Seat belt use is at around 90 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is surprising or not depending on your view of humanity. Still, that means that there are still many who don’t use them, and, of crash deaths last year, over half of them were unbelted, The Wall Street Journal reports.
It is the first time that number has been that high since 2012, after a seven percent increase in crash fatalities to 38,680 in a year when most of us were driving less for pandemic reasons; we had some hint of this last month. Not surprisingly in a pandemic, substance use factored in as well.
Sgt. Dan Silvia, who heads the traffic unit at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in metro Denver, said he heard different excuses as he handed drivers $75 citations.
“It’s usually, ‘I forgot,’” he said. But he said some drivers complained about the government telling them what to do, and one man vowed he would never wear a seat belt.
Across the U.S. last year, fatalities in which vehicle occupants were ejected rose 20% compared to 2019, and such deaths were higher among young men than other demographic groups, said Essie Wagner, who directs NHTSA’s Office of Behavioral Safety Research. She said ejections are linked to not wearing a seat belt.
“You can’t separate out speed, alcohol or other impairing substances and belt use. They travel together,” she said.
Ninety percent, to me, is a surprisingly high figure in a country in which the Gadsden flag has been so thoroughly co-opted, but there is an easy way to get that number even higher. That would be a seat belt interlock system, technology which has been around for decades and which would keep cars from starting, going into gear, or going above a certain speed if the driver and passengers weren’t buckled in. But we don’t require such a system in cars, for reasons.
At the same time, it is also hard to get worked up about the small minority of people who don’t wear their seat belt, because, at this point, that is only a potentially deadly self-own. Modern cars are pretty safe! The airbags and seat belts each work in combination to accomplish that. The WSJ also says that seat belt use was less than 50 percent in 1990, and those of us around back then remember those bad old days, too. They weren’t great.