Car Culture: Wearing Seat Belts

A weekly look at all that sucks in the auto industry, plus some good bits



‘Buckle up’. If in the UK, a child must be in the rear on a kid’s seat

There’s a statistic going around, believable until opposing evidence appears, that one in every four car deaths on UK roads are due to the person not wearing their seat belt. That’s passengers and drivers. Insurance companies are known not to pay out on injuries sustained if driver or passenger was not wearing their safety harness.

Latest figures to hand show that of the 787 drivers or passengers who died in 2017, a staggering 27% were not wearing seat belts, compared with 20% in 2016.

According to the Department for Transport, adults who do not wear a seat belt include those who occasionally forget as well as those who actively choose not to wear one. Some people told researchers they found seat belts uncomfortable or inconvenient to wear. It isn’t a choice between braces and a leather waist belt. It’s a choice between life and death. Others said it depended on the type of journey – they would wear one on a long or unfamiliar route, or if they were on a motorway, all a bit daft reasoning, to my mind.

I’ve known three people who died almost certainly because they were not wearing a safety belt. One was a retired lecturer who refused to wear one ever since their introduction and mandatory use. She thought seat belts an imposition on free will. She had retired a mere month. And the accident happened at 40 mph in town. Why the other two were not wearing seat belts I am unsure, other than one was a rear seat passenger. Lots of passengers in the back never bother to buckle up. Readers have their examples.

On introduction in the USA, Americans made a real song and dance about compulsory use of seat belts, to the point of calling their use a threat to freedom of choice. What they meant was freedom to die early and take out a few others on the way. A lot just forgot to put them on. In some American cars, you get an annoying dinging bell from the dash to warn seat belts must be worn. The seatbelt is moved over your shoulder automatically. 

Volvo invented seatbelts in 1959 a date some youth think folk were paddling around in Flintstone type vehicles. More accurate to say, a safety expert working for the company invented the three-point seatbelt, Nils Bohlin. And as a magnificent gesture to drivers worldwide, the company gave away the patent. Bohlin, a former aviation engineer at Saab who worked on ejector seats, knew an effective belt must absorb force across the body yet be so easy to use even a child could buckle up. For his services to the rest of us, he was awarded a Gold Medal by the Swedish Academy of Engineering and Sciences.

“His ingenious solution took the form of a combined lap belt with a diagonal belt across the chest. He anchored the straps low beside the seat so the geometry of the belts formed a “V” with the point directed at the floor. The design meant the belt would remain in place, not shift under a load.”

Volvo invented lots of safety devices: rear facing child seats (1972); large rubber bumpers (1973); side impact protection (1991); whiplash protection (1998): a roll-over protection system (2002); blind spot warning (2003); and front end laser braking to combat slow driver responses (2010). Volvo is a smart and adventurous company. When they invented something that saved lives they installed it on their cars. And then they marketed themselves as the safe car company. That helped sell thousands of estate cars in Scotland.

(Laminated windscreens were invented by Pilkington Glass on request from the UK government alarmed at horrendous facial disfigurement numbers resulting from flying through the windscreen.) But I digress.

Statistics show that seat belts save lives. When used correctly, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants by 45%, and risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%. Hit a pie with a hammer and it splats everwhere. Stick a cushon on the pie and then hit it, the pie is likely to be no more than deformed.

For those riding in the rear of vans and sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) during a car crash, rear seat belts are 73% better at preventing fatalities. A lot of readers will remember the horror of Princes Diana’s death. Would wearing her seat belt have save her life as a rear seat passenger? That’s debateable.  Yet despite warnings that people are twice as likely to die in a car accident if they do not buckle up, some are still willing to take the risk.

Keep in mind that victims are not properly restrained in more than one-half of all fatal car accidents. Also, children are likely to be buckled 92% of the time when adults in the car use seat belts, as opposed to 72% of the time when adults are not using them.

According to the latest figures released as part of celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of the invention of the three-point seatbelt, it has saved a million lives across the world and prevented even more serious injuries.

Reducing your chance of injury or death by at least 45% in the event of a collision sounds a good thing to me, maybe that’s why the invention remains the most successful contribution to safety in the history of motoring. So, buckle up and stay alive.


Joys of a good radio

I finally managed to afford a new radio for my old car to replace the steam driven one there since the dawn of civilisation, and my mini-SUV rolled off the assembly line twenty-two years ago. Got everything a mad passionate techy geek wants in connectivity and blue whatever, plus a thousand radio stations I never knew existed. I can even receive Punjab Radio. Unfortunately, I can also receive every Gospel channel on the planet. Lord be praised! It’s a miracle. And worse, I receive every banal opinion talk show in London ever created, including those now defunct still hanging limp in the rancid metropolis air. My old speakers reverberate and pulsate as if a philharmonic concert in the Usher Hall, full blast. (Sorry, Albert.) It’s a Pioneer radio, if readers are curious. Feel as if the car has had a successful heart transplant.

Most reliable small car

Latest survey on the most reliable car in the small, city car category, finds Toyota Yaris Mk3, Honda Jazz Mk2, and – for those who hate the French and would never buy a French car – Renault Clio Mk4, the holiday rental car that gets you there – are all top of the list. Topping them all – I sound like that stupid ‘topping’ television commercial, the biggest surprise is the latest Skoda Fabia Mark 2. A fair number of respondents talk of snags (28.7 per cent), with brakes most often needing attention, but overall the Fabia scored an impressive (92.63 per cent) to top the Driver Power reliability list.

Shanksey’s pony

This Saturday I’m ‘mostly’ joining the Glasgow march for Scotland’s political and cultural freedom, so if I am not recuperating in a Glasgow hospital, face covered by an oxygen mask, I’ll try and post an essay report on Sunday. My eyes need a break and my legs need the exercise. I walk barely a block these days. The jaunt will be an endurance test for a butt glued to an office chair most working days of the week. By the way, Shank’s pony is an English Midland’s expression – normally used to denote Britain as one nation. Ha ha.

Happy motoring.



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5 Responses to Car Culture: Wearing Seat Belts

  1. Matthew Vallance says:

    Re Diana’s fatal car crash. The only person in the car to survive was Diana’s personal protection officer, who was sitting in the front seat, in front of her. He was the only person in the car to be wearing a seat belt.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    A timely reminder, Matthew. I knew from what I’d read she was not wearing a belt, didn’t know her security guard had one and yet took the brunt of the crash in the front seat. Thank you.

  3. Donald McGregor says:

    It’s rare that I feel good about having 2 cars in our family but given that they are a V70 and a Fabia I suddenly feel better!

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    Glad to be of good service, Donald. 🙂

  5. Donald McGregor says:

    And good luck today! Hope your feet stay calm.

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