-bags or nothing will be the optimum strategy.