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April 14, 2007

Seatbelts Save Lives
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:02 AM *

Do you know how we can tell the difference between people who were wearing their seatbelts and those who weren’t, at the scene of an automobile accident? The ones who were wearing their seatbelts are standing around saying “This really sucks,” and the ones who weren’t are kinda just lying there.

This is not to say that all unrestrained traffic accidents are fatals, or that seatbelted folks are invulnerable. But if you’re playing the odds….

The proximate cause of this post is the recent automobile accident involving Jon S. Corzine, governor of New Jersey.

Dr. Robert Ostrum said that Corzine’s surgery was successful but noted that the governor would need two more operations on his leg in the coming days.

Doctors also inserted a breathing tube that would remain “for days to weeks, until [Corzine] is able to breathe on his own again,” Ostrum said.

Corzine had a broken sternum, a broken collarbone, a slight fracture of his lower vertebrae, a broken left leg, six broken ribs on each side and a laceration on his head, said Dr. Steven Ross, head of trauma for the hospital.

The two other persons in the vehicle sustained minor injuries. Bet you’ll never guess which two were wearing their seatbelts.

(Or—from a few years back—beautiful young princess, millionaire boyfriend, drunk driver, bodyguardhit an abutment at a Whole Bunch of Miles Per Hour. Who lived? Answer: the guy who was wearing a seatbelt.)

Did you ever notice how often the words “unrestrained passenger” turn up in Trauma: Life in the ER just before something Really Messy rolls in the door?

In a collision, you have three or four sub-collisions all taking place in sequence. First, the vehicle hits some object. The vehicle abruptly slows, but unrestrained objects inside it continue at the same speed, in the same direction. Then the unrestrained body hits the interior of the vehicle, and starts to slow. That’s the second collision. That body’s internal organs are still moving at speed until they hit the inside of the chest (or get cheese-sliced by their supporting ligaments—and that’s where you get things like bisected livers or aortas). The fourth collision is when your buddy who was riding in the back seat lands on your head, because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt either and he kept moving at the same speed in the same direction. Newtonian physics: Learn it, live it, love it.

There are two major routes that unrestrained persons take in a front-end MVA (Motor Vehicle Accident). Up-and-over or down-and-under (AKA “submarining”). With up-and-over, the upper body launches forward and up. The head strikes the windshield. (This produces the classic “windshield star”) Your injuries here include concussion, scalp laceration, and various brain bleeds. You can suspect fractured cervical vertebrae (and if you have a fracture with compromise to the spinal cord at C-4 or higher, you’ve lost the nerves that control chest expansion and the diaphragm. “C-4, breathe no more,” as the saying goes).

Go a little farther through the windshield, and it isn’t unexpected to leave some or all of your face behind stuck in the broken glass. You’d be surprised by how easily faces come off the facial bones.

You can also expect fractured wrists, arms, and shoulders, from folks trying to brace themselves.

A little farther through the windshield, all the way out of the vehicle (a situation we call “pre-extracted for your convenience”), and in addition to whatever damage you took on the way through, you get the damage from hitting the ground, trees, and metal poles at however-many-miles-an-hour.

Sure, you hear people talking about wanting to be “thrown clear” in the event of an accident. If you want to simulate being “thrown clear,” go to the fifth floor of a building and jump out the window.

Let’s talk briefly about being thrown clear, because it happens more often than you’d think. Unrestrained driver: side impact. Vehicle spins. Driver goes out the window. In one case I recall, the driver was half-way out his window when the vehicle rolled over on top of him. That was the second-most grotesque scene I’ve ever been to. Another scene, the driver went out the window when it spun. The vehicle went into a snow bank and was drivable from the scene. The driver went into a river and drowned.

Any time you go to an accident and the windows aren’t rolled all the way up and unbroken, look 200 feet in all directions for the other patients. It’s pure heck finding them three days later when someone wonders why all those birds are over there, or when someone at the hospital wakes up enough to ask “Where’s Joey?”

Okay, let’s look at down-and-under. In this one the patient goes forward and down, under the dashboard. Here’s where you’re going to find fractured femurs, broken knees, and compression fractures to the lower spine. If you’re asking “Is it possible for a human femur to be pushed through the floor of the pelvis?” the answer is “Yes.” If you ask me how I know that, the answer is: “Seen it done.” Unrestrained driver, 40 MPH impact.

As the legs collapse accordion-style, the patient’s chest hits the dashboard. This can give you rib fractures, a fractured sternum, cardiac bruising, or that ruptured aorta that we all love so well.

The nice thing about going submarining is that there usually isn’t any brain damage (unless you got clonked on the knob by that bowling ball, and seatbelts won’t help with that). On the other hand, femur fractures can be, and frequently are, fatal.

I think I’ll leave Traumatic Asphyxia, Hemo/Pneumothorax, and Flail Chest for the Trauma and You post that I’m going to do one of these days. Let’s just say that they’re associated with having your chest hit the dashboard or steering wheel, and they Really Suck (and not in a good way).

Seatbelts stop you from going up-and-over or down-and-under, or out the window. Sure, seatbelts can hurt you too, but hey, you’re in the presence of large amounts of free-floating energy.

So.

Effective May 1, 2000 New Jersey’s seat belt law is being upgraded. Police officers will be able to stop and issue summons to drivers and front seat passengers solely for not wearing their seat belts.

The fine is $20 and $26 court costs.

The penalty can be death.


Este artículo en español.

Copyright 2007 © by James D. Macdonald

I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. This post are presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.

Creative Commons License
Seatbelts Save Lives by James D. Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

(Attribution URL: http://www.nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/008845.html)


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Comments on Seatbelts Save Lives:
#1 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:04 PM:

I'm sort of conflicted because the only really serious accident I've ever been in (toyota truck rolled end over end 5 times, maybe moving 36-40 mph in those inclines in the middle of the highway in Nevada), the driver would have been killed if he was wearing his belt and I think I would probably have been at least injured.

As it was nothing happened to us, other than we had to spend the day in Battle Mountain, and I got a painful scrape that took nearly a month to scab properly on my back.

of course we were lucky, but in the same way George Bush likes to think he pulled himself up by his bootstraps I like to think it was not just luck but brains and skill that saved my ass that day!

#2 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:12 PM:

I can't seem to convince a couple of my friends that they need to buckle up in the backseat as well as in the front seat.

Drives me bonkers.

#3 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:14 PM:

What makes you say the driver probably would have been killed?

Sure, there are accidents where being held in place by a seatbelt puts you in place for an impalement while being thrown out of the vehicle turns out better all around, but still, that isn't the majority of the cases. They're more in the "my uncle smoked three packs a day for sixty years, and he died at age ninety when he was shot by a jealous husband" sort of story. Yeah, the guy's uncle didn't die of lung cancer. But that doesn't mean that smoking is good for you.

#4 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:14 PM:

"He started it with a push; he thought he could stop it with a shove. They had to amputate both legs, but they saved his life." I explain electrical safety practices by saying, "999 times out of 1000, it's a nuisance, and the 1000th time it saves your life." There's this whole domain of low-level risks where people's reasoning...just goes weird. Sure, it probably won't happen. And they're scary, people don't even want to think about them, and when people think about them you get all these weird ideas like "thrown clear" (and then you hit the pavement at 50 mph, yeah, right.) It's an educational problem, really. The levels of energy and strong materials we use day-to-day in the developed world are potentially very dangerous; we have good standard safety practices so that we're pretty safe. But explaining them to people who don't understand the forces and possible injuries is bloody difficult.

Builders of future space colonies take note.

#5 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:16 PM:

I used to work in the billing department of a hospital, so I'm quite familiar with how many patients a hospital emergency room gets via car accidents small and large.

It's not just the big-time accidents with rollovers and flames that can send you to the ER -- even a fender-bender can give you serious enough injuries to require real and expensive medical attention -- not to mention serious pain.

#6 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:22 PM:

My grandpa had his life saved twice by seatbelts. Once he was caught in a massive multi-car pileup on the Bay Bridge. A seal between sections had opened up, so when it rained a heavy curtain of water fell to the lower deck. It completely cut off visibility. Somebody slammed on the brakes and started a chain reaction. Without his seatbelt my grandpa would have gone through the window onto a bridge deck in the middle of a pileup. The other time he lost control on a curve and went off the road and rolled. When the car stopped, it was on its roof, and they were hanging upside down in their seats.

There never was any question in our family as to whether we would wear seat belts. I don't feel comfortable in a car until I'm buckled up.

#7 ::: DonBoy ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:22 PM:

I think the "thrown clear" bit is because a lot of people are obsessed with the idea that they might be trapped in a burning car.

#8 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:30 PM:

Where would you rather be: In a burning (or flooding car) and unconscious, or in a burning (or flooding) car, conscious but seatbelted? Or thrown clear -- clear through a wire fence.

I haven't been to a rollover with unrestrained passengers and driver since ... Thursday. My state doesn't have a seatbelt law yet. I see a lot of this stuff.

#9 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:34 PM:

My cousin was in the back seat of a car that was driven too fast and went off the road into a creek. So they're down in the creek and the water is pouring in the windows and they have to get out. Did he regret wearing his seatbelt? Hell no. He was banged up, but if he had not been wearing a belt, he could have gotten hurt much worse, and maybe stuck there. If he'd been "thrown clear" of the car, let's just say it was a fair ways down to the creekbed and there were rocks. As it was, the worst injury he suffered was when the girl next to him stood on his kidney while she was climbing out.

#10 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:35 PM:

I'd like to point out that the same reasoning behind wearing a seat belt applies to wearing helmets for biking (motor or otherwise) and horseback riding. Not only do unprotected heads smack into things, but your brain smacks into your skull, or what's left of it.

One rider posted an account of deliberately destroying a riding helmet (so that someone wouldn't dig it out of the trash and think they could use it with that little dent in one side) that saved her head after a fall. Neither bullets, an axe, nor a sledgehammer produced more significant damage to the helmet than the fall had.

#11 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:40 PM:

My personal anecdote relates to my elder brother, in his boy racer days (20 years ago). A Golf GTi, a fast downhill stretch of A-road, and a patch of black ice ...

I think he was doing something between 70 and 90 miles per hour when he hit it. The car came to rest a third of a mile down the road, facing the wrong way, with only three wheels able to touch the ground at the same time. (It rolled several times.)

He walked away from it, albeit rather shaken, and switched to driving Volvos ... cautiously. I'm kind of glad I grew up in a family where wearing a seatbelt was drilled into me about the same time I was learning to use a knife and fork.

#12 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:43 PM:

What have we all learned from this, children?

Don't leave bowling balls on the rear deck of your car.

(And, y'know, the seatbelt thing.)

#13 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:43 PM:

Back in the early sixties my father had seat belts installed in our car. Everyone we knew thought this was exotic. Later, when he was on the ambulance squad, he would occasionally go on about how prescient he had been. And because I was trained to this so early, my household rule is that the-car-doesn't-move-until-everyone-is-belted-in-I-don't-care-that-your-mother-doesn't-make-you-wear-the-seatbelt-when-she-drives.

I once went on a road trip with a woman who refused to wear seat belts because she didn't like anyone telling her what to do. I wonder if she's still alive.

#14 ::: Sebastian ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:50 PM:

Aconite @10: Seconded. I've crash-replaced three bike helmets in the last ten years. None of those were in particularly exceptional circumstances (racing, off-road, etc) -- just something unexpected happened and my head hit the ground.

Or, in one case, the hood of a car. And then hit the ground 15 feet away after being thrown by the force of the impact with the vehicle.

Around here, helmets are becoming more and more the norm rather than the exception, it seems -- though it still irritates me no end when I see parents riding with their kids, and the kids are wearing their (required-by-law) helmets and the parents are strangely bareheaded. Perhaps they simply have thicker heads.

#15 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:51 PM:

Some public-safety messages.

Especially this one (not safe for Teresa): No Seatbelt, No Excuse

#16 ::: Toni ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:53 PM:

My brother died in a car accident on May 18, 1976. I started wearing my seatbelt on May 19, 1976, feel naked in a car until I've buckled up, and will not shift out of "Park" unless every person in the car is belted.

One of the more grotesque accidents I know of occurred here in Oregon a few years back. A man was driving under the influence while his five-year old daughter was playing with toys in the cargo space of his station wagon. He collided with something, and she went flying out the open back window; she was killed instantly. He went to jail.

#17 ::: Pat Greene ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:53 PM:

Umm.... as one of those idiots who routinely doesn't put on her seatbelt (mainly because the damned thing tends to creep up to right under my neck), even though I actually got a ticket for it a few years ago, I have to say that your graphic description will probably change that.

So I thank you and my family thanks you.

#18 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:53 PM:

While learning to ride a motorcycle in my laters years (as compared to my early years that I still have an elbow scar from) I took the Rider Safety Course (which, BTW, I highly recommend, they're in all states, it's cheap, and they have a long wait list so sign up now). In the classroom side the instructor was talking about helmets (which a student needed the second day, went down on pavement doing 10mph or less, she had just started up when she went down, fortunately had a full face helmet which saved her pretty face, the helmet was scratched all up, I always wear my helmet, jacket, and gloves, even for short rides). The instructor was talking about all those idiots you see who have the helmet in a bungie net on the rear seat of their bike. He asked if we all knew we were going to be in an accident if we would wear the helmet. Most people raised their hands. He said, "Wrong. It's a trick question. If you know you're going to be in an accident you don't get on the bike, period. The trick is, you never know when you're going to be in an accident."

#19 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 12:57 PM:

I had been rather casual about wearing my seat belt until 1984. Then some friends (baron, baroness, senseschal and I can't remember the fourth) were killed in a violet accident returning to Des Moines late at night from an SCA Event. Wiped out Coeur d'Ennui's entire board save maybe one.

The drunk that hit them was going in excess of 120 mph. so I doubt that even if they'd had seatbelts on they would have survived.

I recall they were all unrestrained, the impact was so hard that it tore the drunk guy's car in half. Oddly enough he survived, but in a nursing home until passing just a few years ago.

I don't EVER get in my car without a seatbelt and badger passengers until they put theirs on.

#20 ::: Pat Greene ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:03 PM:

Toni, whatever my own issues with regard to seatbelts, my kids were always restrained, and it makes me really upset to see children loose in a car. Just the other day I saw a car with a toddler standing up in the back seat.

The only time my kids were not in child restraints or seatbelts was the time my six-year old unbelted himself as I was pulling into the driveway, stood on the door of the convertible, and jumped onto the lawn, where he ran around flexing his muscles and going "Rah! Rah!". I damn near drove through the garage door. Fortunately, he was unhurt -- although he was sent to his room for a looooong time so I would not kill him. That and it was a while before he got to ride in the convertible again.

When I calmed down enough to explain that he could have gotten badly hurt, or fallen under the car and gotten killed, his answer "But I wasn't!" I said "But you were lucky." He said "Yeah, I'm lucky! I can do stuff like this!"

I know adults who have very similar reasoning processes.

#21 ::: JanetM ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:09 PM:

I'm not playing devil's advocate. I use my seatbelt every time I'm in the car, and have been seriously glad more than once.

I managed to be in an accident where I was thrown free of my seatbelt (but not out of the car).

I was rear-ended by a loaded 18-wheeler, hard enough to break the back of the driver's seat; pushed up the highway; then popped out from under the truck bumper and rolled and spun. I left a headstar in the upper *passenger* side of the windshield -- with the back of my head. When EMS cut open the door to get me out, I was on the roof of the car, with one leg still hanging through the belt.

And through all that, I came out with just three broken ribs, whiplash, a hell of a concussion, and assorted scrapes and bruises. The broken ribs took about a month to heal and a year to stop hurting all the time, the effects of the concussion lasted about six months, and I have sensory nerve damage in my upper back, which is aggravating but not life-impairing. I suspect that had I not been wearing the belt to begin with, things would have been a whole lot worse.

(If you're interested, here are pictures of the remains of the car.)

#22 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:15 PM:

"What makes you say the driver probably would have been killed?

Sure, there are accidents where being held in place by a seatbelt puts you in place for an impalement while being thrown out of the vehicle turns out better all around, but still, that isn't the majority of the cases."

yep, impalement was the case. when the truck stopped rolling I looked over, he was pushed to the left and the steering wheel column was pushed up where he would have been if he'd been sensibly belted in place. And this was only one of the slightly amusing factors in this incident!

#23 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:17 PM:

If I wasn't wearing a seatbelt that day in 1987, at the very least I'd have a very different face.

#24 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:21 PM:

No, wearing a seatbelt isn't a guarentee. But.

A friend of mine worked as an EMT for 10+ years, and said in all that time, he never once had to cut a dead body out of seatbelt.

#26 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:35 PM:

As the child of a forensics engineer, where I got to hear all the stories (ATCHOAFE WIGTHATS), I could certainly do a 1-person Highways Of Death show. It's the sort of stuff we grew up with, conversations at the dinner table: "...And there weren't any body parts larger than this here wine cork."*

Don't ever drive with your head out the window. Please.

But my anecdote: I'm leaving a hardware store, walking across giant the parking lot. I hear an engine being gunned and look around. Someone has floored her accelerator in the lot, and she's headed straight towards a concrete-based lamppost.

She hits it.

As several of us run towards her, she gets out, still arguing on her cell phone. She'd wanted to make a point about exactly how angry she was. She'd been wearing a seatbelt and the airbag went off, and other than the uncurable stupidity, she was fine.

The front of her car had a concrete-base sized indent, and the windshield was spiderwebbed by unsecured items that flew from the back. That's how fast she'd been going.

---
* Oh yes, I can prove that this phrase was uttered at a Christmas dinner. We had guests.

#27 ::: veejane ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:36 PM:

Cars should not do pirouettes. A teenaged boy should not take off his seatbelt in the back of a moving car when he decides to stretch out for a nap. A teenaged boy who has the permanent reminder of the exact shape of a Civic's rear window cut into his face (as he was thrown "clear") has a lot of family very happy that it was two inches thataway, and only a flap of skin, rather than two inches that other way, and his brains spewed onto the highway.

(If he'd been wearing his seatbelt, he would have been unharmed, as were the other two people in the car. As it was, he was thrown into a grassy median, and bruised up a bit, and the leaving-the-car injury was the worst that happened to him. But the whole brains spewed onto the highway possibility is the sort of thing that one dwells on, shuddering, for quite some time afterwards.)

And thus are several more people reminded daily, just looking at his face, that seatbelts are our friends.

#28 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:38 PM:

Brian: is it legal in your country to sell vehicles that don't have collapsible steering columns?

Impalement by steering column should be a non-issue in this day and age.

#29 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:39 PM:

Pat Greene at #17: I have the same problem with the belt riding up to my neck. It's very uncomfortable, and seems to result from, uh, the difference between a woman's bust and that of a crash test dummy.

You can buy things called 'seatbelt comforts' that wrap around the bit of the belt that touches your chest, so that you're being chafed and/or half strangled by a bit of padding, not the edge of a nylon strap. Sometimes this even helps it stay where it's meant to be. It won't stop the seatbelt from doing its job. It worked for me.

#30 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:41 PM:

We were driving back to campus after a late-night study break when the other guy ran a red light (2:15AM is a bad time where the bars close at 2AM). Our friend in the back seat was thrown clear--through the back window and onto the curb. He was lucky he didn't hit a tree or get run over by the car.

Best we can tell, he knocked the nice, seat-belted girl in the backseat into the side of the car with his butt on the way out. Causing her some amount of damage. I was in the front, belted in, and I went to the hospital to help and observe my friends.

So that bowling ball? Ig can and should be strapped down if it's your friend's butt.

#31 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:43 PM:

My hubby was in an accident in our lemon of a Grand Prix years ago. He was wearing his seatbelt, but the thingy that locks the shoulder strap in an impact didn't work, so he was propelled upward a bit and bumped his head on the roof. The belt kept him from moving a lot, though, and the roof wasn't the main thing stopping his upward motion; the belt was.

From that bump on the noggin, which wasn't serious enough to give him a concussion, he ended up with a couple of compressed disks in his neck and has to do a little PT from time to time. If he hadn't been wearing the belt...shudder. And this was from a perfectly standard commuter rear-ender pileup, nobody drunk and all in a nice straight line.

As for being thrown clear...this same hubby was riding a bicycle two summers ago, took a turn a little too sharply, and was thrown off. He caught himself on his hands and ended up with a 7-part radial head fracture in his right elbow. At car speed he would have broken a lot more than that.

So, thanks for this post...I'm a complete bear about seat belts (front and back seat) and don't care how much it annoys people. If they don't like it they can get the hell out of my car.

#32 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:47 PM:

well the country it happened in was the U.S since Nevada was mentioned, and the time frame was not specified. The day and age was 1989 and the truck was, i think but not sure, a late 70s early 80s truck.

#33 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:47 PM:

I wonder whether the woman who refused to wear seat belts because she didn't like anyone telling her what to do (#13) would refuse to obey any traffic rule for the same reason... Madeleine's right, she's probably past tense.

Here in Europe we've had laws compelling us to wear belts in the front seats for twenty to thirty years, and in the rear seats for about ten. And if I don't "belt up", my Toyota makes an angry noise until I do.

And we've had enough crashes of coaches (long-distance buses, or tour buses) that they have to have seat belts fitted too.

#34 ::: DQ ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:49 PM:

#33 - I hate it when the bus seatbelts don't work. Last time I got a belt that would only have helped if I was as wide as both the seats.

#35 ::: RedMolly ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 01:50 PM:

About a year and a half after we graduated from high school, my best friend Kerri and several other kids were driving home after midnight from a Counting Crowes concert. The sixteen-year-old driver saw a dog in the road, slammed on the brakes and sent the van into the ditch.

Everyone was wearing her seatbelt--except Kerri, who in her inimitable hippie-rebel style, was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the van massaging someone else's feet. Everyone else was shaken but unharmed (including, as far as we know, the dog). Kerri went through the windshield, broke her neck and was killed instantly.

She was a singer, an actress, a very-much-loved fixture of our local community theater who had just been accepted to the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. There were over five hundred people at her memorial service. And in the thirteen years since then, I've never again made such a good friend.

Wear your damned seatbelt.

#36 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:05 PM:

Vassilissa #29:

Both of our cars (Toyotas of fairly recent vintage) came with adjustable shoulder belts that you can raise or lower to a more comfortable angle that doesn't collide with your earrings or jawline. The only problem is that my husband is over a foot taller than I am, and he keeps readjusting the thing every time he drives "my" car. (Of course, he also moves around the seat and the driver's side mirror and the rear mirror ...)

As a general comment, when I was growing up, there weren't seatbelts. When they first started showing up in used cars we bought, we tended to ignore them. The first time I actually used a seatbelt was in driver's ed. To this day, I don't know if my father ever used one. But I got it drilled into me by my (not then) husband, who refused to take it out of park until I was belted in. So it's been ingrained in me now for about 30 years.

#37 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:07 PM:

I'm buying a ski helmet this weekend as I've decided I'm serious about skiing.

Keep in mind that you need to buy a specific helmet for each specific sport. A horseback riding helmet has different padding needs from a bike riding helmet. Same's true for a ski helmet.

The only time I plan to ride without a helmet is when I'm showing Western and need to wear the big hat. Otherwise--it's all helmet time, especially when I'm jumping.

And for Pat Greene at 17 and Vassilissa at 29--some cars have seat belt adjustments that allow you to move the points around so you don't experience the seat belt creep up onto your neck. My Subaru has that feature--I didn't realize it until my son pointed it out, and adjusted it for me. Well worth the price for a small, busty female!

#38 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:20 PM:

The unwillingness of people to wear seat belts, and even defend the practice of doing so never ceases to amaze me. I've always worn mine, ever since they showed us those classic "Red Asphalt" films in driver's ed. They show slo-mo film of what happens to unbelted drivers going out open windows in a rollover accident. How can you not always wear you seatbelt after that?

#39 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:20 PM:

I won't put my car in gear until my belt is on. It's such a reflex, I don't even notice I'm doing it.

And yet, I can't help but think of my former co-worker, who was driving on the highway in her Jeep and hit a patch of black ice and went into the median, straight at a stand of trees. In reflex she dove to the right, and her seat belt disintegrated at the meeting point of the latch. This allowed her to lean all the way over into the (unoccupied) passenger seat. This way, once the Jeep finished slamming into the tree she was able to open the passenger door, slide out, and then look back at where the steering wheel would have cut her in two. Her only injury was a bruised wrist.

(The seat belt thing is still a reflex, though, and always will be. But nothing is 100% guaranteed.)

#40 ::: K ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:23 PM:

Jim, I have the same problem as Pat - shoulderbelt rides up to nestle in my neck. That never stops me from wearing it, but I do tend to move it down to the very top of my upper arm every twenty minutes, until it creeps up again. I know a woman who has a cheap plastic clip that does something similar - changes the location of the top of the shoulder strap so it's closer to the shoulder.

My hunch is that, in an accident, the few inches of positioning won't make much difference, but I've always wondered whether that's correct. Do you know anything about shoulder straps and the very short? (I'm under 5 feet.)

Thanks for this post. I've always been a seatbelt user, but will pay closer attention to my passengers now.

#41 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:23 PM:

There's one further reason I always wear my seatbelt: I know that if I'm an unsecured victim in an MVA, injured but not killed, I will never, ever hear the end of it from Jim.

#42 ::: Wakboth ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:31 PM:

I'm always astonished that there are people who *don't* wear seat belts as a matter of course. (They've been mandatory here in Finland since the seventies, and have cut down the deaths by a *lot*.)

#43 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:42 PM:

Seat belts are effective at reducing the injurious effects of car crashes. No doubt about it.

Trouble is that there's this thing called risk compensation lurking in the corner...

If you believe John Adams (author of Risk) the main effect of seat belts has been to drive vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists) off the roads, in response to the increased risks that drivers (as a group) take when they wear seat belts. Perhaps not the result that the original proponents of seat belts intended.

#44 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:46 PM:

Reference question: Jim, have you posted one of these about bicycle helmets? My partner is engaged in a running battle with a vociferous bunch of idiots on one of the Usenet bike groups, and could use some professional backup.

#45 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:46 PM:

I'm extremely insistent and can be rather impolite about having everyone in the car strapped in before the car goes anywhere, including across the parking lot. Stangely, the only time I was injured in a collision, I was thrown out, and it was a very good thing. However, I'm still an almost unbearable nudge about belting in.

About 30 years ago I was driving home early in the morning, nicely belted in, after flying a press all night to help out some friends with their small circulation tabloid. Two blocks from home I fell asleep and kept going straight when the street curved off to the left, and hit a light pole good and square.

At that time I was driving a 1970 Volkswagon minivan, which did not have a collapsable steering column. My advice to others driving that vehicle had always been to drive as if you were strapped to the front like an Aztec sacrifice, for the thin front of the VW was only good for keeping the wind and bugs off. The windshield was better protection that the rest of the front of that car.

The front of the van wrapped itself almost completely around that pole, and the bolts holding the pole to the base were sheared clean off. Somehow (it was never quite clear) the belt popped, the driver side door opened and I flew through it, landing on somebody's front lawn. On the way out, the side of the door struck me right on the bridge of my nose, with the jagged edge of the broken eyeglass frame just missing my right eye and neatly slicing across my face. (It's a nifty scar, but it is almost completely hidden by my glasses and my left eyebrow. So much for Talk Like a Pirate Day.) All I remembered was a great slam, and then looking up from the lawn with a tremendous headache.

When an onlooker and I checked the car, we discovered that the (non collapsable) steering wheel was buried nicely at chest height in the driver's seat.

That did not change my mind about fanatical use of seat belts though. Attending quite a few accidents as a reporter later just reinforced my prejudices.

Buckle the *** **** ******* belt or get out of my car. Now.

#46 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:47 PM:

Early in his cop career my brother John crashed his cruiser into a carload of teenagers who had jumped the red light (turning left out of a right-turn-only exit -- geniuses!) and only some very good reflexes let him steer into the rear panel of the car instead of t-boning it.

John was wearing his brand-new bulletproof vest... and he hit his seat belt so hard, he had a vivid diagonal bruise across his chest.

Pulling some likely sounding numbers out of my head, consider that there's a one-in-a-hundred chance you'll end up in an accident where a seat belt will save you some pain and medical bills, versus a one-in-a-million chance that you'll be in the rare kind of accident where being thrown clear would save your life.

I know which odds I'd rather play.

#47 ::: anaea ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:52 PM:

I had seat belt wearing grilled into me when I was a kid. By this point I notice buckling in even less than I notice locking the front door on my way out. There's no arguing that seat belts are the smart odds, but I'm interested to see a debate I've had with my Dad for years played out here. Sure, seatbelts are the smart thing to do, everybody ought to wear them, but should seatbelt laws be on the books?

#48 ::: Janet Kegg ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 02:59 PM:

I'm old enough to remember when cars didn't have seatbelts and the heated controversy about using them. But when I bought my first used car in 1968 I was happy it had lapbelts. I buckled up from then on.

But I still see young people--who grew up with seatbelts and who probably had parents who insisted they use them--driving around without seatbelts buckled. Last week a young couple (ages 25 and 28, driving from Pennsylvania to North Carolina) died instantly when they were ejected from their car after a crash into a guardrail on I-270. The car was a convertible and it ended up flipped over so they may well have died anyway. But still...

Why were these two twentysomethings not buckled up? It's senseless.

#49 ::: Tim ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:03 PM:

I've been in a couple of heavy prangs in my life, and I honestly think that the only reason I walked away completely unscathed was because of seatbelts.

Back in college, a few of my more invincible friends would stubbornly refuse to wear a belt. To counter this I developed a simple technique called the 'Bastard Stop' which would quickly affirm the importance of seatbelts to my passengers... Just after you pull away (doing no more than a walking pace) slam on the anchors. Once they've clambered out of the footwell, they'll generally comply.

The technique got it's name for obvious reasons and makes an excellent demonstration of newtonian physics.

#50 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:10 PM:

The people I boggle at are the drivers who act like my wearing a seatbelt, as a passenger in their car, means I don't think they're a good driver. Some of them apparently take me wearing a seatbelt as an insult. Seriously, what the hell?

(When I was a year old, my aunt took a header out of her windshield after falling asleep at the wheel. Her body survived. Her brain did not. If she'd been wearing a seatbelt, she'd have walked away from the accident.)

#51 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:15 PM:

Lee: Nggggg. *Please* don't drag the cycle helmet flame wars here.

#52 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:19 PM:

No, I haven't posted about bicycle helmets. I might. I do have some funny stories.

Every year the ambulance squad has a bike rodeo and we give away bike helmets.

#53 ::: Clayton ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:21 PM:

Nice post. Can we get to the sucking chest wounds, please?

#54 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:22 PM:

I learned to drive in the early '60s, when seatbelts were becoming standard issue. At the age of 17, even before I actually had a license (was running on a learner's permit), I went round a curve, overcorrected* trying to avoid an oncoming car, ran up the side of a hill, and came back down, rolling over and over. The car ended up sitting on its roof, and my passenger and I were almost completely unhurt, hanging upside down in the seatbelts. The worst injury was my pride, which was especially damaged because the driver of the oncoming car was a high-school classmate, who was very vocally annoyed at me for scaring the living sh*t out of her.

Ever since that day, I will not put my car in gear without have my seatbelt and every other person's seatbelt buckled. I even remember one girl I dated who was impressed by that, as a sign that I cared about her safety.

As anaea points out, there are civil liberties issues that get brought up every time some high-profile accident brings up seatbelt or motorcycle helmet laws. My solution is simple: change the law, so that it is legal to not wear a helmet or buckle your belt, if you are a legal adult. And if you're in an accident, not having a helmet or a seatbelt is the legal equivalent of a Do Not Resuscitate order: the EMT's get to ignore you, or triage you last, and your car insurance doesn't have to pay for your medical bills. That gives civil libertarians the choice they want, while making the cost explicit, and let's Darwin deal with the consequences.

* This was in a Corvair, which was notoriously unstable in the back end when turning. To this day I don't know if I screwed up the turn, or if the back tires broke loose, resulting in a skid. The deputy sheriff who looked over the accident site was of the opinion that it wasn't my fault, for what that's worth.

#55 ::: Conor ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:23 PM:

Can Jim or anyone else speak to the dangers of reclining the front passenger seat so you can sleep on a road trip? When the the belt is attached to the frame it puts several inches of space between the upper part of the shoulder belt and your chest. I've always wondered if this was unsafe.

#56 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:23 PM:

Anaea, 47: Yes, seatbelt laws belong on the books. *I* don't want to pay the bills for an uninsured macho asshole who thinks he's too cool to wear one...nor for the 3yo whose idiot parents think it's OK to skip the booster seat.

#57 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:25 PM:

I always wear my seatbelt, and I insist that others in my car do. The statistics are even clearer than on smoking; it's the smart thing to do.

I think the "thrown clear" thing dates to the pre-seatbelt era, when if you dissipated all the energy against the dashboard you were a goner; the only survivors of major crashes were the ones that got thrown out of the cars. People remembered this when seatbelts were being introduced (and crumple zones and collapsible steering columns and padded dashboards), and naturally felt it was crazy to belt yourself into the car.

And while road rash is never good, seems like dissipating the force over 100 feet of sliding rather than much smaller amounts of crumple zone has a lot to recommend it (and I'd start wearing leathers in the car or something). But maybe I'm wrong, AND it doesn't matter -- there's no way to ensure you exit the car safely and get to decelarate along the road. So wear your seatbelt!

Oh, and Randolph -- "He started it with a push; he thought he could stop it with a shove" has always bothered me. It should be *true* -- the amount of energy he used to start it should equal the amount of energy needed to stop it.

#58 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:27 PM:

The line I use to passengers is "You should buckle up, because I'm driving." It always seems to work.

#59 ::: Conor ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:28 PM:

I think I found the answer to my own question: it's very dangerous. Only do it if the belt is integrated into the seat:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/01/10/earlyshow/main1195540.shtml
http://www.langdonemison.com/CM/Articles/Articles2.asp

#60 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:36 PM:

My father installed seatbelts in two of our three vehicles in about 1961 (the other wasn't suitable for installation, having front bucket seats). we got trained early to buckle in.

I was in an accident nearly twenty years ago, in a '71 Corona. While I was making a more-or-less oblique left at a signal and more than halfway through the turn, some kid in a classic Mustang came barreling up the street at probably closer to 45 than the posted 35 (I was doing 20 to 25 going out of the turn) and nailed the right front corner (which in that model contained only the battery). The car and I got turned about 45 degrees left and shoved into the curb. I got a broken rib or two (cracked, mostly) and a nasty bruise, probably both from the gear shift knob as (I think) I went sideways onto the passenger seat. Without belt - I don't know, I think I would have gone through glass.

#61 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:40 PM:

Oh yes: NJ needs to raise their seatbelt law fine to where it hurts. (Speaking as a California resident, where fines are generally on the order of 'and I mean it', even for little stuff like parking on the street on cleaning day).

#62 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:44 PM:

"He started it with a push; he thought he could stop it with a shove"

-what's that from? Seems familiar but I cannot place it.

#63 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:48 PM:

Phil Armstrong @ 43--I wonder if the same thing could be said for the scores of SUV drivers who seem to think they are driving armored tanks in which nothing can happen to them, and therefore drive with less care, if not more outright stupidity, than those of us in random sedans?

#64 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:53 PM:

K @ 40, I always try to remind myself that if I hit anything with sufficient force that the belt running pretty much straight over my neck will be a problem, without the belt there'd be an even larger problem.

I banged my nose hard enough for a nosebleed with those "hold your butt to the seat" belts in a normal breaking maneuver -- not even an accident. Twice. Jackknifed and smashed nose-first in the backrest of the passenger seat. Got to respect the forces of speed and mass...

#65 ::: DooMMasteR ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 03:55 PM:

We here in Germany have to fasten seatbelts on every seat. Espacially if combined with an Airbag it can be dangerous not to wear the belt.....I have seen people who were smashed between the Airbag and the roof of the car...not really a nice picture.
You should also consider that modern security systems as emergency belt fastener do not work if you aren't actually using the belt and many mordern (European) cars offer also "active" seats which alters its position to protect the passenger in a case of emergency.
These security measures will only have an effect while using a belt ;)

drive safe....fasten you seatbelt ;)

your

DooMMasteR

#66 ::: Laurie D. T. Mann ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:00 PM:

I'm not religious about much of anything except for using seat belts for the last 42 years.

My brother had a "thrown clear" accident when he was sixteen. He wound up being lucky - he was only in a coma for about a day. But he had a lot of his scalp ripped off...

This January, my daughter was crashed into on her way to work. Here's what the car looked like after the crash:

http://www.dpsinfo.com/images/family/mann/car07/070103car2.jpg

Luckily, she was wearing a seatbelt and we had airbags, so she just got a broken wrist and various bumps and bruises.

When I heard the description of Corzine's injuries, I told Jim I thought he was an unrestrained passenger.

#67 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:03 PM:

Madeleine@63: Very likely. Volvo drivers used to be the poster child for this (anecdotally) in my youth.

#68 ::: art ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:13 PM:

My ex-girlfriend died in a car accident AND she WAS wearing a seatbelt. Her new husband wasn't. Side impact, he flew into her, crushing her/killing her. He survived.

Wear them.

I also lost a cousin in a car accident where he was the only one not wearing. I think of him everytime I buckle up
-art

#69 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:14 PM:

In the accident that led me to find out I had mini-epilepsy, my car ran off a curving road into some low-lying area. I guess I came to when people arrived to get me -- all I remember is the starred windshield and a woozy trip to the hospital with a slight concussion. But if I hadn't been wearing a seatbelt, I wouldn't be here to tell you about it.

PS: I hope NO ONE will be inspired to try any of the stunts in the second Grindhouse flick!

#70 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:16 PM:

Just had to add to the chorus.

My parents trained us so well in seatbelt use that it's just part of the motion of getting into a car, for me. Open door, sit down, close door, buckle seatbelt, turn key, put car in gear, press accelerator and drive away.

My boyfriend often buckles his seatbelt as he's beginning to drive away, and it makes me extremely nervous that he waits that long. It feels the same as if he waited that long to close the door.

I have a friend who was driving from Arizona to Colorado. She doesn't remember how it happened, but somehow she lost control of her car and essentially drove off a mountain, in the wee hours. She was wearing a seatbelt. When another driver happened on the scene, she was still conscious and lucid enough to tell her to call 911, and then to tell her her name, her parents' names and phone numbers, and ask her to call her parents. I don't think she remembers doing that, either, but the other driver did.

She had broken almost every bone in her body and more than one vertebra. She was in the hospital for months, and in a wheelchair for even longer, and in a neckbrace for longer than that. (She said the worst part was that the neckbrace prevented her from reading during all the months she was stuck at home. She couldn't incline her head, and her arms got tired holding the books straight out in front. I sent her a large package of audio books.)

But she was not paralyzed. She made a full recovery.

When I was told that she had been in a serious accident, the world tilted and for five seconds, I was sure the teller was leading up to tell me she was dead. If she hadn't been wearing her seatbelt, she would have been. "Thrown clear," all right -- clear off a mountain.

So, you know. Wear it.

#71 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:23 PM:

When I was a teen, and already a compulsive seatbelt user, the car door next to me popped open on a turn, and I calmly reached out and closed it. The other members of my church youth group were kinda freaked.

So much for trying to pass as normal.

#72 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:29 PM:

Madeleine Robins @ 63

Oh, yes, SUV drivers seem convinced they're immortal. They also ignore several of the laws of physics when driving. My favorite is situation is what happens around here every winter when ignorant SUV drivers hit the black ice and/or silver rain we often get. Several times I've gotten to watch some loon sail past me and remark: "You can slide just as easily on 4 wheel drive as you can on 2."

#73 ::: Nona ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:31 PM:

My best friend was in the left lane on the Beltway last year when she swerved to avoid debris in the road. Her anti-lock brakes failed. Her (brand-new) car hit the median and spun, causing three-quarters of it to crumple around her. The car was totaled, but she walked away with whiplash and a small burn from the airbag deploying, because she was wearing her seatbelt. I would probably not have a best friend anymore, otherwise. Wear your seatbelt.

#74 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:31 PM:

Bryan (1), statistical probability comes down overwhelmingly on the side of "wear your seatbelt." Your friend the driver was improbably lucky.

Carrie (2), I suspect the safety film Jim has noted as "not safe for Teresa" is the one that demonstrates why your friends should wear their belts in the back seat: unsecured passengers don't just get killed, they kill the other passengers.

As a general principle, large unsecured objects are a hazard in cars. Tom Mix Wash isn't all that far from where I grew up. It's named in memory of silent-movie cowboy star Tom Mix, who died there. His car went nose-first into the wash, but what killed him was his suitcase, which had been sitting on the back seat.

Mad (13), is that the same woman who followed a "tour guide" she'd just met into a dark alley in Morocco at night?

Jim (15), I assume that's that Irish safety film with the unsecured teenagers and the slow-motion ballistics? If so, thanks for the warning. It was extremely instructive to see it once, but I haven't forgotten a second of it, so I really don't need to see it again.

Pat (17), seatbelts do the same thing to me. If I'm going on a long driving trip, I take a length of twine (a long shoelace will do), tie it firmly to the seat belt, then tie it to the shoulder belt so that it bends down a bit in the middle. The belt still passes over my shoulder in good safe fashion, but it doesn't creep up and saw at the side of my neck.

Paula (19), something like that happened a few decades back to the first Montreal worldcon bid committee. I used to think about that when I was chauffeuring the Iguanacon committee in the summer of '78.

There's not much you can do about a drunk doing 120 mph late at night, except be somewhere else. At that speed, being drunk seems almost superfluous, except insofar as it contributes to the initial mistake of driving that fast. No one can maintain control of their car at 120 mph unless they're on a racetrack or the Autobahn. American roads just aren't engineered for it. My idea of a truly useful new safety feature would be a governor that kicked in around 90 mph, like the one they have on moving vans that won't let you exceed 55-60 mph. That's still faster than anyone but Nevadans has reason to drive, but it would take the fun out of seeing how fast a car will go.

Pat (20), if you didn't put him in a cargo net every car trip for the next ten years, you're a candidate for sainthood.

Janet (21), it's that second photo that got me. You don't often see a car where the side panels have been pulled apart like the chocolate coating on the side of a candy bar. It looks to me like the left rear side got wedged under the front end of the semi and was ground off against the pavement.

Kathryn (26), did you all jump on her, wrestle her driver's license away from her, and tear it to tiny bits? While phoning the police, and offering to testify, and taking down the contact information for her insurance company? In short, is this woman, who should never again be allowed behind the wheel of a car, still out there on the road?

John Stanning (33), we don't have laws requiring us to use seatbelts in buses. In fact, I have yet to ride in a bus that has seatbelts at all. It makes me extremely uncomfortable, every time, to have to do without them.

Phil Armstrong (43), I'm convinced that the additional safety features have led to an increase in aggressive driving. That was obvious the minute the SUVs hit the highways. But the statistics say fatalities have gone down; so in this one instance, at least, technology has temporarily outstripped stupidity.

I'd happily tack an extra $5 on my taxes if the money went for beefed-up enforcement of the highway code.

Speaking of which, some years ago, I saw a catalog ad for what I thought was a brilliant little device. Basically, you pointed it at a speeding car, pressed the button, and it emitted enough radar signals to set off a radar detector. It came with a set of rules for a game called Trolling for Tail Lights. I haven't seen it advertised since then, but I think its inventors gave up on it far too quickly (probably because SUVs hadn't yet become popular).

I've never needed a radar detector. If a semi-random assortment of cars around me suddenly start to slow down, I do too. Funny how often there's a speed trap around the next curve.

Anaea (47): Yes, seatbelt laws should be on the books. Tell your father I said:

(1.) A belted-in driver is a safer driver. In an accident, critical decisions can occur after the initial impact. Being belted in greatly increases the chances that the driver will be be awake and alive, and thus able to do what's needed.

(2.) In an accident, an unsecured passenger is a potentially lethal projectile that can kill other, smarter passengers.

(3.) Some people think their survival in auto accidents is nobody's business but their own. They're wrong. The chances are very low that a given driver has enough assets and insurance to cover the cost of lifetime care in the event that they survive a catastrophic cranial or spinal injury. If they have dependents, the odds are even lower that they'll have enough assets and coverage to pay the support the driver would otherwise have provided for them. We all pay for stupid accidents. And by the way, the same goes for people who want to ride without helmets.

(4.) Even hardened old EMTs and ER personnel will count it a Very Bad Day if they have to pick pieces of your face out of your windshield, or the smashed remains of your teeth out of the smashed remains of your sinuses. They'll get queasy if, when they cut down your pants leg, a section of femur falls out onto the ground. People who actually know and love you will take the whole thing even harder. Don't insist on your right to be an asshole. Buckle your seatbelt.

Finally, if you're not going to wear a seatbelt or helmet, make sure you've signed an organ donor card.

Phil (51), if the bicycle flamewarriors show up here, Jim will eat them alive.

Bruce (54), EMTs in the field can't exercise DNRs. Also, see my comments to Anaea. It's not a bleeping civil liberties issue. It's money, ballistics, and public safety.

John Houghton (71), I've been in more than one car where that's happened. Without seatbelts, way too exciting.

#75 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:35 PM:

Marie Brennan (12):
What have we all learned from this, children?
Don't leave bowling balls on the rear deck of your car.

What scares me is that in a rollover, you become one with the entire contents of your car, and I frequently have a LOT of stuff (inside the cab, and in the pickup bed). I travel many miles in winter conditions (ski instructors don't get to call in sane on snow days). I've broken into the ski school to stay overnight rather than drive on one memorable occasion.

In a sudden stop, I'm not sure that being impaled by skis is any different that being hit by the bowling ball, survivability wise. I try to remember to lock the skis on the passenger side of the truck.

#76 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:38 PM:

John (75), go with the impalement by skis. They make a big puncture wound, but they don't pulverize everything they hit.

#77 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:38 PM:

Oh, and just to add to the pile of proof that you shouldn't be unbuckled in a car for any reason, consider my cousin, who was about 8 years younger then me. On a car trip with some friends he took a nap in the back, unbuckled. The car was in a bad accident, and my cousin sustained head injuries that put him in a coma for more than five years, before he finally died. Nor was it a Persistent Vegetative State; he was still there most of the time; if you put a guitar in his hands he would try to play it, though he never regained sufficient consciousness to speak or to signal that he'd heard anyone else.

The rest of the family were even worse victims; I don't think his mother ever recovered from the emotional devastation of watching him lie there for 5 years.

#78 ::: grant shandling ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:46 PM:

The only time I skipped wearing by bike helmet in the last 10 years was the day I got doored by a Miata. And I landed on my head (and my back). True, i didn't get hurt too bad (road rash), but it could have been worse. Luckily, No ill effects. True I dodn't get hurt too bad, but it could have been much worse. Luckily no appearent damage. True, I could....hey wait a minute.....

#79 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:48 PM:

Teresa@74

Fatalaties have gone down because traffic density has gone up, reducing average traffic speeds.

And I'm not dragging the cycle helmet war here :)

#80 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:49 PM:

Only one car accident; I was in the rear seat behind the driver, and the car (going to a first aid competition) spun into a large pileup at the bottom of a long slope covered in black ice. When I sat back up, my head came into contact with the wing mirror of the small pickup truck we'd wound up side by each with.

Seatbelts are good; so is ducking, if you get the chance.

One broken bone so far in my whole life, due to an arrested front bicycle wheel -- picked up tar from the freshly-patched crack in the road, and the first time I used the front brakes they hit the tar and locked the wheel. Another near-broken elbow twenty-odd years previously due to an arrested front bicycle wheel. My current bicycle has disk brakes, and I replace my bike helmet every time I drop it or walk into the top of a doorframe with it (or the ceiling over stairs...)

The cognitive-immunity-to-Newtonian-mechanics thing that I especially and particularly just don't get is the number of people who cut off streetcars ("trolleys") in Toronto. The little ones are not quite thirty tons, the big articulated ones fifty plus, and all that mass is down low. (Never mind that a good third of it is the bridge girder connecting the front and back trucks, and that the thing you hit, right behind the entirely disposable airshell, is the one inch thick square steel plate welded to the front or back of the girder.)

Low speed -- streetcar less than 20 feet from a dead stop -- collisions crumple cars into utter junk. (When the tow truck picked up the wreck, one of the front wheels fell off, McPherson strut and all.)

High speed, well, the story I heard was that the long set of concrete curbs and heavy steel posts got put in on Spadina, warding the streetcar lines completely off from the driving lanes, at the cost of some millions of dollars, after the second time some goof managed to run a red light/make an illegal left turn and get his car hit from the side by north and southbound streetcars at the same time.

And people still try to beat the streetcar away from the light so they can make a left turn in front of it. It's bizarre.

#81 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:51 PM:

When I was in junior high, I audited a college intro 'Physics for Poets' kind of class. The teacher used auto collisions to illustrate principles of physics. After running through one of the 'Red Asphalt' type films, plus some slide shows of accident scenes and victims from the Michigan State Police, he did some chalk diagrams to illustrate how physics applies in a head-on crash, and had the class work it out on some problem sheets.

If you're strapped to the seat, you experience the stopping distance and therefore the associated deceleration G-force of the car as a whole; the stopping distance will be 2 or 3 feet due to the front crumpling. If you're free falling until you hit the dashboard or windshield, you get your own stopping distance of something under 1 inch, divided between the dashboard's crumple and your skull's crumple. By simple physics the force on your body without the seatbelt is therefore 24-36 times more, even without considering the difference in which parts of you it gets applied to.

I have always worn my seatbelt since, and have brought up my kids to do it automatically. As a friend of mine once said, "You pick that bet, you want to ride it all the way."

#82 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:53 PM:

Oh, plus the aforsaid vulnerable road users have been driven (ahem) off the roads by the increasingly aggressive attitude displayed by car drivers.

#83 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 04:54 PM:

Teresa @ 74

I'm not arguing against seatbelt laws; it's just that I've lived in several states where they couldn't get passed, and in one state where the bikers got pissed at the helmet law, rode en masse to the state capital, and scared the legislature into repealing the law. If we can't enforce the wearing of helmets and the buckling of belts, then we need to find a faster way to reduce the population of the idiots who won't use them.

And yes, I know what cleaning up after the idiots does to people. I've had a number of friends who were EMTs or ER personnel, and I've worked in a medical school with ER surgeons. Although probably the nastiest stories came from a TV news cameraman I used to see almost daily when we walked our dogs. He had to see the wreckage and the bodies, and didn't get to be of any help to the victims. It's not something I'd wish on an enemy.

#84 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:03 PM:

Phil (79), I can't imagine you're arguing that roll cages, crumple zones, airbags, and improved belt design has had no positive effect on the rate of casualties and fatalities stemming from MVAs.

The idea that our measurable reduction in injuries is wholly the result of slower driving due to congestion seems to contradict the thesis that safety measures have only made drivers more aggressive.

Also, the amount of data that you'd have to collect to back up those assertions is huge, some of it would require measuring fine differences in behavior over time, and a lot of it would have to be collected in the wild. I don't believe I've heard of that happening.

Bad driving didn't come in with the SUV. There've always been insanely aggressive drivers. All it requires is the belief that driving on public roads is not a cooperative activity, and a complete disregard of the potential consequences. You can do that in any car that'll run. Maybe aggressiveness has increased in some drivers under some circumstances, but I just can't believe it's increased so much that it swamps all other inputs.

#85 ::: Geoffrey Kidd ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:04 PM:

OTOH, my wife is alive solely because she WASN'T wearing her seat belt, and she got this information from the paramedics who rescued her, broken pelvis and all. The driver fell asleep in a car which had been altered with a sunroof that fell short of safety specifications. When the car went off the road, the car rolled over. She was thrown out and broke her pelvis on landing. The car itself was squashed so badly that there was room for exactly ONE body, repeat ONE body, in the interior. Both she and the driver would have been very messily dead (think squashed tomatoes) if she had been restrained in place.

So don't try to sell me that seatbelts always save lives.

#86 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:04 PM:

Graydon @ 80

There was an accident just yesterday in Long Beach (CA) where an SUV made an illegal left across the Blue Line trolley tracks (onto a one way street) and got turned into scrap. Both driver and passenger survived, but I don't know how. It tied up traffic nicely for a couple of hours.

I took a one-day driving course for the company a couple of weeks ago. The instructor said one time they went out in the van for the practical check, and one student-employee took the wheel and drove around a railroad crossing gate. Said employee was unemployed before 5 pm that day.
(We are required to wear seatbelts, period.)

#87 ::: David Palmer ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:05 PM:

To those who have trouble with the seatbelts riding too high up or down on your shoulder: You should know that in most cars they are adjustable. You can slide where the shoulder belt is attached to the B-pillar up and down.

It's obvious when you look at it, but many people don't.

(If this post saves only one life, then it was almost worth it.)

#88 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:06 PM:

Sandy@62 -- it's from The Rolling Stones (Heinlein).

#89 ::: cap ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:09 PM:

My mother's sister was killed by a DUI in 1977. Her car only had lapbelts, and she was wearing hers, but upon impact she rammed into the steering wheel, which essentially cut her in half on the inside. My mum maintains that if the car had had a shoulderbelt (and an airbag), I'd have an aunt today.

In my family, the car does not go into gear until the driver confirms that everyone has belted up.

As for helmets ... I've tumbled from bikes and horses enough times to wonder why anyone would not want to wear one.

#90 ::: Loraan ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:10 PM:

The next time you drive with somebody who won't wear seatbelts, remember that an unrestrained person in an accident is essentially a 150-250 lb projectile. It's not just about their safety. If they say, "No thanks. I don't wear seatbelts. I'll take my chances," you can say, "Thanks, but I don't want to take MY chances with you slamming into me at 60 mph as you're on your way to being 'thrown clear'." It's not just a safety issue for the person wearing the seatbelt, it's a safety issue for everyone in the cabin.

#91 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:12 PM:

Graydon @ 80

Yes, what is it with stupid drivers and large masses of metal? I see people cutting off semi-trailer rigs all the time (and triple-trailers are legal on the freeways here, fully loaded that's got to be over 50 tons, and they jackknife at a hostile glare).

But even worse is that every year in Portland several cars get crushed because the drivers stopped them on the light-rail tracks (usually right near a station, so the trains aren't going full speed). And every three or four times that happens the driver of the car is either seriously injured or killed. These are two-car trains, so it's not like getting hit by a freight train, but you can bet that the inertia of those two cars is a lot higher than even your best-armored SUV.

I think what bothers me the most is that the horns on those trains are LOUD; I wouldn't fail to notice that horn, and I have a serious hearing loss. So what's clouding the minds of these people that they don't notice?

#92 ::: David Palmer ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:16 PM:

There are examples of people not wearing seatbelts and therefore surviving.

Seatbelts kill people, airbags kill people, smoke detectors kill people, doctors kill a lot of people, antibiotics kill people, amublances kill people, vitamins kill people, exercise kills people, emergency exits kill people, those oxygen generators that deploy when the passenger compartment depressurizes kill people, child-proof caps kill people, hand-rails kill people.

You're still stupid if you use that fact to justify not using them.

#93 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:16 PM:

Teresa: Greater traffic density is an externality that affects all drivers & no individual driver can change it. The driving habits of individual drivers however are under their control.

Risk compensation affects individual behaviour choices.

#94 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:16 PM:

Geoffrey@#85: So don't try to sell me that seatbelts always save lives.

As Damon Runyon said, "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet."

#95 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:16 PM:

Bruce: added fun, here in the UK, is the complete fsckwits who think they can argue the toss at an unattended automatic level crossing. We don't have many of them, but when the lights are flashing and the barriers go down you've got about thirty seconds before a train comes through. Even if it's a local commuter service, that'll be about 100 tons traveling at up to 100 miles per hour.

#96 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:20 PM:

Geoffrey --

I don't think anyone is talking absolutes; they're talking odds.

And, playing the odds like a rational creature, the seatbelt is always the right bet. It isn't always going to work, in the sense of saving life or preventing injury, but everything is tradeoffs and the tradeoffs available in a violent and chaotic situation such as a car accent are generally pretty sucky.

P J Evans --

My very favorite streetcar accident was the one where a somewhat befuddled driver backed up at what was certainly high speed for travelling in reverse and rammed their Miata under the front of a stopped streetcar.

Miata driver was fine; it looked like the streetcar had decided to eat the sportscar and was chewing a bit before the second bite. Streetcar driver nearly had a fit before the constable on the corner managed to stop laughing long enough to reassure him that the constable had seen the whole thing. (The TTC's policy is that if a TTC vehicle has an accident, it's the TTC driver's fault, absent a choir of angels claiming otherwise.)

#97 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:21 PM:

Graydon (80), so that's why there's all that stuff on Spadina? I'd wondered.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that people try to beat out streetcars at lights. After a century of automobile use, they're still trying to beat out trains at railroad crossings. Talk about your losing proposition.

Is it even legal to do a jackrabbit left turn as soon as the light changes? I was taught that a legal left turn is made after the oncoming traffic clears.

Phil (82), not all of the vulnerable road users. You've never seen me on a bicycle making an automobile-style left turn at Fifth Avenue and 20th in Manhattan during rush hour. Curb-hugging isn't safe. Half the trick is making it clear to automobile drivers that you are vehicular traffic, and have the right to a lane. The other half is staying visible and scrupulously observing the traffic laws. In short: act like you're a car.

Bruce (83), sorry for being unclear. The bleeping wasn't meant for you. My intended target was people who argue that they shouldn't have to wear helmets.

Geoffrey Kidd (85), no, they don't always save lives; but by very long odds, that's the way to bet.

#98 ::: alkali ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:23 PM:

Keeping in mind that everyone ought to wear seatbelts, my concern about seatbelt laws that give police officers the power to pull cars over for suspicion of not wearing a seatbelt is that such a law is in practice the equivalent of giving police officers the power to pull over anyone, anytime, for any reason.

In Massachusetts the seatbelt law is subject to so-called "secondary enforcement," which means that if you are pulled over for something else, the officer can cite you for not wearing your seatbelt, but you cannot be pulled over for that reason alone (which is "primary enforcement").

To quote Stephen Colbert, "People tell me I'm white, and I believe them because police officers call me 'Sir.'" But not everyone is a middle-aged white person who basically never gets hassled unnecessarily by the police.

#99 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:25 PM:

Charlie @95: I think part of the reason people try to run level crossings is that you sometimes get 4 – 5 minutes rather than 30 seconds. It's still an unspeakably expletive stupid thing to do, but it's marginally more explicable.

#100 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:26 PM:

Phil (93), I'm not saying that increased aggressiveness has had no effect. I'm saying I can't believe that building much safer cars has had no effect. No criticism of you, but that feels like the kind of argument that, when you trace it down, turns out to have been funded by the industry that's being regulated.

#101 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:27 PM:

#17, #29 - in addition to the faux-sheepskin wrapper thingies that go around the seat belt where it chafes your neck, there are also thingies (vocabulary gap here: it's not exactly a "device" or a "gizmo" or a "gadget", but "item" is too vague... anyway) that I find helpful.

They are intended to be installed on lap-and-shoulder belts worn by elementary age schoolchildren (the kids too big for a carseat but small enough to have the seat belt chafe against the neck.) The one I have is a padded V-shaped sleeve with snaps that hold it snugly around the belts with the clasp at the point of the V. Once slipped on it can be slid across the lap to adjust the angle of the shoulder belt.

Sometimes I worry that because I'm a lot heavier than an 8-year old, it might fail in an accident. And adjusting the angle probably increases my chances of slipping out of the shoulder belt toward the center of the vehicle. But then I think, it's probably way better than not wearing a seat belt on long trips in my boyfriend's car (whose seat belts don't adjust at the shoulder end.) And it's definitely better than having the seatbelt chafing my neck and smushing my boobs.

#102 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:27 PM:

TexAnne @ 56: *I* don't want to pay the bills for an uninsured macho asshole who thinks he's too cool to wear one...

If said uninsured macho asshole kills himself at age 35 in a car accident that everyone else walks away from, you'll only have to pay for the funeral. Which is a whole lot cheaper than if the guy lives to be 90 and gets all kinds of expensive-to-treat illnesses.

If it was only about health care costs, we should all smoke like chimneys and drive motorbikes without helmets on...

Teresa @ 74: I have to try this shoelace trick.
And after driving in the US, I fully agree on that "going 120 mph" thing. I used to think going 200 km/h was no big deal -- I never before realized how much it depends on having roads suited for high speeds.

#103 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:39 PM:

#55 Can Jim or anyone else speak to the dangers of reclining the front passenger seat so you can sleep on a road trip?

I haven't done a study or anything. Anecdotally, the only person I ever had whose seatback was fully reclined also had a fractured spine.

#104 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:40 PM:

As a fifteen year old idiot I was in the back seat of a car that ran into a tree. The driver, in front of me, was the only person with a seatbelt on. I smacked into the back of his seat pretty solidly, but suffered only very minor bruising because the seat (secured by the driver's belt) didn't go anywhere. The person sitting next to me hit the back of the passenger seat which folded right over, allowing him to continue on into the windshield where he got himself a scalp laceration to the tune of 176 stitches. I'm a big fan of one trial learning and I figured I burned an entire lifetime's worth of auto accident luck in one go there. Since then, if I don't have a seatbelt on it means I'm walking.

#105 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:47 PM:

DDB @ 57: "He started it with a push; he thought he could stop it with a shove" has always bothered me. It's plausible if the "push" was over an extended time -- a very massive object accelerated slowly.

In the spring of 1999, the King of the S.C.A. Kingdom of Ealdormere was killed when he rolled his truck on his way home after an event -- flung from it, dead at the scene. He wasn't wearing his seatbelt. The young woman who was sleeping unsecured in the back was also killed. His squire in the passenger seat, wearing his seatbelt, suffered a scratch on the head and on his arm.

#106 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:50 PM:

Teresa: Not all no :) But the numbers are down significantly. Especially pedestrians in the areas people live: one of the reasons children on longer play on the street is that parents believe (probably rightly) that the roads are too dangerous for them to do so safely.

Re @100, well I take your point, but whenever anyone has actually gone & looked, the effects of safety features don't show up in the accident statistics. They shift the injuries around, but they don't seem to change the overall rates. There's an obvious mismatch here which needs explaining when you set this population data against the obvious (and measurable) effectiveness of (most) safety features in reducing the injuries received in a given crash.

#107 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:54 PM:

Teresa at 97
Graydon (80), so that's why there's all that stuff on Spadina? I'd wondered.

One of the accidents was especially gruesome -- optimally bad angle/timing, so the entire car and all four passengers were in the space between the streetcars, mostly in the space between and just behind the front trucks. It was also a monster cleanup job in the middle of a major intersection.

(Step one -- if we joggle this mess even slightly, are we going to short mains voltage/dump the compressed air for the streetcar brakes/both through the ruptured fuel tank of the car?)

Is it even legal to do a jackrabbit left turn as soon as the light changes? I was taught that a legal left turn is made after the oncoming traffic clears.

Nope, not legal at all.

Even with an advanced green signal for the lane next to the transit lane, you have to give the right of way to the thing in the transit lane. Without that, you'd be breaking more laws. But apparently there really are people who would rather die than wait, worst case, through another whole stoplight cycle time.

#108 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:57 PM:

I've been in four car accidents in my life. I was belted all four times. I was not injured in any of them. Two of those accidents involved other vehicles, which ALSO had only belted people in them, and none of THOSE people got hurt either.

Seat. Belts. Oh yes.

#109 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 05:59 PM:

Inge (102), I've driven on British motorways at speeds I'd never attempt in the US (unless I was out between Winslow and Gallup, and could see empty road three miles ahead of me). Motorways are engineered for higher speeds, and frankly, the drivers are better overall.

I've also been on the section of road the Colebrook ambulance squad refers to as "Deadman's Curve," which doesn't look nearly as dangerous as it is. If you take it at the posted speed, you're probably going to be fine, unless there are weather conditions. Take it any faster than that, and you'll discover that the downhill grade's just a tad steeper than you expected, the curve itself just a little sharper -- and the roadbed slants down, not up, toward the outside of the curve.

The single most useful thing I was taught in Driver's Ed. is that the reduced speeds posted at tight curves and other tricky spots have been calculated by engineers, and are there for a reason.

"If said uninsured macho asshole kills himself at age 35 in a car accident that everyone else walks away from, you'll only have to pay for the funeral. Which is a whole lot cheaper than if the guy lives to be 90 and gets all kinds of expensive-to-treat illnesses."
I have to disagree, for five reasons. First, I didn't say uninsured motorists. I specified insured ones. Their policies are still insufficient to cover the costs. I also didn't specify macho motorists. I specified unsecured or unhelmeted ones. You don't have to be an aggressive driver to be involved in a catastrophic accident.

Second, no class of driver always drives alone. An unsecured driver is still going to be a projectile that can potentially kill other passengers.

Third, as I mentioned earlier, drivers can wind up having to make critical decisions after the initial impact. If they've been stunned or knocked unconscious or killed, they can't do that, which makes us all less safe

Fourth, it'd be one thing if unsecured or unhelmeted motorists either got killed or walked away unscathed from accidents, but neither is the likeliest outcome. What's far more likely is that they'll get hurt. That's expensive. Sometimes they get hurt in ways that require permanent ongoing care, in which case it's even more expensive.

Fifth, speaking of social costs, your hypothetical 35-year-old driver has just been the recipient of 18-30 years of care, education, and training: a worthy investment for society to make, but an overall debit on the great balance sheet. His or her most productive years are just getting started. The value of that productivity considerably outweighs the cost of retirement and geriatric medical care at the end of his or her life.

All rights are social rights.

#110 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:01 PM:

Teresa@74:

If I'm going on a long driving trip, I take a length of twine (a long shoelace will do), tie it firmly to the seat belt, then tie it to the shoulder belt so that it bends down a bit in the middle. The belt still passes over my shoulder in good safe fashion, but it doesn't creep up and saw at the side of my neck.

Oh! Simple but brilliant; thank you. I'm tall, but the shoulder belt on my '90 Camry is in fixed position at cuts-across-my-neck height, and it bugs me. Doesn't keep me from using it, mind you, but even with the 'comfort pad' it's an irritant.

Again, thanks!

#111 ::: Suzanne M ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:05 PM:

My neighbor's daughter was in a very nasty accident just last week or so and is now the only person I've ever met who was lucky not to be wearing her seatbelt. She was in the back, riding with three friends. A young woman smashed into their car, which smashed into some sort of rock formation and rolled several times. My neighbor's daughter was thrown out the back window at some point and wound up with a nasty concussion and some lacerations, but the seat where she'd been sitting was crushed entirely.

On the other hand, the people who used to live next door to me once had a son. His own family was unable to recognize his body.

On a cheerier note, my older brother was once rear ended by a school bus that failed to stop at a red light. He was belted and came away with only a mild concussion and some neck pain.

#112 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:05 PM:

Glinda (110) You're welcome. The only trick is getting the knots tight enough that the twine doesn't migrate toward the narrower point of the V. These days I'm driving rented cars, but if I were going to make it a permanent arrangement, I'd sew or rivet the modification to the other belts.

#113 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:06 PM:

Teresa @ 84: Bad driving didn't come in with the SUV.

But the way SUVs are constructed makes them a lot more dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists (though not to streetcars...) than sedans.

#114 ::: Kit O'Connell ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:06 PM:

How does a broken femur endanger someone's life?

#115 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:10 PM:

Kit (114):

"How does a broken femur endanger someone's life?"
I could give you the short answer right now, but everything I know on that subject I learned from Jim Macdonald, and it wouldn't seem fair to jump in ahead of him.

For now, you'll have to make do with one datum: untreated fractures of the femur have an 80% mortality rate.

#116 ::: Suzanne M ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:11 PM:

Kit @ 114: Presumably when bone fragments or marrow gets caught up in the bloodstream and causes a blockage. But I'm no doctor.

#117 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:11 PM:

#85 So don't try to sell me that seatbelts always save lives.

Fortunately, no one said that seatbelts always save lives.

#118 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:11 PM:

Debra, #94: May I have the brain when you're done with it? That was exactly what I was going to post, only you did it first! :-)

#119 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:13 PM:

Teresa@112:

Oh. Sew it on, right. I've even got craft/leather needles, and heavy carpet thread around here somewhere. I'm going to be driving up to Vancouver on the 24th, so I'd best do this before then.

Thank you again - this is one of those "why didn't I think of it?" BFOs*.

*Blinding Flash of the Obvious

#120 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:20 PM:

In 1972, my parents' car (tankish 1970 Chrysler Newport) rolled over on I-40 in Sare, OK at 75mph. It rolled once and landed upright on the shoulder. Everyone was wearing a seatbelt. The worst injury was my mom who was driving -- she had a sprained back. No one else had anything worse than scratches. However, contents of the car were scattered down an 1/4 mile of highway from being ejected during the roll. The car was totaled, of course. We ended up taking Greyhound to OKC to get a rental car.

My friend's son, who is a bit accident-prone, has destroyed two bicycle helmets so far. The shells were cracked and the interior foam was crunched up.

Mythbusters tested the "things on the back shelf" story. The myth was specifically about a tissue box being lethal. They weren't able to confirm that, but anything any heavier would have caused serious injury or death. A hatchet ended up embedded in their target block. A bowling ball flew right through it.

And one more place you need to pay attention to your seatbelt: aircraft. Some people thing that everyone will die in a plane crash anyway, so what's point? Contrary to that belief, a lot of people survive crashes only to die in the post-crash fire. Having broken limbs will greatly reduce your ability to escape.

More likely than an actual crash is turbulence. People have been severely injured and killed by the secondary collisions Jim talked about. In severe turbulence an aircraft could experience -1G. Look up at the ceiling and imagine being dropped on your head from that distance.

These situations are rare, but the insurance (wearing your seat belt) is very, very cheap.

#121 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:22 PM:

Teresa @ 109, my reply about the "uninsured macho asshole" was to TexAnne who brought up that type and his hypothetical hospital costs. The point, which I probably didn't make well enough, was that reducing public safety questions to health care cost arithmetics tends to produce unwelcome (and not especially useful) results.

#122 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:35 PM:

I think I'm on to something here.

I'm struck by how many of the "thrown from the car" stories that have been reported here are about evading damage that happens after the initial collision. If a car clips an obstacle and an unsecured passenger is thrown out, that's one collision. If the car then proceeds to roll down a mountainside, or fall thirty feet into a rocky creekbed, or get creamed by a semi, those are separate accidents.

In all of those accidents, as Clifford Royston has pointed out, someone who's not wearing a seatbelt is subject to 24-36 times as much force as someone who is. That's not good. The apparent benefit of being thrown from the car is not produced by being unsecured; it's produced by the thrown-out passenger not being in the car during the secondary collisions, rollovers, et cetera.

Thus, the moral of the story is not that seatbelts don't always save lives. It's that it's better not to be in a car that's about to have another accident or three. Failing convenient teleportation or the ballistic equivalent thereof, if you're in a car during an accident, a seatbelt's the right way to go.

#123 ::: Rob Carlson ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:45 PM:

I worry about entrapment too, but I deal with it by wearing my seat belt and always carrying a little serrated pocketknife in reach.

#124 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:47 PM:

Inge (121):

"reducing public safety questions to health care cost arithmetics tends to produce unwelcome (and not especially useful) results."
In general, I agree with that statement. However, the argument made by many people who object to wearing seatbelts or helmets is that it's a personal decision, not a matter for public policy. I brought up the issue of public health costs and other related costs as a counter to that. The increased rate of injury caused by people not wearing helmets or fastening their seat belts is the occasion of considerable public expense, and therefore can reasonably be held to be subject to public policy.

#125 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:47 PM:

The only people whose opinion on the relative risks to secured vs. unsecured passengers matters a damn to me are the people who spend EVERY DAMN DAY PULLING PEOPLE OUT OF WRECKED CARS.

There's always going to be someone out there who heard of one wreck where blah blah blah. Jim et al see enough wrecks to have a valid sample. The rest of us, mostly no.

#126 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:52 PM:

Well, yeah, sort of; but where's the fun in just listening?

#127 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:54 PM:

PJ (61) -- I don't know what it is now, but 8 years ago the fine for failure to use a seatbealt in Santa Clara County was, no joke, $20 for a first offense. I had a completely clean record otherwise, so that may have had something to do with it, but in any case I am assuming it has gone up since then.

Teresa (74), all it took to get him to behave was to threaten to put him back into the booster restraint he had just graduated from (and which he passionately hated). Still, the cargo net would have been a good idea if the car had had one.

And as far as the impact of safety improvements on driver behavior, I can't say. But I do know that the rise of the SUV has been bad news for pedestrians and bicyclists -- the SUVs cause more damage than sedans when they hit people. I learned that one first hand when my eldest got hit by a young man driving a Subaru Outback. The grill caught him in the face and head, smashing his upper jaw and causing him to lose several permanent teeth, where a sedan would have hit him much lower. The ER doc said that if the grill had been an inch or two higher my son would be dead. I've had this hatred (some would say unreasoning) of those vehicles ever since.

#128 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:57 PM:

Joyce Reynolds-Ward @ 37: The only time I plan to ride without a helmet is when I'm showing Western and need to wear the big hat.

Just in case you haven't heard about this, there are Western safety hats now. The profile isn't quite as sleek as a non-safety hat, but they don't give you the mushroom-head look.

Pet owners: I assumed this went without saying, but I guess not: For godssakes, please use a carrier when your pet is in the car, and strap it down. I nearly had a heart attack when someone I knew casually transported his cat by picking it up and dropping it in the car.

#129 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 06:58 PM:

#114 How does a broken femur endanger someone's life?

There are a couple of ways. First, right beside the bone (on the medial side) lies the femoral artery. That's a big blood vessel -- essentially the aorta split in half. It's as big as your thumb. Cut that (and a broken femur puts jagged bone fragments next to it) and you can bleed out in seconds. Second, as mentioned, you can get a fat or marrow embolus sucked into the femoral vein. If it travels to the lungs, you get a pulmonary embolism. To the coronary arteries, a heart attack. To the brain, a stroke.

Not a good injury at all.

Now, for the benefit of all, here's Dead Man's Curve, where Hollow Road becomes Park Street along 145. The road is tending down hill as you come from the north.

Yes, the Dispatch Center really does call that location "Dead Man's Curve" when calling us away. (To the east, up Creampoke Road (a road that's closed from mid-November to mid-March) you find Mudgett Mountain, named after the same Mudgett family that gave us Dr. H. H. Holmes of Chicago.)

Another really bad location is Steel Bridge (where East Side Road turns into Mohawk Road on Rt. 26). The road tends downhill there from both the east and the west, bottoming out at the bridge. On one occassion, a group of motorcyclists (none wearing helmets -- not required in this state) heading east on 26 at a high rate of speed passed a local cop heading west. He flipped on his blue lights, they took off even faster. He shut off his lights and called for an ambulance to Steel Bridge. Sure enough, that's where we found them. We had a pretty good on-scene time.

Steel Bridge is also where I came on a motorcyclist while I was out just driving. Out of radio range from base, there. I stopped to render assistance, which consisted of holding C-spine on the guy while he was walking around. Eventually another car stopped and asked if I needed any help. I said, "Yes, drive up to the Balsams and call 911. Tell them motorcycle accident, head injury, at Steel Bridge."

That was when I learned the fun fact that if a guy's nose is off you can look right down his throat. Also, a bit about distracting injuries: turned out he was walking on a fractured leg.

#130 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 07:06 PM:

Phil @79: Point of information -- the insurance coverage on my 2007 Accord, identical to the policy on my previous car, a 2000 Civic, is less expensive even though the vehicle is more expensive, and a greater theft risk.

#131 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 07:11 PM:

I've been belting in since there were such things and, yes, it's automatic. It doesn't even feel right, not being belted in.

My aunt, who is one of the Best People Ever and whom I love dearly, not only doesn't wear a seatbelt, she is permanently attached to a cell phone. We were traveling together a couple years ago, road tripping through Eastern Washington. It was her turn to drive, and we almost got into a knock-down screaming fight when I told her she would wear the seatbelt and she would not use her cell phone. I had to evoke the "My Car, My Rules" commandment to convince her.

#132 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 07:12 PM:

Two things that Jim (129) left out:

1. They later reattached the guy's nose.

2. The peculiar thing about femur fractures is that femurs are under tension by the constant pull of those long muscles in your thighs. If the bone breaks, those muscles will keep pulling, turning a simple femur fracture into a telescoping femur fracture. If the jagged ends of the bone don't initially nick the femoral artery, the telescoping action may cause them to do it anyway.

A ruptured femoral artery is one of the fastest ways to have a fatal bleed-out.

#133 ::: sarchi ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 07:14 PM:

things you carry should be kept as low as possible to reduce risk to the equastion

#134 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 07:14 PM:

One thing to remember is that there are a lot of other features in a modern vehicle besides seatbelts, and they work together.

Crumple zones

Reinforced passenger-containing structure.

Air bags.

Telescoping steering columns

It's all intended to keep you inside a protected box while the vehicle absorbs impact energy.

#135 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 07:23 PM:

I think the "thrown clear" meme keeps coming up because our monkey brains are very comfortable with the idea of flying through the air. They freak out at the idea of being strapped down.

This is very similar to why people drive SUVs. Being higher up makes our monkey brains feel safer.

I'm comfortable with wearing seatbelts because I'm not at all claustrophobic, and because I associate seatbelts with memories of my mom buckling us in. It's like knowing someone cares about you, is holding you, and keeping you safe. Nothing to freak out about.

#136 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 07:35 PM:

Re seatbelt adjustments:

You can also buy a heavy plastic or metal doohickey, kind of like a buckle with two open sides, for adjusting the fit of the shoulder belt. You thread the lap and shoulder halves of the seatbelt into the buckle and slide it to a position where it pulls the shoulder belt down at the right angle to keep it properly adjusted for you. They cost a buck or two, I think. My wife has the same problem with her car, where the belt wants to either squish her breasts or slowly saw her neck off. With the buckle added it fits comfortably.

#137 ::: Captain Button ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 07:35 PM:

Besides the Rolling Stones bit mentioned in #88 above, Heinlein also has a bit in I Will Fear No Evil where a woman complains about an uncomfortable shoulder belt and is told that it needs to be adjusted to fit her.

#138 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 07:41 PM:

I grew up in a town with a 'Deadman's Curve': a sharp 90 left, followed a couple-three hundred feet later by a sharp 90 right. Later on, they rerouted the road so it had two 45 degree bends to connect the same sections, but the second bend was farther from the old angle. (I can't remember it ever actually killing anyone, though.)

The really deadly bit of road was on the other side of town, and originally had a series of seven hills (rise and drop) along it. That was re-graded, end to end, after a very nasty accident involving two cars of high-school kids. One stopped at the bottom between the two highest rises. The other came over the top a bit fast, went airborne, and landed on the first car. There may have been survivors, but I don't remember.

#139 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 07:51 PM:

Phil @ 43:

I admit I have not read the book, but I am dubious that seatbelts specifically have significantly increased drivers' risk-taking, because I think most car users greatly underestimate the risks of not wearing a seatbelt.

I would buy the argument as applied to Antilock Braking Systems, for instance. I know some surveys have shown that most drivers completely misperceive what those will do for them. I think a lot of people have fantasy ideas about how airbags will protect them, too.

I would wonder myself how much of the present traffic accident rate can be attributed to technological distractions that didn't exist before. It's never just one factor that changes.

#140 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:04 PM:

I started wearing a seat belt all the time when my three year-old daughter, back in about 1983, asked why she had to wear a seat belt in her car seat when I wasn't wearing one. Smart kid. How could I argue with that?

It helped hold me in my seat once when I got run off the road and into the brush along the road. With that stability I was able to hold onto the steering wheel and aim for one of the smaller trees in my way. It still totaled my car, and I had a messed up back for a while, but the trooper was shocked I hadn't rolled going across that hill.

On the other hand, when I was a teen, I came across (and almost was part of) an accident involving some friends. Being "thrown free" by the guys in back didn't work - their legs were trapped inside and their heads were erased on the the pavement as the car spun around. I watched the friend in shotgun die from a broken neck - I found his hat 50 feet off the road, along with the windshield, wrapped around a tombstone in the country graveyard. My buddy in the back seat middle didn't die - he was bending over tying his shoes, so he 'only' got compressed vertebrae and wore a halo brace for about 6 months. The driver didn't get much injured, but went into a psych hospital for 6 months or so over his grief and guilt.

Yeah, I'm ok with wearing a seatbelt.

#141 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:10 PM:

Seatbelts also hold you tight to your seat while you are busy maneuvering your way to safety.
ABS brakes work so well most of the time that people supposedly tend to leave less space between cars. Unfortunately, reaction time is not improved by stuff you add to your car with predictable but expensive results.
My description of all-wheel / four-wheel drive is that it gives you better than four times the steering control and about twice the traction of a rear-wheel drive vehicle. On black ice, 4x0=0 and 2x0=0. With a higher center of gravity you are far more likely to roll over after your tires trip on the curb, and on winter trips I see rolled SUVs on cloverleafs.

#142 ::: kjs3 ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:13 PM:

You're just a gawddamn idiot if you don't wear your seatbelt. How do I know this? I've rolled a car twice. Once in a Taurus about 5 times at moderate speed (~50mph) and once in a Volvo S70 where I only rolled it on it's roof, but going about 75mph. Walked away from both accidents with zero injuries other than being real sore the next day.

It's like the morons who keep their gun loaded and the safety off because "I might have to use it at moments notice". No, lackwit, vastly better odds that your 8 year old will use it ventilate your toddler. Let's not even go into the "it's my god-given right to not wear a motorcycle helmet" loons.

Funny about the Taurus accident. I managed to pull this one off in front of a fire station. I guess someone there saw at least some of the accident. I had gotten out and was standing next to the car when some firemen ran by me and looked in the car. He looked around and then at me and said "where is the driver?". Say I, "I'm the driver". He said "no you're not". We looked at each other for about 3 beats and he says "wow you're lucky...are you okay?" and proceeded to give me a thorough inspection.

#143 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:14 PM:

Posts in this thread need to get an initial time stamp for when you started to type it, which would at least justify the redundant comments.

#144 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:19 PM:

I don't mind redundant comments. We all write at different speeds. I'm slower than most.

#145 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:25 PM:

Teresa in #74 says "A belted-in driver is a safer driver. In an accident, critical decisions can occur after the initial impact."

Or even before; it's quite possible that the seatbelt will hold you in position to keep driving, even when you've just swerved abruptly to one side trying to avoid a collision...and realized that you are headed for somewhere else you don't want to be. If you've managed to swerve yourself into the passenger seat, it's gonna be really tough to do anything useful to avoid the second situation.

#146 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:31 PM:

I feel better now, I wasn't the only one still typing and previewing before posting.

#147 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:33 PM:

TomB (135): I have a bad tendency to drive aggressively. I fight it. But speaking as a sinner, I can tell you what the appeal is in an SUV's higher positioning, and it's got nothing to do with monkey brains. When you're sitting higher in an SUV, you can see a lot further in traffic, which makes it much easier to make strategic moves. It's like being in a fight where everyone else is on foot and you're on horseback. Meanwhile, the SUV's extra horsepower isn't for hauling loads of cinderblocks for your weekend projects; it's to give you faster acceleration, which again helps you beat out other drivers in your move to the front of the pack. The big bumpers are there to say, "If we have an accident, you'll take a lot more damage than I will."

I hate SUVs. I think they're bad for the public good, and an utterly cynical development by the car manufacturers. In the meantime, on occasions when I'm forced to drive one, damn but they're fun.

Definitely a sin.

#148 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:41 PM:

I suppose this is now a redundant comment on redundant comments. How meta.

I always wear my seatbelt, and have as long as I can remember. It has something to do with having a father flying MEDEVAC helicopters and a mother who worked in a children's hospital. Not quite the same level of reinforcement that Jim Macdonald gets, but more than enough to make it second nature (and to insist on "belts on before engine", or at least before moving even an inch).

#149 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:41 PM:

Any time you're involved in an accident where your helmet gets pounded, you might consider getting a new helmet even if there's no obvious damage. In the same way, if a seatbelt saves your life in an accident, get a new seatbelt. Not only do seatbelts hold you in place while the vehicle is crumpling, slowing the rate of your own deceleration, they are elastic. They stretch -- but once stretched, they need to be replaced.

#150 ::: Ny Martin ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:45 PM:

Re:#98: Alkali, thank you. I fervently believe people should wear seatbelts, and wear mine even in taxis. But, as a Black woman who grew up in the Bronx in the 1980's, I'm uncomfortable with yet another excuse for the police to stop and search a car I'm in. And, while I'm not a Libertarian, I talk to several on a regular basis, and I'm wary of laws designed to protect adults from their own stupidity. Making something illegal doesn't make it impossible, it just gives the authorities another excuse to enter one's life.

So, then, what's the answer? I'm not sure. Public education campaigns, and everything short of laws, perhaps. But I'm not sure I can support actual laws.

#151 ::: TabulaRasa ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:51 PM:

Next time your passengers come up with that "thrown clear" story as an excuse for not buckling up, just ask them to jump out of the car while you are cruising at 55mph.
If they refuse just ask them why, because its the same as being thrown clear.

#152 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:51 PM:

on car crashes:

1. Each year in the US 42,000 people die from car crashes. That's out of the 6 million auto accidents reported to the police, or 1 death per 143 car crashes.

2. The single largest cost of an automobile each year isn't gas, insurance, or depreciation, it's the total cost of car crashes. The total cost is thousands of dollars per person per year (not just drivers in accidents):
a. lost lives
b. healthcare, including LifeFlights and ICUs and rehab: for every death there are several near deaths, and then more with moderate injuries...
c. permanent lost income for those disabled by the accident
d. police, fire and EMP infrastructure to deal with 6,000,000 accidents and 42,000 deaths per year.
e. millions (possibly billions*) of lost person-hours in traffic. In the Bay Area, a death usually means the highway is closed for a few hours.
f. $2900 average to repair each vehicle in an accident
g. insurance, etc.

Stats taken from Brad Templeton's essays on the benefits of self-driving cars.
---
* for a billion lost hours, that'd require 170 hours per accident, or 680 people delayed for 15 minutes. Even a fender bender that's immediately moved to the shoulder can cause this on highways.

#153 ::: mk ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 08:54 PM:

145 comments and no-one has asked about knitting needles yet? I recall an episode of Car Talk in which the brothers Tappet recommended against knitting in the car because the needles could become dangerous in an accident. So I stopped knitting on dpns while riding shotgun and switched to circular needles. Am I kidding myself? And would a crochet hook be just as bad a thing to be holding?

#154 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:02 PM:

With shoulder belts mounted, it's easy to tell from outside the car if someone's wearing their seatbelt.

As far as laws go ... I'm not convinced that they're the best idea. I think that the rates of seatbelt use in states without primary seatbelt laws and states with primary seatbelt laws is about the same. Public information and social pressure is a better path, I think.

We have a name for motorcyclists who don't wear helmets. We call them "organ donors." I can see making lack of a helmet or seatbelt be implied consent for organ donation.

Science fiction writer Elizabeth Moon (also an EMT) has a funny story about a convertible rollover. Convertible, top down is upside down beside the road. It's night. She's the slender little thing who gets to crawl under the wreck to see what's inside. She makes her way through the gap between the ground and the top of a door -- and this beer-flavored breath comes in her face and the driver says, all cheerful-like, "Hiya, honey!"

#155 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:09 PM:

Depending on how good your Spanish is, this PSA covers both unrestrained rear-seat passengers and being ejected (note: not for Teresa):

Abróchate el Cinterón

#156 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:11 PM:

Charlie, #28. "Is it legal in your country to sell vehicles that don't have collapsible steering columns?"

It is not. Well, not passenger cars; I'm not sure about all motor vehicles.

Phil Armstrong, #43. "...the increased risks that drivers (as a group) take when they wear seat belts."

That sounds quite fictional to me. Well, maybe SUV drivers; as far as I can tell, seat belts don't make much difference to other drivers. In fact, I suspect it's more the other way around; people who drive carelessly also refuse to wear their seat belts.

David, #57; The problem with "stopping it with a shove" is that the load tends to go sideways or, if many parts are involved, many of them keep moving. Even if the load is properly rigged, and on tracks, you can still trip or slip and be run down--heck, if you're not properly braced your knees or ankles can give way.

Sandy B, #62. It's a Heinline quote; I think he used it in several places.

Inge, #102. "If said uninsured macho asshole kills himself at age 35 in a car accident that everyone else walks away from, you'll only have to pay for the funeral." If killing themselves was the only likely outcome, perhaps. Reality is, of course, that these people often severely injure themselves (or others) and need a lot of care, making a great deal of difficulty and unhappiness for all involved.

Perhaps the appropriate punishment for not wearing a seat belt is eight hours of community service, doing custodial care of someone who was severely disabled by not wearing a seat belt.

#157 ::: Tom Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:14 PM:

It amazes me that there's anyone who DOESN'T wear a seatbelt - here in Australia, almost everyone does. It's been in law, nationwide, for...I don't know how long, my 24 year lifetime at least. Not only is it the law, but values like wearing your seatbelt and not drink-driving have been thoroughly entrenched into mainstream culture - with the aid of some very gruesome and sometimes amusing government ad-campaigns (an all-time favourite slogan was ,"If you drink, then drive, you're a bloody idiot.") It's pretty unimaginable to me that anyone wouldn't wear one. I don't know whether it's true, but I've heard anecdotally that vehicle airbags in the US deploy much more forcefully than over here - because a much smaller number of people wear seatbelts.

#158 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:16 PM:

Jim,

Was Elizabeth Moon in Dayton, Ohio when that happened? If so, was there also a ruptured fuel tank involved?

#159 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:23 PM:

On the people who lived without a seatbelt, ATCHOAFE WIGTHATS I have thoughts about that*...

Humans tend to be biased towards what we can see, or meet, or touch. In part because of this, we tend to be really bad at risk estimation.

If you meet someone who lived without a seatbelt, then you think "Ah, +1 for no seatbelt." The people who die without a seatbelt? You don't get to see them- the casket is closed- so your brain doesn't go "Ah, -1 for no seatbelt."

We're not good at balancing one real life lost vs. hypothetical lives saved, or vice versa.

It's only people like paramedics (or forensics engineers) who actually know the stats, rather than just feeling the stats. i.e. after 40 accident reconstructions, you've met the one person who lived, and the 39 families of the people who died.

---
* because when I was old enough, I helped with the admin part of the business.

Including organizing photos.

You die, and it isn't just the first responders and the few hundred drivers who drove by before the road was closed who have to see your brains on the windshield (thank goodness they often don't recognize what they're seeing). It's also the investigators and expert witnesses and 12 jurors for the civil case (even if there isn't a criminal case). You don't want to wear a seatbelt, so some poor guy has to be on jury duty for a few weeks. Nice of you, that.

#160 ::: Julia Jones sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:27 PM:

I've been on a plane on a night when a passenger on another plane in the area died from not being buckled in, and several people on different planes were injured badly enough to be hospitalised. There's a reason why the cabin crew do regular seatbelt patrols nowadays. Wear your seatbelt on the plane.

#161 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:29 PM:

My parents pretty much drilled it into us that we should wear seatbelts at all times. I get so downright paranoid just riding the company van down the street if there are no seatbelts that I'll just end up walking instead.

The femur fractures being fatal: I broke my right femur (and my left clavicle) in a non-auto, but completely freak accident when I was 17....and thankfully, people waited until I was well on my way to recovery before dropping that fact on me. I pretty much refused to let my brother try moving me, and made him get an adult, and made the adult cover me with a coat and check me for shock after calling 911. (My special form of shock seems to be that I go all girl-scout and regurgitate everything I can remember about broken bones. Which is not a bad thing, I guess, since you wouldn't believe the number of people who wanted to help me get up and move around. The ambulance guys said I was their most lucid broken femur victim that week and their best behaved.)

TomB @ #6: I actually almost experienced the Bay Bridge stuff today--either the seals all need replacing or it happens all the time when it rains. The water falls between the sections in huge splats and deluges that your windshield wipers can't really clean off in time--it's pretty unnerving. Every time I came up on one, I just took my foot off the gas and coasted through at a bit under speed, keeping my eye on the very blurry headlights ahead. I could totally see somebody reacting badly to the waterfalls though.

#162 ::: Andy ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:30 PM:

Jim, do you see more accidents on Deadman's Curve from people going southbound? It seems like the curve would be sharper if you're going south, and that the straighter road means that people might accelerate more and hit the curve at a higher speed.

#163 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:30 PM:

Rats. I thought I'd deleted the spam addendum.

#164 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:34 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 139

I would buy the argument as applied to Antilock Braking Systems, for instance. I know some surveys have shown that most drivers completely misperceive what those will do for them

My observation has been that a lot of people don't know how to use ABS brakes. Most cars have them these days, yet most drivers I see on wet roads or on ice and snow in the winter seem to be manually pumping the brakes (if they use them at all) when they start to skid, instead of letting the microprocessor do the work. I admit I had to unlearn the old habits when I first started using ABS, but that was more than 20 years ago. I'd expect few drivers to be unfamiliar with them, and yet I seem to be wrong about that.

#165 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:34 PM:

I am fairly ambiguous about seat belts, to be honest. With great certainty I can say that they work- ten years as an EMT and a firefighter have shown that to me first-hand. I always use them, and get a kick when I leave the station when fellow volunteers leave the station, lighting up a cigarette and driving off without buckling up. Ben Franklin was right- nine men in ten are suicides.

But my objection is that we simply don't have enough organs to go 'round. It would be fairly simple to pass a law that equated no seatbelts (or, for motorcycles) into an automatic organ donor in the event the accident produced a corpse with viable organs.

This would be very useful, particularly in light of how the number of organs up for transplant have dropped as seatbelt use has improved.

#166 ::: Naomi ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:35 PM:

My sister had an accident while on her way to work one morning; we think it was caused by a tire blowout. She was going at highway speeds when she lost control, skidded off the road, and rolled the car.

She was wearing her seatbelt. She suffered a badly broken upper arm, which I suspect was caused by the seatbelt coming across her arm instead of over her shoulder. She also fractured two cervical vertebrae (C2 and C7) but did not injure her spinal cord. She spent three months in a halo brace, and was really not a happy camper for a while, but she survived without permanent disability. Without a seatbelt, she'd have been killed.

I always buckle my seatbelt, but I also take a moment to settle it properly on my hips and shoulder and make sure it's snug. I got into the habit partly because of my sister's accident, and partly because I have two kids, and adjusting the straps of their carseat (or seatbelt, once they were in a belt-positioning booster) got me to think about how I could do this for myself, too, and protecting my children's mom was worth ten extra seconds when getting into the car.

#167 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:38 PM:

John Houghton @ 141: As I understand it, ABS does not improve stopping distance at all in normal conditions (though other brake system improvements may.) ABS just keeps the car relatively steerable while you're braking, and reduces skids on slippery conditions. The fact that most people think it will reduce their normal stopping distance, when it does not, may be the cause of the problem. (If so, it would not really be a case of risk compensation so much as simple confusion.)

#168 ::: Melanie ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 09:59 PM:

Riding without a belt is not worth the risk. In my youth I rode without a belt, and one afternoon I got the sinking feeling, mid-drive, that I needed to put my seatbelt on (perhaps there was a police car near?) and about 30 seconds after I put my seatbelt on I totalled my car. Had I not been wearing my seatbelt I would have likely been thrown through the windshield. I walked away with extremely minor injuries considering the condition of the car. Wouldn't ever ride without one again! Thanks for the informative story... linked from BB... hope more read it and buckle up!

#169 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 10:02 PM:

My sister was in an accident in her teens. She was in the backseat and had a seat belt on. The driver was drunk and rolled the car into a ditch with enough speed for it to flip back out the other side.

She had bruised kidneys and a concussion. Two other people in the car had seatbelts on and had minor injuries. The boy in the passenger seat was not wearing a belt -- he was thrown out the side window and killed.

Yeah, I always wear a seatbelt. Wish I could put one on my dogs. (They make canine seatbelts, but I can't make the canines wear them.)

#170 ::: amysue ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 10:05 PM:

I think I've posted this before. Rt 16 in NH. Drunk driver crosses to our side of the road. I swerve to avoid and hit and then flip over guard rail and just before completing flip hit something and bounce back. I am driving and seatbelted. 2.5 year (this was a decade ago) old is in car seat in back. Husband is belted next to her. We all walk away (we have a few minor ouches, but not a scratch on the kid). The car is totaled.

No one gets driven in my car who isn't properly restrained.

#171 ::: craig ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 10:11 PM:

I don't get people that don't wear seatbelts. I just can't understand anyone not wearing one.
Then again, I don't get why adults (not teens trying to be 'cool,' I was one myself) smoke cigarettes.

I'm 41. When I was 4, I had a favorite playmate, my cousin Carol. I only have the slightest memory of having once had a dim memory of her.

When we were 4, my aunt was driving and hit another car head-on. Carol was in the back of the station-wagon.

She was "thrown clear." Through the windshield, and through the other car's windshield.

She was decapitated.

My brother-in-law lets my six year old nice ride in the van without buckling up. Lets her lay across the seat for naps.

He also smoked for decades, and a year ago when he learned he had cancer, opted not to get traditional treatment, instead going to spiritual healers.

He's now days from death, and still convinced he's healed and just has a "sinus infection."

I see all of these things as connected. People lie to themselves constantly, especially when it comes to their own mortality.

#172 ::: Kes ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 10:11 PM:

My friend, 63, just retired, newly remarried, was asleep in the back unbelted as her husband and stepson were up front, wearing belts. They had minor injuries. She died immediately of a broken neck.
My niece fell asleep at the wheel a few miles from home. Her dad is a first responder and as he pulled up, he was sure she was dead--the entire front of her car was crushed. Because of seatbelt and airbag, she literally walked away from the accident and into her father's arms, with only a broken wrist and sprained ankle.
My brother fell asleep, but he wasn't as lucky. He was 31. He'll always be 31.

Use your freakin' belt. You want to die, fine, but I've lost enough people I love.

#173 ::: fredo ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 10:21 PM:

I have a little scar on my chin to remind me to buckle up everytime I get in the car.

#174 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 10:25 PM:

James at #154, glad I'm home on a weekend, I cracked up because I can envision Elizabeth doing that...

Physics works. SUV drivers often think it doesn't. Me, I drive a very small efficient car. I worry about them not seeing me while they're having complicated phone conversations and running me down. So I drive really defensively, especially on the highway. But also, where my office moved, I CAN get to work without bothering, and without taking any more time, which is actually quite nice.

Plus, I don't allow myself to talk on the cell phone while driving, even though I do have a Bluetooth earphone. Too distracting. If it rings and I see it's a family member, if I can, I pull into a parking lot. If I can't, i just let it go until I can safely pull over.

#175 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 10:42 PM:

Paula @174

A few years ago I heard an accident and looked out the window to see a big SUV flipped onto its back. (I was at an office right next to a highway's offramp.)

After waiting for the emergency response to finish up, I went outside to rubberneck. The other car involved was a small sedan: low to the ground, likely 1/2 the weight of the SUV, seemingly slightly damaged on its front and hood.

The little car alone had flipped the SUV. The SUV had been waiting at a red light when the car came too fast off of the highway.

The SUV's driver was still there, talking with (police? Can't remember), at times repeatedly asking "How'd she do that? Why is my [SUV name] upside down?"

#176 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 10:50 PM:

i can see that easily. SUV's are top heavy, I test drove a Mercedes SUV a couple years ago on a test track and even that felt wrong if I accelerated too much. I'm even fairly careful of our minivan (once upon a time my Grand Am and I went skittering across water-slick lanes in my neighborhood in a difficult turn on Gillham -- long before I lived here. I was able to get steer-control before we went up the curb and down into Gillham park, but it scared me, my car was brand new then...)

#177 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 10:57 PM:

Teresa @74: No, a whole different person. The nice lady I traveled with in Morocco was simply naive and trusting. This woman had a stubborn unwillingness to let anyone else's rules rule her. We rode with their family in their minivan once; while Danny, her husband (who was driving) and I all wore our belts, and Julie, who was then a tiny thing, was in her carseat, her son (who was six) sat in his Mom's lap in the front seat, both of them unrestrained. I was a little surprised and asked, mildly, if he shouldn't be in a carseat. She not only didn't like the rules about seatbelts for herself, but was disgusted by the notion of "trapping" her child in a carseat.

If she becomes an organ donor, that's life. But I wonder how her son is doing, all these years later?

#178 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:06 PM:

Clifton Royston (167):
As I understand it, ABS does not improve stopping distance at all in normal conditions (though other brake system improvements may.) ABS just keeps the car relatively steerable while you're braking, and reduces skids on slippery conditions.

On good dry pavement, ABS actually lengthens stopping distance a bit, but it adds so much control that people don't have the frequent reminders of their tenuous grip on the road from skidding a bit at every hard stop like they used to. This makes them complacent. Hell, it makes ME complacent, and I know better. I paid way more attention to following distance in my old, light, no-fancy-brakes pickup that would start to rotate when I thought about braking.

#179 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:12 PM:

Two things, one about the laws of physics and another about the way our monkey brains effect driving decissions:

1. Ten years ago, almost exactly, we came around a corner on wet pavement and there, ahead of us, was a car up against a broken tree and four young people lying on the ground, with one tending them; we had a wide assortment of blankets, coats, sweatshirts and sweaters in our van and spent the interminable ten or fifteen minutes before the EMTs showed up trying to keep the kids from going into shock.

The cause of the accident was pretty basic: a K car, two petite girls on the driver's side, two big boys on the passenger side, all belted in, and the driver's twelve-year-old sister sitting, unsecured, on the front seat passenger's lap. Curve signed for 25mph, downhill and to the left, pavement crowned at the center to keep the sringwater from the uphill side of the curve from covering the road. The driver was probably going thirty, at the most, but what pulled them off the road was the extra 200 or so pounds of load on the outside of the turn. Especially in a small, tinny car with notoriously bad suspension, just the way the kids loaded themselves may have been sufficient to cause the wreck.

None of the teenagers were badly injured, but the unsecured little sister broke her collar bone, humerus, and three ribs, and sustained a concussion. My husband and I may, some day, recover from coming around the corner and thinking, for a moment, all the people on the ground were dead.

2. Teresa is, as usual, right: people pick SUVs because out monkey brain feels that it's safer to be able to see- not just ahead, but around. Jersey Barriers, grand though they are for preventing high-speed head-on collisions, make us poor primates CRAZY because we can't see where we are. The more miles of highway lined with New Jersey Barriers, the greater the psychological attraction of tall vehicles (which, of course, diminish the effectiveness of traffic barriers).

I'm feeling particularly grumpy about this because the State of Washington is currently studying two fatal accidents which occurred where new cable barriers were installed, which the apparent subtext being that if barriers are effective, nobody will ever die.

OH: we always wear belts, of course.

#180 ::: ashabot ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:17 PM:

Excellent post. No flinching. Thanks.

#181 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:19 PM:

Alan@ #120: And one more place you need to pay attention to your seatbelt: aircraft.

I have a friend whose parents are both NTSB investigators. He tells me that their conclusion has been that the number one thing you can do to improve you chances in a plane crash is to wear shoes that tie on.

Flats or Loafers will come off and if you survive the initial impact, you want something on your feet so that you're not slowed down by walking on broken glass or hot twisted metal.

#182 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:21 PM:

Madeline Robins, #177. I wonder if the person you are thinking of was concealing a phobia; the remark about "trapping" is suggestive.

Kathryn, #175. Obviously the answer is jujitsu--size and mass are a smaller part of the story than motion.

There is a broader problem here, of how to teach non-intuitive life-safety practices. There is even a linguistic connection; Benjamin Whorf of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, an insurance company inspector, told a story about how the way people thought and talked about "empty gasoline drums" led them to believe that the drums were not dangerous, whereas, of course, the drums were empty only of most liquid gasoline but were instead fullfull of explosive gasoline vapor.

#183 ::: Tye ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:21 PM:

Mechanized Death was screened at my high school back in the sixties after a horrendous string of crashes involving students and teachers. Sounds and images from that film are in my head forever and I don't recommend the experience. Riding with a drunk driver had been a regular feature of my childhood. I have never been in a car with a drunk or without a seatbelt since I saw that film. When my daughter was 3, I once started the car while she was being buckled in, and she hollered bloody murder. She refused to ride in her grandparents' van because there were no seat belts.

A couple of years later we visited a high school friend who sat right beside me during Mechanized Death. As a special 'reward' for good behaviour, she allowed her three children to ride unrestrained in the back of her station wagon. Just before we decided to travel separately, my daughter asked her why she didn't want her kids to be safe.

Back in the day before seat belts, my aunt used to put her arm out in front of whichever one of us was riding shotgun when she needed to slow down or to stop quickly. She was the first person I knew to insist on seat belts (mid sixties), but for as long as she drove she continued to offer that extra protection that only the arm of an optimist who loves you can bring.

#184 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:28 PM:

It's true that sometimes the seatbelt won't save your life. I had a classmate who was well on the way to being a total loser, but he turned his life around in his senior year: clean, sober, and passing his classes with enough margin to get into a good trade school (auto body, IIRC).

So while perfectly sober, he got into his '77 Bronco one night and decided to celebrate his impending adulthood by going up the Old Pillar Mountain Road. This is also known as the route for an annual one-hole extreme golfing tournament.

There's this thing about old Broncos: They are very flippy even without being jacked up, which his was. And when they do flip, the space between the door handles and the top of the car instantly decreases by about 90 percent. It wouldn't have mattered if he were wearing a seatbelt or not.

A--- N--------, RIP. You idiot!

Speaking of American things that go vroom vroom beep beep, O non-US readers, wanna hear something really scary? I mean, really scary?

There are no seat belts on school buses.

#185 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:36 PM:

In the last ten years, I've been:

A passenger in a Crown Victoria t-boned by someone going at least 40 (on my side) - managed to hit us twice, somehow

A passenger in a Mazda 626 hit on the driver's front by a pickup backing out of a parking space

A passenger in a Mazda 626 hit from behind hard enough to break the driver's seat. (2 men ran out in front of cars turning onto a freeway on ramp. The cars in front of us stopped. We stopped. The people behind us stopped - eventually.)

A passenger in a Mazda Protege when another pickup truck backed up into us. (We were parked - totally stopped and honking like crazy. We couldn't move back because a pedestrian was right behind us. I'm not fond of pickups.)

I've been hurt worse tripping over curbs. In a car, I've always worn a seatbelt and I always will.

P.S. Thanks for the tip about having seatbelts replace. I didn't know that.

#186 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:37 PM:

SUVs and rollovers:

There's a particular curve here, which exits a tunnel into a tight left curve, downhill, at the edge of a steep mountainside - Oahu drivers will recognize this as the exit of the Likelike tunnel, Kaneohe-bound. It's posted 35 mph, I see most drivers take it at 45-50mph, and of course that's vastly "too slow" for some. One day while I was teaching my daughter to drive, we exited the tunnel to find a police car with flashers directing traffic around a large SUV flipped on its back in the right-hand lane, top mostly crushed, with its nose pointing back in the direction it had come from. Either it had flipped end-over-end, or had both rolled and spun; I never figured out which.

Coming the other way, the uphill right curve into the Honolulu-bound tunnel is also a 35 mph zone. According to the paper, this is where a different SUV left the road at 85 mph, flew into the air off the concrete barrier between the two sides of the highway, and flipped. Some but not all survived. Again according to the paper, a lawyer for one of the survivors was trying to sue the State on the grounds that the barrier had caused the accident. I guess his theory was that if the SUV had simply driven head-on into the mountain face next to the tunnel at 85 mph, or into the oncoming traffic on the other side, or gone straight across both lanes on the other side of the curve and over the cliff, everything would have been fine.

I also agree with the monkey-brain theory, but it's not just that in an SUV you're up high, it's that they're BIG. People anthropomorphize and feel big things must be powerful and strong. Lions. Elephants. Dinosaurs. I am an SUV, rrawwr!

#187 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:40 PM:

Driver's Ed in high school ingrained the seatbelt habit so deeply in me, that I get a Sense Of Wrongness if ever I'm in a car and I don't have the seat belt on. (I find myself literally unable to drive unless I'm strapped in. I'm in deep trouble if I ever find myself in a car which does not have seat belts.)

As for SUVs, they give me the creeps. I don't feel safe in them at all. I've only driven them a few times so maybe it's just a lack of experience. But SUVs aren't very agile or stable. In the event of an actual emergency, I don't think I could get an SUV out of danger's way. This is particularly sad since my baseline is the Prius which, at least the version I have, is not known for its manuverability (or it's view out the rear).

Speaking of the Prius, it turns out to be dangerous in a way that I didn't expect. Since it's possible for engine to shut off while you're driving, I find that pedestrians don't always realize they are walking into the path of my car. I am extremely conservative when it comes to pedestrians. I assume that they're going to walk into my path and stop accordingly. (Honestly, though, I run into this the most when I'm trying to park the Prius.)

#188 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:48 PM:

Before the Calibogie Road got straightened -- it's over a Shield outcrop, 10+ MCAD/km in 1980 dollars -- there was this turn.

It was signed for 25 km/hr; there was another sign insisting that they meant it.

It was a 110, 115 degree turn onto a steep downgrade; the problem was that if you didn't make it, and managed to get over the wire barrier, you went off a cliff and fell several hundred feet into a deep lake, sploosh.

The local cops hated that turn with a mad inhuman passion, in large part because accident reports tended to consist of "we think it was a car and we think it was blue".

#189 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:57 PM:

As long as people are excoriating the drivers of SUVs, can I take a moment to cast some opprobium in the general direction of drivers of silver-grey late-model Lexuses or Infinitis? It's not just their "I've got more money and better lawyers than God" style of moving through traffic, it's the way their vehicles are just the right color to blend into falling rain, or a fog bank, or the landscape at twilight (and they don't turn their lights on in daytime any more than they signal when they change lanes.)

#190 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:57 PM:

I've heard that one of the problems drivers of SUVs (and probably also jacked-up trucks) have is that, sitting up high, they have trouble judging their speed against their view of the ground. (They apparently see themselves as moving slower than they actually are.)

JC, I've been driving a Prius for nearly five years. The rear visibility is a problem - you can't see where that back edge is - and I've been thinking about getting one of those mirrors like delivery vans use to see their back end. The engine standby condition: well, I try not to run over people.... There are a surprising number of people who can walk through a busy parking lot, or across a street, without looking around them. (I don't think it's coincidence that a lot of them are either on a cell phone or wearing some kind of headphone. It's not a good idea to do this in areas with moving vehicles. Especially if you're driving one of those moving vehicles.)

#191 ::: JanetM ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2007, 11:58 PM:

Teresa (74) -- My description of what happened is based on the accident report and its witness statements. (And the article in the paper the next day, in which the senior cop at the scene was quoted as being amazed there were no fatalities -- one 18-wheeler hit four cars; he sideswiped the first, I was the second, and then he hit two more before finally coming to a stop.) My memory of the whole thing goes from "Hm, traffic is stopped [on the freeway], I should turn on my hazard lights" to "I am upside down and there are paramedics in my car."

Whey they started asking the orientation questions, I knew who I was, approximately where I was, and about what time it was, but when they asked me what had happened, all I could come up with was, "There's obviously been an accident -- is anyone hurt?" I get stupid -- and very talkative -- when I'm in shock.

#192 ::: Heather Patey ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:01 AM:

I'm a certified child-carseat inspector in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada; led here by Boing Boing. Your post was nothing new to me in the general sense, but I was horrified by the laxity of the law laid out in the page at the Saddle Brook Police Department, linked to in your article. There's no way an 18-month-old child can be protected from anything in a regular adult seat belt, for example. A quick google showed me that there's a more recent version at the Division of Highway Traffic Safety:
http://www.nj.gov/lps/hts/seatbelts.html

"Children up to age 8 or 80 pounds must ride in a safety or booster seat in the rear seat of the vehicle."
Newfoundland's booster seat law only goes to age 5 or 18 kilos, so you're better off in that area. Ideally I'd like to see the word "appropriate" in there so the babies aren't in booster seats of the wrong size. Since airbags are treacherous for under-average-size people of any age, I'm glad to see it legislated that even in a safety-seat the front seat's no place for a child. The adults in the back seat still legally don't have to wear belts, though; very strange.

I hope your post changes a few minds, and I send my best wishes for fewer and fewer horror stories as the years go on.

#193 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:08 AM:

On SUVs vs sedans: I drive a 93 Jeep Cherokee Sport (mainly because though I wanted a minivan, I couldn't afford the ones on the lot that day and HAD to purchase). When I bought it, I noticed the bright orange label on the back of the driver's sunshield, warning about how SUVs are prone to roll over.

I noticed the higher center of gravity, and believing the warning, have so far managed to avoid spinning on that axis. (Actually, I've only once ever spun on another axis without control, and managed to avoid hitting anything that time.)

But when I go to Florida to visit my family, and drive the sedans there, I notice how much closer to the ground I am, and how much more stable. (Sort of like a baseball batter who warms up with a weighted bat switching back to his normal lumber.) So far, I've also avoided driving faster and cornering harder as a result. But you never know; senility might set in any time I go down there :-)

(No. I have no intention of driving unsafely, and the family belts in or we don't move. Guests, too, when/if I drive with them, which is quite rare as there are no empty seats.)

#194 ::: Nona ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:30 AM:

Tye (183): Back in the day before seat belts, my aunt used to put her arm out in front of whichever one of us was riding shotgun when she needed to slow down or to stop quickly.

You know, it's funny-- I usually keep my purse on the passenger seat when I'm alone in the car, and my purse is both large and heavy, due to my habit of carrying wallet, phone, camera, spare glasses, knitting, some light reading and three months of old receipts and random bits of paper. So whenever I brake, I have to reach out to stop my purse from thumping over onto the floor and spilling its contents everywhere.

Apparently the habit is so ingrained that I do it with a passenger in the seat, because the other night, on the way to a movie with my friend, she noticed it and cried "You do the soccer-mom arm!" Which, she explained, is what moms do when they've got a kid in the passenger seat. I had no idea it was a common thing, or that it had a name.

#195 ::: Porkov ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:40 AM:

Dad was a WWII (B-17) pilot. Put seat belts the family sedan before the Highway Patrol had them. I drove Phone Co. vehicles when there was only AT&T and everybody learned the Smith System. Where is it today? You can bet your ass my kids do too.

#196 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:47 AM:

graydon @80 writes:

> The cognitive-immunity-to-Newtonian-mechanics thing that I especially and particularly just don't get is the number of people who cut off streetcars ("trolleys") in Toronto.

Melbourne has trams too. I've seen the aftermath of a tram derailed by a bus - the bus was severely concertinaed while the tram, though it was about two feet off the tracks, looked pretty much as it did before.

And a bus is heavier than a car.

#197 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:48 AM:

My Mom did the Soccer Mom Arm thing when we'all were kids.

The first few family cars I remember didn't have seat belts.

How Times Have Changed: A few years back (1990 or so) I was behind a car waiting at the toll both of the Whitestone Bridge. There was a toddler loose in the back seat. I had to restrain myself from honking and getting out to scold them. It seems utterly insane to let kids roll around loose like that.

#198 ::: Nona ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:06 AM:

It seems utterly insane to let kids roll around loose like that.

Oh, absolutely. I suspect the reason I didn't know about the Soccer Mom Arm is that my parents wouldn't let us into the front seat until we were well on the legal side of the weight requirements for sitting there. And, of course, we always buckled up.

I did spend a number of long car rides in the back seat of the minivan, with the middle lap belt on, but stretched out lengthwise on the bench to sleep. Lord only knows what *that* would have done to me in an accident.

#199 ::: Inquisitive Raven ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:07 AM:

I'm a former EMT. Been on accident scenes, been in accidents. I walked away from the accidents I was in because I'm a fanatic about wearing seat belts.

One of the messiest scenes I ever responded to involved a car that went over an embankment and rolled. I didn't actually get a look at the patient; the paramedic declared her dead at scene and called for the medical examiner while I was getting the suction out of the ambulance. She'd been thrown out of the car and had her face smashed flat, or so I'm told. All in all, it was a lousy way to spend Christmas Eve.

Another time I was driving on a major highway, when a van going in the opposite direction attempted to cross the median and come over the guard rail at me. The guard rail held, amazingly, and the van bounced toward the center of the median and hit a sign pole. The driver took the windshield with him as he pitched out the front of the van. He was still conscious immediately after the crash, although not by the time the ambulance arrived (which took way too long). One of the joys of that incident was having to move a patient with a probable spine injury away from the potential asphyxiation/fire hazard of a ruptured gas tank. He was downhill from it, in a ditch. There weren't any good options there.

I will add that there's nothing like being unrestrained in the back of a moving ambulance to convince you that seat belts are a good thing even absent the accident victims. Unfortunately, it's not always possible to work the patient while restrained (CPR comes to mind).

#200 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:07 AM:

We got our first seat belts in 1960 -- for the kid. She had just done a complete flip off the seat onto her head, at a very minor stop. We looked at each other and went directly to the automotive store. Where they had *no* seat belts for kids, only for adults. We finally found the Rose Safe-Hi Children's Safety Harness, and then we went looking for after-market belts for ourselves.

The Rose Safe-Hi was a full body harness that latched onto a belt around the seat back, or onto a conventional lap belt. A wonderful invention, and the kids loved them. They later proved to have a number of other safety-related uses.

#201 ::: India ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:12 AM:

My doctor goes through a standard list of risk-assessment questions with me every year when I visit for a check-up, and on that list, along with "Do you smoke?" and so forth, is the question, "Do you wear a seatbelt?" followed by "Even in taxis?"

The first time I went to this doctor, I was blazing through her risk list, feeling smug about giving all the right answers, until we hit this latter question.

"Uh . . ."

I don't take taxis very often (hell, I'm not in a car at all more than once a month), but until that day, whenever I had been in a cab, for some reason I'd felt that my usual seatbelt habit didn't apply. And my doctor was familiar enough with this absurd suspension of common sense that she had added it to the list of questions she poses to every patient.

Since that day, I've always buckled up, especially in taxis. So that I can chirp, "Yes!" when my doctor asks that question again at my next visit.

#202 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:22 AM:

I wear seatbelts.

Unless I'm really depressed. When I'm really depressed, I cross streets without looking too. Drivers are supposed to yield to pedestrians, no matter what the light says, at least in New Jersey. Funny how being depressed makes me rely on the lawfulness of strangers.

I never thought, before seeing that video, of an unrestrained passenger as a ballistic object. Now I'll wear a seatbelt no matter how depressed I am.

#203 ::: DON3k ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:30 AM:

I was sitting in the left-lane, foot on the brake, in stopped traffic on the I-10 Interstate, when after a period of about 15-30 seconds, I glanced into the rear-view mirror to see a full-sized Dodge 1500 at 70+ highway speed, and maybe at a distance of two car-lengths behind me, obviously oblivious to the fact that everyone in front of him was not moving, bearing down on me. As I lowered my eyes, and before I could make any decisions, I was hit, pushed into the median, and in about 4 seconds was sitting, sort-of reclined back in my seat. I hadn't heard any brakes squealing from his truck, and it seemed he made no effort to avoid me. Asleep at the wheel, I say.

In the impact, the back of my head had hit something, and when I came to a stop, I was feeling dazed and foggy, but realized I was OK. I turned off the car, opened my door, which creaked, realized my seat was nearly fully reclined, then stepped from the vehicle. Police arrived, ambulance, I was taken to a hospital, checked out, X-Rayed, released. Everything seemed OK, but I was told, "You'll feel it tomorrow."

Below are the pictures of what I observed when I visited my car the next day to get my personal items from the vehicle. The entire rear of the car, and all trunk contents were obliterated; Both back-doors were jammed closed. Looking around, I found what my head had hit. I knew it was not something hard, since it didn't hurt badly, as I described it to the doctors as it feeling like bonking my head on a carpeted floor laying back too fast. There, in the backseat, I found my hair stuck into the top of the back of the rear seat's leather. My head was just a few inches from solid steel. It was a close call, for sure.

I felt OK the next day, and I seem to have no lasting affects. The only lasting soreness, which cleared after about a week, was that my stomach muscles were sore, as if I'd done too may sit-ups.

Clearly my seatbelt saved me, as my head would have certainly impacted the truck and rear deck as it came forward and into the vehicle from the impact.

The truck that hit me, afterwards, hit the truck in front of me, it turns out. The police report revealed that He, the guy in front, saw the impact about to happen, and floored-it into the middle lane, but was hit anyway. At the time I had wondered how I didn't impact anyone else. That's why. Either way, without me trying, I was into the median, since he hit more towards the drivers side, knocking me in that direction, I guess.

I now make an effort to snug-up my belt after I'm seated, to be sure I'm held in place if the same were to happen again.

Thank you, full-sized American car, and thanks to myself for always remembering to buckle-up!

No thanks to the uninsured moron, asleep at the wheel, nor my insurance company for giving me 12k for a car with only 49k miles, like-new, all options, and an original cost of 32k!

http://members.cox.net/the_don3k/carcrash/

#204 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:33 AM:

What proportion of US states have compulsory seatbelt legislation? Reading through this thread I keep shaking my head in amazement at the though of there being places where it's legal not to wear a seatbelt.

I think Americans - even those who wouldn't dream of describing themselves as 'libertarian' - put a stress on individual freedoms which can seem odd to people from other places, and that this may have something to do with it.

As for why people don't wear seatbelts - I've only just got around to signing up as an organ donor, and it took me ages to make myself sign the forms. The reason why was obvious to me only in retrospect - signing up as an organ donor means admitting to yourself that you really are mortal and that your life is not a special case. I suspect something like this is a factor with people who don't wear seatbelts.

And yeah, I always always wear one. Victoria was the first place in the world to make it compulsory, so yay us! Of course, I was seven years old and living in another state at the time, so I can't claim all of the credit.

#205 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:37 AM:

Jim @25:

I don't particularly like the scary bloody films. It made me too terrified to drive for years and years, and most of the boys in my drivers ed class seemed to think they were funny and look for opportunities to prove to the teacher that they coiuld do that and not get hurt. (Not hurting other people didn't seem to be on their agenda anywhere.)

Signal 30 was the film was the one I was scarred by.

#206 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:46 AM:

Oh, and: accident anecdotes are affected by what I call the "I'm here to tell you" factor. I first noticed this in the fourth quarter of 2001, when all sorts of people had stories like "wow, I'd've been there, but I missed my train" or "I overslept that morning" or "I stopped at the bookstore for no reason I can think of."

Well, that's fine. Guess why you don't hear "I caught the early train for once" or "I decided to go in early to catch up on some work" or "I skipped my stop at the coffee shop"? That's right, because those people aren't around to tell you their stories.

When people with these stories say "God was watching out for me," I want to hit them. Do they really think they're any better than the people who died when the tower collapsed? (Or before, obviously; I'm making a literary allusion.) What was God doing there, punishing them?

By the same token(s), you know people with stories about how they lived because they weren't wearing a seatbelt...but you don't know anyone with a story about how they died because they weren't wearing a seatbelt, because you never got to know them, and dead (wo)men tell no tales. But they're the silent majority (as opposed to the tale-telling minority).

#207 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:54 AM:

Xopher #206: You've hit on the really unhealthy Stockholm-syndrome aspects of the creepy type of religion that makes me shudder. "My whole town and all my friends and family and everything I care about was just destroyed, but I lived! God was really watching out for me!"

More on topic: It's kind of funny to see Grindhouse and then come home to this post. And if anyone ever says that violent entertainment desensitizes me, I'll point out to them that earlier today I was laughing and smiling and clapping about body-destroying car accidents, and now I had to just skim through all of these, rather than really reading them, because I was becoming so horrified.

Seatbelt 100% of the time, here.

#208 ::: Pixelfish ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:03 AM:

India @201: The taxi drivers here in SF are down right scary--they'll careen all over the road in inclement weather at top speeds. I ALWAYS buckle my belt and hunker down.

#209 ::: Clyde ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:04 AM:

#2, Carrie V: It's really quite simple. You don't start the car up until everyone is buckled up, including reluctant backseat passengers. Like the guy in the movie "Repo Man" said, "Nobody rides with me unless they wear their seatbelt. It's one of my rules."

#210 ::: Wendy Bradley ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:27 AM:

Maybe this comment thread needs a checklist: yes, I've had a car accident and walked away because I was wearing a seatbelt. Yes, I'm in a country where wearing a seatbelt is mandatory. Yes, I (nearly always) insist on wearing a seatbelt in the back of a cab, too, and I'm working on the "nearly". My question is about the fit of seatbelts and those of us who are, ahem, large. I know there are ways to adjust the seatbelt for safety/comfort/fit for those who are petite, but what about the obese? I sometimes have problems getting an inertia reel seatbelt to unreel enough for me to fasten it, and then the shoulder strap is usually up under my neck instead of across my chest. Is there anything I can do/should be doing (apart from losing the weight, d'uh)

#211 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:31 AM:

Teresa @ 147 - I bought an SUV because I was tired of looking under the bumpers of everyone else's SUV. Since it handles like a truck, it's actually served to calm my driving. I mostly like it, except for the gas mileage.

Jim Macdonald @ 149 - I'd strengthen that. If your helmet has gotten bonked (in the American sense) replace it immediately. Don't think about it, do it. Bicycle or motorcycle. Also, foam ages. My undamaged (and expensive) motorcycle helmet is now 6, and due for a change.

FWIW, you can see my safety-orange helmet, high-viz armored jacket, armored overpants and other bike gear on my flickr photostream. Yes, I take pictures of just about everything.

#212 ::: William Stead ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:44 AM:

I find your comments to be accurate and on target. It is a tragedy that Gov. Corzine suffered this accident. As president of the traffic Survival School of Pima County, here in Tucson, we require our instructors to stress seat belt use at all times. (It is a state law, but AZ lags behind other states in its enforcement.) As a former employee of the state and county governments, I was required to wear seatbelts, and to take defensive driving classes about every three years.

I, too suffered a near fatal collision in 1978. The seatbelt saved my life, and I came out of it with contusions and a broken nose.

The seat belt lesson has not as yet been effectivley inculcated among all drivers, despite massive education programs among governmental agencies, insurance companies, and the private sector.

I came across your site while doing some news search. Keep up your good work.

#213 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:46 AM:

My mother-in-law was saved this winter by the seatbelt in a head on collision. Snow, S curve and a speeding driver crossing the center line. I've been in accidents in which the seatbelt made the difference between pacing in a pissed mood by the side of the road and an ambulance trip, same for husband and my parents. Damn simple tech that works.
But do set your headrest correctly or your neck will scream at you.

#214 ::: Kev ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 03:08 AM:

"I don't feel comfortable in a car until I'm buckled up."

Nor do I. As I've said on more than one occasion, I would no more get into a car without a seat belt than I would board a roller coaster without the safety bar engaged.

Great post and comments!

#215 ::: Dr. J ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 03:15 AM:

Hey there Jim,

I will post my comment and request, since I couldn't find an email address for you on your links.

I am an ER doc, and have worked in trauma centers most of my career. I am on the receiving end of you prehospital guys, and can vouch for seatbelts being a good thing. Given, seatbelts can cause injury, but I just have to laugh about people who argue against them. As you so rightly point out, Newton was right - f=ma, and you don't really want the f on your face.

I won't bore you with my many stories, but a typical interaction is:

Seatbelt: Man, that's a nasty bruise there, and you need a few stitches.

No Seatbelt: Meet Mr. Ventilator. Welcome to our friendly ICU. Or, even worse, the ever-popular Family Conference to ask about organ donation. My personal favorite part of the job.

Which brings me to my request: Can I use your post as a patient handout? Or, maybe to hand out at our local high schools? It says what needs to be said better than I could say it, and if more people see it, it may save some lives.

#216 ::: Richard ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:05 AM:

My dad was a California Highway Patrolman for 32 years. We wore seatbelts back farther than I can remember - I'm 44 now and I'm uncomfortable sitting in a parked car without a seatbelt.

When he'd been on the force about 20 years he started telling people he'd never unbuckled a dead body. It was still true when he retired.

#217 ::: wowmir ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:18 AM:

Hi

I did not wear seat belt but now I am going to everyday. Your article is chillingly informative. It is posts like this that make surfing the web a meaningful activity.

wowmir

#218 ::: Siddhartha Vicious ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:20 AM:

Randall, #4 - The exact quote is;
"He started it with a PULL; he thought he could stop it with a shove. They had to amputate both legs, but they saved his life."
From Robert A. Heinlein's "The Rolling Stones," said about a "green" spaceport worker and the effects of inertia.

#219 ::: Wim L ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:28 AM:

DDB @57: Have you ever moved a boat around in dock? It's a pretty similar situation, I expect, to moving a massive object around in zero-g (except with one fewer dimension). The Heinlein quote rings very true. Our usual intuition is that an object's momentum is related to how hard you push it. But in the absence of friction, the momentum is force times time, even if the force is small. You can give the thing a moderate push over a five-second interval, walk to the other side, and using your friction-trained intuition, try stopping it when it's one second's travel from crushing you --- you'll get crushed. The basic safety rule is to never, never put any part of yourself between the boat and the wharf. (That's what fenders are for, and the nice crushable wooden wharf. Not your nice crushable legs.) Heinlein having been in the Navy, I wouldn't be surprised if he had had some of the same safety rules drilled into him.

On SUVs: They make me uneasy too, in a very monkey-brain way. I'm high up, on a wobbly, uncertain platform, in an eggshell-thin metal and glass balloon. I'd much rather be low to the ground, maneuverable, and in what feels like a much sturdier passenger compartment. (Even in a normal-height car, I can see several cars ahead in traffic.) Driving a truck is a little less uneasy-making: I'm still too exposed and can't dodge, but at least I'm inside a heavy object.

And on being "thrown clear": my mother is yet another of those people who'd be dead if she had been wearing a seatbelt. Instead of being impaled, she ended up in a snow bank, relatively unharmed. Regardless, she was insistent that I wear a seatbelt; I've never really considered not doing so, even when I was young and foolish in other ways. I suspect that as a nurse she, too, had a visceral understanding of the odds and the risks. (If your parents work ER or are EMTs, you get dinnertime stories of the people who were in accidents that day. I got dinnertime stories of people who were in accidents ten or twenty years ago and still couldn't feed themselves or recognize their family. If they were lucky enough to have family who still visited them.)

On the other hand, I suppose if I were forced to drive an old, no-safety-features car through a slalom course of fluffy pillows and balloons, I just might take the nonexistent seatbelt off. I'd wear a helmet though...

#220 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:41 AM:

For most of my life my mother just never could get into the seatbelt habit.

On one trip out to visit, the rental agency gave me a Jeep Cherokee. My wife and I had one for the bulk of the '90s, so I was pretty accustomed to driving them. The day before I was going to get on the plane and go back home, I was driving my mom home in a light rain.

I pulled onto the freeway onramp at completely normal speed and the Jeep did a 180 spin into the ditch alongside the road. Momentum and the Jeep's lovely high center of gravity threw a party that I had no choice but to attend. I spent about 10 seconds watching the lip of the 15' embankment rising up to meet the passenger window and my unbuckled mother.

The car only managed to tilt about 36 degrees before falling back down on all four tires.

My mom got seatbelt religion.

Several months later a police officer died on that onramp when his patrol car skidded out of control and into the ditch I'd nearly gone into. Something was wrong with the asphalt. It oozed and became extra slippery in the rain.

I am so very, very happy to no longer have a Jeep.

#221 ::: DQ ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:47 AM:

#156 Perhaps the appropriate punishment for not wearing a seat belt is eight hours of community service, doing custodial care of someone who was severely disabled by not wearing a seat belt.

Because disabled people exist to serve as a warning to others?

... sorry, hit a twitch there ...

I think perhaps if it was a volunteer who chose to do that kind of education work then maybe, but in general people employ carers to get necessary help, not improve their understanding.

#222 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:58 AM:

Nona, #194: As you observe, it's not necessary to be a mom (let alone a soccer mom) in order to do the blocking-arm thing. When I've had something large in the front passenger seat, I've been known to belt it in -- people who see this tend to think it's silly, but hey, that's what the seatbelt is FOR. But still, the "throwing out a restraining arm" reaction seems to be a deeply-ingrained reflex, in the same way that when something is coming at you, you'll throw your arm up to protect your face.

Oh, and yes, I'm here to write this because I was wearing my seatbelt the day I got T-boned by a pickup doing about 60 MPH. I spent a week in the ICU after the spleen removal, another 2 weeks in the hospital while the punctured lung recovered, a further 2 weeks in bed at home plus some 4 or 5 months walking with a cane due to pelvic fractures. If I hadn't been belted in, I'd have been thrown across the car and my skull crushed on the opposite door.

You'd better believe I wear a seatbelt.

#223 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:01 AM:

Seeing as seat belts and motorbike helmets have been compulsory ever here for as long as I can remember (as long as I have been driving, certainly) my mouth is a little open at there still being a necessity to argue to the case.

Still, there are imbeciles everywhere - viz the BMW X5 driver turning a sharp corner out of our railway station on an icy road, one hand doing up his belt (hurrah) with the other holding his mobile phone to his ear. What was he steering with (and, no, X5 drivers don't have one; they wouldn't be driving X5s if they did...)

Then you have the parents on pushbikes surrounded by their little ones, all of whom have their helmets on, only the parent doesn't. Kid falls a couple of feet onto their still malleable skull and walk away laughing; parent falls a lot more feet onto their rigid skull and have to have their drool wiped away by their loved ones for the rest of their lives.

Any form of driver education should involve a visit to a casualty department and a High Dependency Unit.

Drive safely, one and all. You are important.

#224 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:12 AM:

Without a seatbelt, you're just perched on a hurtling platform. With a seatbelt, you're melded, one with the car, symbiotic, feeling through it and extending your will outwards by it. You're one organism. You live on the road, instead of just inhabiting it.

On a different note that's been touched on some, when there's something coming at me I throw up my arm to defend my head by instinct. Way, way better, though, to be able to throw up 2000 pounds of crumple-zoned steel. Oh hell yes I want the car around me.

When I was hang gliding, the instructors were crystal clear: let the aluminum break. It's replaceable, you're not. When learning the sequence of falling from the sky under parachute, the last step as you approach the ground is to get up into the control frame and try to get as much aluminum as possible between yourself and the ground. Every joule of energy that goes into shattering aluminum is a joule that's not going into you... And they all go somewhere.

#225 ::: Laurel ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:13 AM:

A seatbelt saved my life. When paramedics got to the scene, they yelped, "Who was in that green Honda?!" They couldn't believe it was me, the girl standing calmly on the curb with a few bumps and bruises. One said, "We're putting you in the next seatbelt commercial."

#226 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:49 AM:

Xopher @202
Good. Because you will never recover from depression in a morgue, and some of us would rather have you around. Now can we talk about checking before you cross the road?

#227 ::: ludwig ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:54 AM:

If only Diana had been wearing a seat belt, ......

#228 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:55 AM:

And, in reference to the "trends in driving" comments earlier (do we drive less safely or more safely now than in the past?), I have some perspective.

I last drove in the US in November of 2004. I have just been to the same place (SF Bay Area) again, driving again. Having grown up there, I also have a 15 year old baseline of How It Usta Was.

Drivers do go slower because of greater traffic density. However, lane discipline has eroded - there is much more passing on the right. But when the road is clear, everyone speeds up further than they used to (as a mass - there have always been outliers) to make up for all that lost time.

Almost no one is keeping enough stopping distance between themselves and the cars behind them.

And sometimes it seems like everyone talks on their cell phone handset while driving.

#229 ::: anonymoustroll ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 06:01 AM:

Thanks for the article; it reminded me that I need to audit what is stored in the rear section of my station wagon. A brief, from memory inventory reveals a 4hp outboard engine, a 4 gallon sand blaster, metal rack legs, electric grinder tool at least 3 pounds, a scuba tank (80 cubic feet compressed to 3000psi) and several tool bags @5kg each). I always wear my seat belt, but obviously, this is only half of the safety equation.

Just out of curiosity, have you ever seen a belted passenger who's seat has been dislodged from its rails?

#230 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 06:10 AM:

I'd like to agree with Phil at #43. Seatbelts undoubtedly save the lives of people wearing them in crashes. But it's not clear whether they save lives overall.

The John Adams paper looking at this issue is The Failure of Seat Belt Legislation. The key section is on pages 4–5:

By 1981 there was evidence available from thirteen countries that had passed seat belt laws. Figure 6.1 compares their road accident records with those of a “no-law” group of four countries that had not at that time passed a law. Together these 17 countries constituted an impressive sample; they contained over 80 per cent of the world’s car population. The bars on the “law” graph indicate the dates at which seat belt laws were implemented, beginning with Australia and ending with Denmark, West Germany and Switzerland in January 1976. Around this time all 17 countries with the exception of Australia and Spain, experienced marked decreases in their road accident death tolls. Collectively, the group of countries that had not passed seat belt laws experienced a greater decrease than the group that had passed laws.

#231 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 06:13 AM:

Siddhartha@218: Thanks for confirming my memory -- I too thought it was "pull". Which makes sense when you think about it.

#232 ::: Marian Kechlibar ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:05 AM:

As far as collisions with streetcars ("trams" or "tramways") are concerned, you might enjoy this weird accident - no injuries, but the incurable stupidity of the driver is very well visible.

This happened in Europe, the Czech Republic, Prague. Prague has a very dense network of tramways, more than 100 miles of the tracks in the city. The driver has a Prague licence plate, so she probably can't claim the "I am a edneck-who-never-drove-through-a-city" excuse (ok, maybe she only borrowed that car).

The picture

(not graphic, work-safe).

#233 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:07 AM:

Re: bicycle helmets-
Get a helmet that fits *properly*. I had to special order my helmet, since my head's a bit larger than the standard "one size fits all" models in most bike shops.

My biggest pet peeve w/r/t aggressive drivers would have to be when I'm trying to leave a Suitable Gap between myself and the car ahead, and someone chooses to slide in.... I wound up getting ticketed for failure to maintain clear distance ahead after a soccermom did that to me on a rainy day.

#234 ::: Nuala ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:10 AM:

I'd love to hear more thoughts about kid seats. Specifically what the hell those of us who don't drive and therefore don't own a carseat of our own should do.

I mostly just don't get cars with my daughter, but sometimes it is unavoidable - like getting to and from airports that aren't on a train line. In the UK I tend to sit in the backwards facing seat with the baby strapped to me (I carry her in a sling anyway) but even that doesn't feel very safe. I'm going to Wiscon with her this year and I have no idea how we're going to get from the airport to the con hotel safely.

I also refuse pointblank to get between city coaches with her - the belts are a farce. I do get within city buses because the average speed is slower - once again I go for the backwards facing seats if possible. I also get the train.

I find it very difficult to find advice as most seems to start from the assumption you have some sort of car and are wondering what seat to buy.

And I doubt I'll ever forget the sensation of my baby becoming weightless in my arms during turbulance. The baby plane belts are a pain but I'd never dream of not using one.

#235 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:25 AM:

"Perhaps the appropriate punishment for not wearing a seat belt is eight hours of community service, doing custodial care of someone who was severely disabled by not wearing a seat belt."

so if you're severely disabled you get out of doing the community service? Sweet!

#236 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:00 AM:

On speed:
F= 1/2(Mv)² (Force equals half the square of Mass times velocity).
On a 200 mile trip, going 80 vs. 65 saves you a whole fricking 15 minutes. How much does it save you on a ten mile trip?
That extra 15mph yields 1.5 times the force of impact.
Life isn't a race, it's a survival course*.

Bless me Father, for I have sinned. Frequently.

* Oh, OK, life is a whole bunch of other things, too.

#237 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:21 AM:

Re #235: so if you're severely disabled you get out of doing the community service? Sweet!

If you're severely disabled from not wearing a seatbelt, you get condemned to care by untrained idiots who won't wear seatbelts.

#238 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:25 AM:

109: One thing about British motorways Not Many People Know - they are never straight. Reason? The engineers who laid out the first ones at the end of the 50s studied the original Nazi version, and noticed that too much straightaway led drivers to lose attention. Hence, all ours were aligned with lots of long, sweeping curves to force the public to pay attention. Some of the older A-roads predate this (the A580 and A127 come to mind) and are gunbarrel straight...and more dangerous...

181: One of the investigation panel's recommendations in the SQ006 crash at CKS a few years back was that Singapore Airlines should stop making the stewardesses wear heels. Under management pressure to get away before a typhoon closed the field, poor design and aforesaid storm helped the crew turn onto the wrong one of two parallel runways, closed for repairs and littered with construction vehicles, holes, etc. All on board survived the crash, but the evacuation was badly botched, several doors never being opened. The airport fire brigade took an age to show up due to poor C2, and many of those aboard died of smoke inhalation.

More broadly: my dad was an early-adopter of seat belts, who specified them on his first car long before they became mandatory and fitted rear belts before they became mandatory. The result is that I've never been able to get into a car without grabbing behind my offside shoulder.

Regarding motorcycles and helmets, well, I'll have to disappoint Jim here...when I worked on ranches in Australia, I remember vividly that there were never enough to go round. I spent a lot of time on bikes protected only by a hat, which seems a lot scarier in hindsight. Of course, when you're 18 you're immortal and invincible.

What? It just felt that way? Shit..

One thing I always wondered, though, was if there is a standard for the structural integrity of the back of a pick-up's cab. As by definition you'll have a lot of heavy metal things, dogs, bricks etc there, it's only going to go one way in the event of a frontal collision, right?

Speaking of pickups, then there was the whole riding-in-the-back thing. Actually, looking back, I was regularly amazed by outback people's attitude to danger. I had the "Stop! No! Don't angle-grind that old gasoline barrel!" experience more than once, and I remember handing over the keys of a Land Cruiser to someone who later observed that the 6.5 litre diesel V8 seemed "sluggish". Inquiry revealed that he wasn't familiar with the quaint British custom of "applying the handbrake" and had been driving about all day with it on. I was also once sprayed with a pesticide whose container advised you to keep atropine injectors handy.

#239 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:26 AM:

Lee @ 222

It's not just other people in the passenger seat that attract the "soccer-mom arm". I really dislike having to reach across to steady some package or loose item I've left in the passenger seat for convenience; it leaves me with only one hand on the wheel and a feeling of not being in control of the car or able to put all my attention to the road conditions*. So I've taken to belting stray items into the passenger seat, to keep them from sliding around. I get funny looks from people who see the takeout food packages belted in.

* It's not as bad as it might be: I have an automatic transmission on my current car. If I go back to manual in my next car, as I've been thinking, there's no way I'm going to put myself in the position of only having one hand available while driving.

#240 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:28 AM:

Re #234:

Maybe look for a carseat that is lightweight and easy to carry with you, and take in and out of the car? Perhaps the sort that works as an infant carrier as well, so you can carry her in it if logistics so demand.

For a long flight, both of you will probably be more comfortable if she's sitting in an infant seat strapped into a seat separate from yours, rather than trying to hold her for hours. But that's an option that depends on finances, of course.

One time when I was flying, the woman seated next to me was traveling with her infant on her lap, and she had a little harness which the baby wore, that had a short strap with a loop on it, and the mother's seatbelt was threaded through the loop. This probably wouldn't provide the structural protection of sitting in a carseat designed to withstand some impact, but it might keep the baby from being thrown away from the mother, depending on the quality of the harness.

#241 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:31 AM:

Nuala @234
Most car-rental places also rent car seats out. And despite the literature, most car seats can go in most cars.

So for Wiscon, I'd contact the airport car rental places and see how much for just the car seat? For the rest, I don't know - having kids coincided with giving up the carfreee lifestyle for us (it's the end of "carefree", so what's one more adjective? They're only letter different anyway.)

It would not be impossible to buy a car seat and own it without the car, but it wouldn't always be in the right place at the right time.

Also, note when your daughter is bigger that the more recent black taxis have a toddler booster in the middle of the back seat, folded into the seatback.

#242 ::: Nuala ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:54 AM:

Ursula @240. Once you get used to cloth carriers the idea of carrying a 20lb+ kid in one of those bucket seats just makes you boggle. It can't be good for one's back. Regardless, paying for a plane seat plus a new car seat would make flying totally unaffordable. The baby's more deeply green dad sees that as a good thing but it's not his family that lives in the US.

abi @241. I should have been clearer I don't merely not drive. I can't drive. So I'll be using public transport of some sort (which includes taxis) from the airport, not a rental car. We do have one of the bucket type seats but she's outgrown it and the next size up seem much less transportable.

The sets of grandparents are all offering to buy seats for their cars which means one baby consuming 3 car seats, which just seems silly.

I'll keep an eye out for the toddler seat when she's big enough. I wish the black taxi company would just bite the bullet and come up with an infant protection system - they seem to cater for every other possible contingency. Though, as you say, for many families baby equals finally getting a car so us occasional hold outs are probably not worth catering for.

Anyway, I don't mean to spawn a whole subthread about trying to navigate through a car dominated world without a car, I was just wondering if anyone had any tips about how to balance the wish to protect one's baby when they occasionally do have to get into a car with the impracticality of carrying modern infant car seats around without a car.

#243 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 09:17 AM:

Here's a nasty little secret the states don't want you to know:

You know all those metal guardrails lining the interstates, the ones that protect you from hitting big immobile objects like signs, bridge pilings or abutments, or flying off into the wild blue yonder?

They've only been tested in crashes where the vehicle was traveling no faster than 57mph.

That's right; 57mph. What's the speed limit on the interstate? 60mph? 65mph? 70mph? 75mph?

Now tell me, what speed do YOU travel on that interstate? If you're like everyone else, it's 5-10mph faster than the speed limit sign says.

I'm a highway design engineer; I've seen the FHWA crash test videos of vehicles hitting steel guardrail at 57mph (no I don't know why they didn't use 60mph). It looks like a bomb explosion; shrapnel goes everywhere, and in one video the front wheel was pulled off the truck when it caught a guardrail post. Ripped it right off the axle.

Those nifty looking cable barriers states are stretching up along the medians to keep drivers from crossing them? They were only tested to 60mph too. Hit them at 75mph and FHWA refuses to say what you can expect to happen.

Even the solid concrete median barriers are only tested to 60mph. Hitting one of them at 75mph will send your vehicle back into the lanes (along with a cloud of steel shrapnel) in an unknown direction.

Oh yes, almost forgot; guardrail was never tested with SUV's, minivans or the larger multipassenger vans. When FHWA did a crash test with an SUV the vehicle nearly every time vaulted the guardrail, or rolled over it. Imagine that happening at 75mph.

Yes, there are barriers that have been tested for higher speeds; they are the concrete bridge rails you see that are solid with a sloped face. There's also a really rigid steel barrier that has been tested for higher speeds (IIRC it's 65mph), but it's rarely used on anything but bridge rail retrofits due to its high cost.

So next time you're tempted to take the interstate at a really high speed, take a look at that guardrail next to you, and realize it won't even stop your vehicle at 80mph. You'll blow right through it and into whatever is behind it.

#244 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 09:22 AM:

Re: Larry Brennan @ 211: Yes, replace your helmet--of whatever kind--any time it hits something, whether or not you see damage. Helmets are single-use safety devices.

Here's a quick layperson's explanation of why: The hard shell of the helmet is only half the protective element. The other half is the foam inside that collapses when your head moves toward the shell on impact. The foam serves to slow the impact of your brain against the inside of your skull. Already-collapsed foam is useless. There is no way for you to tell whether the foam is collapsed after an accident or not. Assume it is, and replace the helmet.

And fasten the bloody chin strap, for pity's sake. The helmet does you no good if it flies off your head.

This is also why it's fricking idiotic for horseback riders to wear English hardhats instead of helmets. (Don't get me started on disciplines that require headwear other than helmets for showing.)

I harp on this because everybody in the horse world knows at least one person who's dead or paralyzed because they weren't wearing a helmet--and a stunning number of riders still don't wear a damned helmet. It's a combination of ego and denial.

#245 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 09:38 AM:

Fascinating. I was just reading this post that, among other things, explains why people tend to remember deviations from the norm far better than the norm itself, when I run across such a fine example of the process in action. Even many of the people whose posts were paens to the life-saving efficacy of seat-belts just had to mention that one time when being thrown clear saved their life.

According to schema theory, information that is relevant, but contrary to expectations tends to be remembered better than consistent or expected information. For example, you'll remember that time the waiter brought you the bill before the food far longer than you'll remember the thousand times it happened the usual order. You'll remember the 3-packs-a-day lived-to-be-90 smoker better than you'll remember the twelve who died from lung cancer at forty.

Really, it makes me wonder if anecdotal evidence isn't worse than no evidence at all.

#246 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 09:45 AM:

Speaking of collisions with trams (streetcars):

I seem to remember, from my time in Holland, that the Dutch have a rule about trams: if you're in a accident with a tram, it's your fault - and that goes for pedestrians and bicycles as well as cars - because a moving tram always has priority and if you get in its way, you're wrong. (A tram can't run a red light because the safety system would stop it.)

Can anyone confirm or deny?

#247 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:04 AM:

Another reason for not getting in front of anything on rails (apart from the fact that it will cream you) is that it's not fair.

If you hit something (or somebody) with a car, mostly it's a split-second thing - you only have time to think 'oh, shit' before the world is coming to bits around you. If you do have time, maybe you have a chance to steer to minimze the damage. A tram or train driver doesn't have that luxury. It's got lots of momentum and can't manoeuvre; the driver can only sit there looking at what she's about to hit.
It's worst with long freight trains, which can take hundreds of yards to stop. People commit suicide under those things; they know the train can't stop, so they get in place in plenty of time. The driver may have 15-20 seconds knowing what the train's about to do to the person on the line, and knowing that there's not a damn thing he can do about it. They go crazy after a few of those.

#248 ::: Christine ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:09 AM:

As an amendment to the above sentiment...

Please make sure your children's car seats are installed properly and they are also buckled up.

There's nothing more heart wrenching than walking up on a scene where one half of the car is in the road, the other fifty yards away, and the child in the back had no carseat and is lying somewhere in between.

Now go hug your kids.

#249 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:25 AM:

152, Kathryn: Another cost of accidents is damage to the cars--it isn't always covered by insurance.

#250 ::: Mistercalm ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:26 AM:

My father died in a truck accident 19 years ago. He'd have survived had he worn a seatbelt. The fatal injury was a broken neck from hitting the roof of his truck... he wasn't torn up otherwise. If he'd been stuck firmly to the seat, no fatal injury. He never wore seatbelts. I always wear them! My wife walked away from a 45 mph collision. She was in a Corolla. The woman who pulled out in front of her was also in a Corolla. The other woman was unbelted and ended up in the hospital. That "thrown clear" argument is bull@*^$... too much TV, I guess.

#251 ::: Mistercalm ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:31 AM:

I'd read somewhere that you're five times more likely to be killed if you're ejected from a vehicle. I suppose this sort of statistic comes from counting the dead bodies lying in the road at the scenes of auto wrecks compared the living still inside the steel envelope of the car.

#252 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:46 AM:

Porkov @ 195

The Smith System is alive and well and in use at major companies all over. Mine is one of them.

#253 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:51 AM:

India (201), Pixelfish (208): I always try to wear a seatbelt in taxis. An awful lot of them don't have working belts in the back seat. And more often than not, the driver is offended that I want to wear a belt. "What, you don't trust my driving?" My standard reply is, "Sure, I do, I just don't trust all the other drivers."

#254 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:01 AM:

Larry @ 211 said: I bought an SUV because I was tired of looking under the bumpers of everyone else's SUV. Since it handles like a truck, it's actually served to calm my driving. I mostly like it, except for the gas mileage.

This reminds me of some research I saw last year on the subject of SUVs. One of the perceptions that exists is that the SUV is safer for the SUV's occupants in an SUV-car collision, giving us the classic prisoner's dilemma. It's an ugly if understandable equation. "If my family is safer in the SUV, then I have a duty to put them in it, even if it makes your family less safe. I will only suggest an SUV for my sister, because SUV-SUV collisions are worse and I'd like to be one of the few on the road."

Turns out it's not true and the scale factor has to do mainly with mass and force. The dilemma is different when there's no upside to the uneven cases.

#255 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:05 AM:

Wendy Bradley (210): I've seen seatbelt extenders in catalogs. They might help you.

Nuala: You might be able to rent just the carseat, even if you're not renting a car. Couldn't hurt to ask.

#256 ::: Mary Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:05 AM:

My boyfriend's little sister was in a car accident. She still suffers from survivor's guilt. She wore her seatbelt and her friend refused to as it would 'wrinkle her blouse'. I guess at least now she is buried in a nice pressed outfit. It's tragic, she was in high school and very young, but similar to so many stories before this one, she was the only one of the five or so kids in the car that was killed. The others didn't even suffer so much as a paper cut, all belted in.

#257 ::: Dan Pursel ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:15 AM:

I'm late to the party, but do have a dog in this hunt.

Thanks to Jim.
And, thanks for all the "smart people" stories above.

I worked for a major auto manufacturer in various areas of automotive safety for 31 years. Including crash testing, and field accident analysis, and other areas.
Actually, it was NOT automotive safety.
It was PASSENGER SAFETY.

I've pretty much seen "it all".
Everybody in my vehicles is ALWAYS belted.
Or, they find their own ride elsewhere.

Besides rollover ejections, intersection collision "ejections" are preventable with belts.

Nothing is as heart-rending as reviewing the autopsy pictures of a cute little 4 year old girl needlessly thrown out of a car in a "minor" intersection collision and killed.
NOTHING.

Except for how it affected the medical examiner.

#258 ::: Benji ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:35 AM:

ananymoustroll@229: I've been the passenger belted in when a seat comes off the rails. My head hit the "oh shit" bar in a 1974 Land Cruiser. 4 Stitches in my forehead, and a slight concussion. I shudder to think what may have been if I hadn't been wearing it. Then again, All 6 accidents I've been in I've walked away from. The worst Injury I've sustained is a disconnected muscle in my neck when a cab slammed into the back of my Neon doing about 45mph. I think they call that "whiplash". I no longer put my car into first or reverse unless all passengers are buckled.

#259 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:39 AM:

No seatbelt?
Drive a Trebuchet!


#260 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:48 AM:

You know, although it really should have, I don't think it occurred to me before watching that video just how much havoc an unrestrained passenger could do to other people. (I'd been aware that there was potential for related injuries, but it didn't really sink in how serious the injury could be.)

I am now having a discussing with my sweetie about his non-seatbelt-wearing friend with whom he goes driving a lot. I am insisting that he insist that said friend wears a seatbelt or they don't go anywhere. If his friend wants to gamble with his own life, that's his lookout, but he ain't gambling with my guy's life.

I hate wearing seatbelts because I'm significantly overweight -- unless the car maker took big folks into account, lap belts are typically uncomfortable (shoulder belts, I'm a good height for, thankfully). I wear them anyhow. You get used to it a lot quicker than you get used to, you know, no head.

Or, alternately, at least you have time to get used to it.

#261 ::: chuckR ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:53 AM:

57 years old, seatbelt wearer for 40, engineer for 34. I no longer get involved with car accident investigations, but as Chief Family Car Buyer still do my best to find safe vehicles. A guy named Thomas Wenzel, P.E., has written on vehicle safety using US accident data. His conclusion was that SUVs are no safer at all than a well engineered mid sized car like a Ford500 or Toyota Camry. You might be better off getting t-boned in an SUV, but worse off in an accident that could be mitigated or avoided by maneuvering, where the SUV's well known propensity to ground loop is a definite liability. I've driven a few SUVs - at one extreme the Porsche Cayenne S was great, at the other extreme a Jeep Liberty felt like I'd imagine a Shriner's parade motorized barstool would.
My insurance company annually sends me a brochure rating vehicles by injury/repair cost/theft. It broadly agrees with Wenzel's findings. An insurance company's agenda is simple: take your money and keep as much as possible. So I think their ratings can be taken seriously. Here's a hoot - two of the top rated cars for injury are the Porsche Carrera and Chevy Corvette, possibly because the drivers who can afford them drive them infrequently, are paying attention to the act of driving and are old enough to know better about things like seat belts and situations that might lead to close calls or worse. No matter what safety features are built in, the most important things are simple proactive measures like wearing seatbelts, not yakking on cell phones, not looking at your nav system screen, etc.

#262 ::: Mary Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:56 AM:

I already posted earlier, but as synchronicity would have it I just heard that a coworker was in a serious bike accident. Several earlier posts mention bicycle helmets. This was three days ago, the group was doing some singletrac trails and jumps. My coworker took a big jump and something went wrong. After crashing to the ground 'like a bag of bricks' he couldn't feel his legs and was is significant pain in his chest. Long story short, he was helicoptered to a hospital after those with him were smart enough to keep him immobilized. He shattered a vertebra and has a huge bruise on his chest where his full face helmet hit. Had he not had the helmet on, his head would have gone the extra 2-3 inches forward and snapped his neck, most likely killed him. He's had one surgery of a few, putting pins to stabilize his spine, but he should 'fully recover' and be able to ride again. Helmets. Seatbelts. Good stuff. He's a neat guy, I'm glad we will keep him around.

#263 ::: Richard ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:23 PM:

As for seat belts in airplanes, the URL link in this post is to a photo of the wreck of a small plane. It hit at over 200 miles an hour. The engine is in the back, the pilot's feet are about 3 feet from the nose. As you can see, the nose pretty much disintegrated.

The pilot was wearing a 5 point harness. His legs were badly broken - and that was all.

#264 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:23 PM:

Nuala, the "one baby consuming three car seats" caught my eye: it's either that, or one baby consuming up to a half-hour of adult time and effort, plus the danger of inadvertantly damaging some of the attachment points (and the even greater danger of damaging an adult back or shoulder) every time the seat changes cars. There's a point where worrying about consumption of physical resources obscures other matters. In this case: Will the child always be in a seat? Will the seat always be installed properly? Will the seatbelts, snap buckles, and other components of the system stay in good shape?

We've just graduated from a multi-seat use situation with The Nephew, who, at barely nine, is pushing five feet tall and a bit over a hundred pounds. His parents farm, so he had a permanent seat in the road car and one that got moved from one truck to another about twice a year; he also had a permanent seat in our minivan- during hay season, he was with us daily, and moving the seats around just got to be too much work, compared to the relatively small outlay for a new seat.

#265 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:32 PM:

My parents were early seat-belt adopters; when my Mom got a Corvair she ordered them as an optional accessory.

I suppose Ralph Nader would consider that (Alanis-esque) ironic, but it was always her favorite car.

My car doesn't move until everyone is buckled up.

#266 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:33 PM:

John @ #243,

Those figures are no news to me (my husband tends the server farm of a state DOT division and brings home a lot of professional hand-outs) and they are, indeed, one reason I've been carping for years about the necessity for highway design to be more mindful of the "monkey brain" factors which cause people to speed.

Especially matters pertaining to the psychological aspects of visual processing and the need to deal with signage and barriers according to the actual visual environment of specific locations. The interaction of human psychology and landscape at the I-5 US-101 junction in Olympia, from the Pacific exit to Trosper Road, for instance, would be a dandy PhD project for some enterprising young psychologist.

#267 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:35 PM:

A few questions:

1) Is there a way to test seatbelts in older cars to see if they need replaced?

(My son was in an accident a few years ago, driving a 60's-era VW Bug he'd bought a few months before. The lap belt held him in his seat, but the shoulder belt didn't tighten on impact, letting him eat the steering wheel, with a broken jaw and major dental damage resulting.)

(A few months after that accident, he had a second almost-identical accident -- both involved other drivers pulling out of a side street without checking for traffic -- while driving the Volvo sedan I'd loaned him. Not only did the seat belt work properly -- no damage AT ALL to Chris -- but while the front end of the Volvo was almost folded in half, there was NO damage to the passenger compartment where he was seated. Thanks, Volvo!)


2) I hope some of the pro highway safety guys who've commented here can answer this one: I've always heard that posted speed limits are set 10 mph lower than the the top safe speed highways are actually designed for. I.e., a road posted for 45mph was actually designed to be driven safely up to 55mph.

Is this real, or just an urban legend? Since most people seem to drive 5-10mph faster than posted speed limits, it seems to be a common perception.

(Though there seems to be a *blip* in that perception around the 75mph mark. On freeways posted for 75mph, I've noticed that most people seem to only drive 77-78mph, and very few exceed 80mph.)

#268 ::: India ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:36 PM:

Pixelfish @ 208: I can only imagine, with those hills! I'm in New York, and I've had some truly dangerous cab drivers, even with my limited experience in taxis. I dunno--maybe I was thinking, "Well, they drive all day long. They must know what they're doing." Pffft. Like I said, it was an absurd lapse in common sense, but apparently it's a common lapse, since my doctor feels she needs to ask about it specifically.

#269 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:42 PM:

It's scary how fast this Thread has grown, and how many of us have our own stories to tell. The current automotive Age: Unsafe at Any Speed (unless we wear our seatbelts).

#270 ::: mfree ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:45 PM:

Just ahd to chime in. I've been in one accident, that was seemingly "minor" but would have been much, much worse had I not been belted, and I'll explain.

I was driving to work one rainy morning, doing about 60mph down I-40 in Knoxville. At that time, there was construction, and there were concrete barriers along the outside lane, with no regard for drainage. Why I was in the outside lane I don't remember, but anyhow...

Suddenly the car rotated left. Best guess is that the passenger front tire popped; the car proceeded down the highway at speed (no braking, was trying to maintain control) when it snapped left and head-on directly into the concrete barriers.

Now; belted: car spins around 180 from the barrier, I floor it and take it directly off the highway into the construction area. My action end up totalling the car but I'm completely uninjured.

Scenario unbelted: I get flung away from the controls and creamed by a semi or two unable to haul down from 60mph on a rainy interstate.

That would have been unhappy. I'll gladly eat the $6,200 in damage I did to my poor car (2001 Daewoo Leganza) to avoid injury in an accident. That car was a picture of energy absorption; When it stopped off the highway it wasn't so much as leaking fluid and was still running... but the front end was completely mangled where the bumper shocks compressed, and all the "give joints" in the suspension collapsed. See, there was this three and a half foot drop off the highway, and I was probably still doing 40mph when I went over...

#271 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:46 PM:

Dr J 215: I've often thought Jim's safety posts should be printed up as pamphlets. Did you see his hypothermia post?

wowmir 217: I've learned a lot of stuff on this blog. Keep coming back and you will too.

Wim 219: I didn't know that about momentum. Where does the extra energy come from? It seems to build up momentum more energy would have to be added. I'm no physicist; could someone who is explain that?

DQ 221: I see your point about that. How about the Morgue Tour then?

abi 226: I have an even better traffic-safety tool than a seat belt: Lexapro™. No doubt the Nadrites will get it banned soon.

___ 228: I yell "hang up and drive!" at people I see holding cell phones to their heads while "driving." I do the same thing while walking, but walking is not a both-hands-required activity.

Marian 232: Or maybe rented it. Probably a tourist from New Jersey. And that picture...that's one of those things you probably couldn't do by trying.

Alex 238: too much straightaway led drivers to lose attention

A condition I believe is called "highway hypnosis" in the US. Lack of attention is one reason I never got a driver's license. Now that I'm on meds for my ADHD, I'm too old to learn a new trick—or at least one as dangerous as driving (I learned to spin fire poi just a couple of years ago, but some of that skill transferred from nunchaka).

Mary Aileen 253: "What, you don't trust my driving?" My standard reply is, "Sure, I do, I just don't trust all the other drivers."

My standard reply is "With my life? No."

Mary 256: They other kids are lucky she didn't bounce around the car and kill them.

Greg 259: More like "without seatbelts, you're the payload of of a trebuchet." Make a good seatbelt commercial actually (but they'd have to call it a catapult).

#272 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:46 PM:

I heard of a guy during WWII, stuck in a burning bomber over Norway with his parachute shot to shreds, decided it was better to fall than to burn. So he jumped, fell for while, hit snow-covered fir branches and rolled down a steep slope also shrouded in snow, and walked away with just cracked ribs. So, don't try to tell me that you always need a parachute when jumping from a burning plane at 20,000 ft.

But it is the way to bet.

#273 ::: mfree ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 12:47 PM:

I really should proofread. Car rotated *right*, countersteer, snap left to median.

#274 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:02 PM:

Xopher (271): Mary Aileen 253: "What, you don't trust my driving?" My standard reply is, "Sure, I do, I just don't trust all the other drivers."

My standard reply is "With my life? No."

Very true, but I try to avoid confrontation. My way, we usually end up bonding about all the idiots on the road.

#275 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:04 PM:

Xopher, #271: You're right, but Wim's really talking about the Aristotlean physics we've got hard-wired into our brains, where five seconds of pull gives you five seconds of distance and then whatever-it-is stops because of friction. At most, the load will roll on a few feet more after you've stopped pulling. In a dock, at low speeds, a barge is essentially in a frictionless environment, and it will carry on moving for quite a while. You can unconsciously give a boat a longer pull than it needs, expecting it to lose momentum more rapidly than it does. Our land-dwelling brain tells us that you don't need as much shove to slow something down as you gave in the pull; in the water, this isn't true.

#276 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:21 PM:

#242 ::: Nuala wondered:
Anyway, I don't mean to spawn a whole subthread about trying to navigate through a car dominated world without a car, I was just wondering if anyone had any tips about how to balance the wish to protect one's baby when they occasionally do have to get into a car with the impracticality of carrying modern infant car seats around without a car.

They've taken to making seats that have a carrier that can be snapped in and out of a stroller or a car seat base - perhaps that might be a reasonable option, if they'll sell the bases separately, since it's less paraphanalia to carry, and the stroller's likely useful wherever you're going.

#277 ::: Nuala ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:27 PM:

JESR @264, fair point. I suspect I wouldn't be so resistant to the multiple seats if the grandparents lived closer. But each one is only likely to be used 3 or 4 times a year. And therefore they would be fitted for each visit anyway, introducing risk each time.

The more I think about it the more resistant I am to putting her in a car ever. The risks are just so difficult for me as a non-driver to quantify, especially given the cost if I get it wrong. I guess this is the other possible expression of the maternal instinct that usually gets expressed in the purchasing of a Volvo or other tank like vehicle.

Mary Aileen @255, good idea!

#278 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:28 PM:

Hey Jim,

What's your feeling about the relative safety of cars vs. trucks vs. SUVs? Any particular make/model combinations where you were like 'wow, that is really safe?'

#279 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:50 PM:

Wendy #210: "My question is about the fit of seatbelts and those of us who are, ahem, large. I know there are ways to adjust the seatbelt for safety/comfort/fit for those who are petite, but what about the obese? I sometimes have problems getting an inertia reel seatbelt to unreel enough for me to fasten it, and then the shoulder strap is usually up under my neck instead of across my chest. Is there anything I can do/should be doing (apart from losing the weight, d'uh)"

If you're large enough (extremely tall *and* very heavy), you can find belts that simply don't have sufficient length to fasten, especially in back seats. And, in smaller cars with consoles, there's often not enough space to shift right far enough to physically reach down to where the buckle receiver is, especially if you have very long arms that don't bend in the right places. For me, I find that it's physically impossible to fasten a seatbelt in about ten percent of the "guest" cars I get into.

Buckle extenders, it turns out, are not much of a solution, even if you were organized enough to always carry your own. (A woman with a purse could manage that, I think; it's a bit much for a pocket.) Trouble is, there's less standardization in seat belt buckles than you might think; the width of the tongue varies between manufacturers, making your extender often incompatible with the car you just got into.

All of which makes me rather uncomfortable with the pious "No car I'm driving ever moves until everyone is strapped in" statements in this thread. I wear a seatbelt when I can, but I'm also conscious that part of the risk function for driving is correlated to time on the road -- if you're unbelted for half of one percent of your total driving time, that's worse than 100%, but it's not *appreciably* worse in a way that matters a lot to a rational person. Smart people minimize their risk, but they don't disrupt their lives to eliminate the last tiny quantum of difficult-to-eliminate risks.

If a driver refused to transport me because my size made it impossible for me to wear a seatbelt in his or her vehicle, I'd consider it rude and a bit foolish. Similarly, I'd consider it rude and a bit foolish if I refused to *ride* under those circumstances, assuming we had any better reason for the trip than "just cruisin' around".

Minimizing risk is smart, and wearing seatbelts whenever you can is a smart and nearly costless way to do that. Accepting significant costs (the loss of utility of any specific short car trip worth making) to avoid an objectively minor risk (of an unsecured accident on that specific trip) is not so obviously smart and costless. It may be a defensible risk management decision, but it's not the no-brainer that "always wear your seatbelt when you have the option" is.

#280 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:52 PM:

Michael @ 254 - Truth is, I never thought that SUVs were any safer, just that I was less likely to get pushed under one and have my head crushed by its tow hitch - my previous car was pretty low to the ground.

Right now, my SUV has about 120k (miles) on the clock, and I expect it to live for another 60k. By then, I'm hoping for more fuel-efficient trucks. And decent mass transit in the Puget Sound region. And a pony.

(BTW - decent transit = at least as fast as driving during rush hour)

#281 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 01:53 PM:

The psychology of drivers and how the road design influences them is a new but fascinating field.

In the past highway engineering focused on making the road as safe as possible; eliminating roadside hazards, flattening slopes, building wide medians and shoulders, providing plenty of superelevation on curves, stopping sight distance, etc. The factors of safety for roads often are grossly excessive for whatever speed the engineer chose for his project.

IOW, a road that was designed (and signed) for a 70mph speed limit, for example, appeared to the motorist that it was safe to drive at 80mph, 90mph or even higher. This has led to many motorists claiming that roads are "underposted" for the design, and since they can drive faster on them it should be legal to allow them to do so.

It also, however, means that many motorists used to safely driving on an interstate well above the speed limit also act and drive the same way on congested urban roads, and two lane rural roads. It becomes habit to exceed the speed limit, and since they get away with it (no fines, no crashes) they feel justified in claiming it is a safe practice to continue doing it.

RE: SUV's. I've heard that the #1 purchaser of SUV's are women with children. They appear to buy into the "bigger is safer" line, and feel that if they are above the other traffic that too makes them feel safe. It doesn't matter that SUV's often have terrible stability problems in crashes or just avoiding an obstacle; to them their perception is what's important.

#282 ::: Jon R ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:05 PM:

If I'd had any doubts to begin with, this would've swayed me.

#283 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:08 PM:

Lydia, #205: I don't think the scare films persuade people who can't be persuaded by explanations. There is a response similar to that involved with horror movies: "What's on the screen is awful, but I'm sitting here and I'm fine." Maybe we can tell the young men that their hormones make them stupid. :-)

#284 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:10 PM:

John, the thing is, the study of the interaction of transportation systems and human behavior is established science in fields other than traffic engineering ( psychology, anthropology, archaeology, human geography, hell, even landscape design), and the NHTSA and other oversight groups, as well as schools of engineering, have flatly refused to take those bodies of knowledge into account. I've heard state traffic engineers say flatly that considering the effects of highway design on subsequent land use, for instance, is "none of our business," even though the interaction of highway design and commercial development, for instance, quickly feeds back to traffic and accident patterns (see, I-5 junction with the north end of 205, Vancouver, WA; Washington I-5 exit 111, Sunnyside Rd interchange, Clackamas, OR and pretty much the entire length of OR 217). All too often, I've heard the same engineers describe their "business" as "getting cars and trucks from point a to point b with out running into each other" and then being confused when I mention that those vehicles are not self-guided.

#285 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:24 PM:

Xopher#202: for what it's worth, the day I got into the car and thought, Aw hell, I won't buckle my seatbelt today, was the day I called and got an appointment to assess for depression. Lexapro is our friend (and I wear my seatbelts every day).

#286 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:31 PM:

Opting to not wear a seat belt, driving fast, and dying in the eventual car wreck is what I consider a Darwinistic weeding out of morons.

#287 ::: Joshua Keroes ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 02:55 PM:

I drive a 2005/6 Mazda Tribute [pic] (a rebadged Ford Escape). About 90 seconds after turning the key, if either of the two in front are unbelted, a loud beeping alert repeats over and over. I like this feature very much.

Question: per the aforementioned Seat Belt Injuries link, at what velocity do internal organ lacerations and related damage occur?

Thanks for the informative post. I'll be driving a bit better from now on, I think.

#288 ::: barb ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 03:05 PM:

I'm a believer. I used to get California Highway Patrol magazine. The number of "would have survived wearing a seatbelt" far outnumbered the people who would have survived by not wearing one!

Just for the record, I ride a motorcycle. I carry gloves and a sharp knife in my jacket, just in case I encounter an accident involving someone who cannot get out of their car because their seatbelt is jammed. The latex gloves are in case you need first aid attention after I cut you free and extricate you from your flaming vehicle.

Chances are, if you weren't wearing a belt, the only thing that can be done for you is to cover you with something so as not to upset passing drivers who slow down to gawk.

#289 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 03:06 PM:

Nuala, the WisCon web site has a discussion board. I would encourage you to ask if someone local with a baby seat could give you a ride from the airport. Also, the Concourse Hotel has a complimentary shuttle from the airport. It wouldn't hurt to ask if they could have a baby seat on the shuttle. I would help you myself but I'm coming from out of town and won't have a car.

#290 ::: chuckR ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 03:19 PM:

Scott H #278

Here's a link to relative safety of vehicles.

http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/teepa/pdf/LA-Times.pdf

Note that this study rates cars/trucks/SUVs AS THEY ARE ACTUALLY DRIVEN. Sorry to shout, but that is important. If you want your personal SUV to be safer than the numbers show for all the categories of cars that on average beat them in actual driving, here's how to do it. Step one, observe the travel speed of the nearby cars. Step two, go slower. You can make any vehicle in any classification safer by going slower, but I'd bet, based on engineering experience, it would pay larger dividends for SUVs. Same is true of light trucks - at speed, the height and extra mass are not your friends. That extra load carrying/towing capacity just compromises handling when, as is typical, you are neither carrying a load or towing one.

#291 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 03:27 PM:

"I hope some of the pro highway safety guys who've commented here can answer this one: I've always heard that posted speed limits are set 10 mph lower than the the top safe speed highways are actually designed for. I.e., a road posted for 45mph was actually designed to be driven safely up to 55mph.

Is this real, or just an urban legend?"

No, it's the truth. The 'design speed' of a highway is typically 5mph higher than the posted speed, yet another case of engineers trying to build in even more safety factors in the geometrics of the road. Most rural interstates, for example, had design speeds ranging from 65-75mph, with posted speeds from 60-75mph. There were few, if any rural interstates designed for 80mph, however.

However, this is not a hard and fast rule. In many cases the 'design speed' and the posted speed are one and the same, especially when there are serious design constraints that limit how the road can be laid out. When I designed I-26 in Western North Carolina, for example, I used a 60mph design speed and that is what it is currently posted at.

As for engineers not factoring in the human and societal environment during highway design, I suspect it's because my fellow highway engineers aren't real comfortable with anything that can't be easily quantifiable. Humans were always in the equation, but only as definable values such as Perception/Reaction time, average height, etc. The decision making process hasn't really been considered until fairly recently, although it has been recognized as something "to take into account".

#292 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 03:47 PM:

John @#291: When I designed I-26 in Western North Carolina...

Yet another example of why Making Light is the coolest party on the internet.

#293 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 03:57 PM:

I used to think that a sure-fire nuclear weapon to drop at gross-out contests was a detailed description of uterine eversion; however, on further reflection, I think the sheer variety and volume of available material on traffic accidents effectively trumps that.

#294 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:09 PM:

John@291 - The old chunk or the new chunk? I've driven the old part, which I treat as pretty much any road in the mountains - with caution. I don't know how much of the new part is open yet.

FWIW, I hate the part of I-26 in South Carolina. The rolling hills are truly annoying. I'd rather go around them than over them.

#295 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:23 PM:

Angela @ 286: The problem is that such morons tend not to Darwinize only themselves; they often take other people with them, one way or another, and/or cause other lasting damage.

#296 ::: Paul Bowen ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:26 PM:

Smashing piece James, thank you. I've C&Ped to show to my daughter ten years or so from now. :-0

Carrie V - if they won't belt up in back, tell them to f***ing walk!


#297 ::: Dr. Phil ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:41 PM:

In my Physics classes, I point out that old-timers talk about the safety of "being thrown clear of the wreck" because cars from the 20s, 30s, 40s were total deathtraps, whose doors often wouldn't stay latched, but since there was too much glass, pointed objects and things like non-collapsing steering columns, you really DIDN'T want to remain inside in many accidents. Since the 1960s, cars have gained seatbelts, shoulder belts, airbags, steel beams in doors, interior padding, headrests, roll cages, crumple zones -- to say nothing of using all that safety glass, better tires and ABS anti-lock brakes. In other words, the car is designed to die to save your butt.

Getting thrown from the wreck was never a good plan, but it "saved" lives in the dark ages because car safety mostly didn't exist.

Dr. Phil

#298 ::: Don ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:48 PM:

I ride a motorcycle and I know that in an accident I will be "thrown clear" of my vehicle every time. I wear leathers and a helmet every time I ride and I know I might still be killed if I hit the pavement fast enough. Anyone who thinks being thrown from a car is a good idea, especially given they aren't wearing any protective gear, is an idiot.

#299 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 04:50 PM:

Richard@263: holy crap. there's no damage to the trees anywhere around that airplane. Did he drop straight down? you mention 5-point harness, and the plane looks like it could be acrobatic, so that might actually be a possibility.

When I flew helicopters, I always wore my seatbelt, especially if it was a hot summer day and I flew with the doors off to get some fresh air. Getting "thrown free" isn't an option.

xopher @271: Yeah, I was going for a short, bumper-sticker motto, geared especially towards those who don't wear a seatbelt because they'd rather be "thrown free".

No Seatbelt? Drive a trebuchet!

was as short as I could get. Apparently, it didn't translate as well as I'd hoped.

I think someone ought to have "Mythbusters" demonstrate, with verve and vigor, what being "thrown free" at 50 miles an hour looks like to Buster. And they could simulate it a bunch of different ways: drop Buster from a 5 story building. launch Buster in a good sized trebuchet, etc.

It would be a public safety announcement combined with good entertainment, all in one.

#300 ::: RichM ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:12 PM:

For some time now I've wondered whatever happened to seat belt technology between now and the 23rd century. I mean, they have neither seat belts nor air bags on the Enterprise, do they?

#301 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:22 PM:

John @291: IIRC, pre-1974 British motorways had no upper speed limit (like the autobahns) and were designed with a maximum safe speed of 100mph in mind. (This is vague memory.) With 1974, a 70mph blanket national speed limit was brought in, and I suspect the 100mph design speed may have been reduced for newer motorways ... and as most of the network has been built since 1974, there'd be a slight obstacle to going back to unlimited. (Not to mention that your average car today has the performance of a pretty hot sports car in 1974, and better road-holding and handling all round, so assuming a blanket unrestricted limit would mean a de-facto 100mph traffic speed is a bit of a dodgy assumption.)

I have, in my youth, been a passenger (with seat belt!) in a car that drove the entire length of the M1 from London to Leeds -- 204 miles -- in one hour and fifty eight minutes. The road didn't frighten me half as much as the other drivers.

#302 ::: Wim L ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:36 PM:

Xopher @271: Momentum is force times time (or mass times speed). Energy is force times distance (which works out to be proportional to mass times the square of speed). They're *both* conserved; it takes more work to apply a given force to a moving object than to a stationary/slow-moving object.

If you're pushing a big slow object around with muscle power, the immediate limiting factor is probably "how hard can I push this?", that is, how strong you are, how much force you can apply. I'm guessing that energy corresponds more to endurance than strength. But if you've only got two seconds before the cargo crate crushes you against the bulkhead, that's a test of strength, not endurance.

Joshua Keroes, @287: The number I've heard is 30 MPH, for a sudden body-into-a-wall stop (no crumple zones, etc.). Perhaps the professionals can supply the real number.

#303 ::: Igs ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:47 PM:

Great article! I loved the style and the wit. Thanks.

#304 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:51 PM:

Larry @ 280 - Truth is, I never thought that SUVs were any safer, just that I was less likely to get pushed under one and have my head crushed by its tow hitch - my previous car was pretty low to the ground.

Your comment had reminded me of a study I'd seen, and gave me a chance to bring up the prisoner's dilemma. More of a "that reminds me of something!" than a specific comment on your choice.

However, (if you don't mind my asking), if you didn't think it was safer, why did you switch? It was just that you didn't like the kinds of fatal accident you thought you could get into? Different fatal accidents bothered you less? I'm trying to understand what the advantage was.

#305 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 06:03 PM:

Bicycle helmet laws aren't really comparable to seat belt laws. There's evidence seat belt laws haven't done much good overall (other people have already mentioned John Adam's work (another link), but while it's not clear that bicycle helmets do any overall good, it is fairly clear that making them compulsary is a bad thing. http://www.cyclehelmets.org.
(And yes, some of the idiocy posted in favour of them is depressing, but I expect most posters here have more sense, so I'm not too worried about helmet wars coming here.)

#306 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 06:04 PM:

I've been away for a while, so it's time for a grand multi-post reply.

==========

#156 ::: Randolph Fritz:

Charlie, #28. "Is it legal in your country to sell vehicles that don't have collapsible steering columns?"


It is not. Well, not passenger cars; I'm not sure about all motor vehicles.

While the first automobile-related traffic fatality in the US (1899) was a pedestrian v. automobile collision, I seem to recall that the first fatality in the US by a person in an automobile was an impalement on a steering column. In those days the steering column was a single steel rod starting low down in the front of the car and angling back and up to a point just in front of the driver's chest. That piece of barstock was topped with a large acorn nut that held the steering wheel in place.

#158 ::: adamsj

Was Elizabeth Moon in Dayton, Ohio when that happened?

I'd have to ask Elizabeth, but I believe she was an EMT in Texas.

#162 ::: Andy

Jim, do you see more accidents on Deadman's Curve from people going southbound?

The typical accident at Dead Man's Curve involves a southbound vehicle that's going a little too fast (even if you're just coasting it's easy to get going too fast downhill there) coming around the corner, not being able to make the corner and veering into the northbound lane, where it hits head-on into a northbound vehicle. Then we get to go extract people. With nothing for shoulders to park in, no good places to turn the rigs around, and the road totally blocked by the wreckage.


#204 ::: Steve Taylor

What proportion of US states have compulsory seatbelt legislation?

20 states (out of fifty possible) and the District of Columbia have primary seatbelt laws. 29 have secondary seatbelt laws. One (New Hampshire, where I live) has no seatbelt law. All your questions are answered here .

#210 ::: Wendy Bradley

My question is about the fit of seatbelts and those of us who are, ahem, large.

Pick up a seatbelt extender. They're a length of nylon webbing with a male fitting at one end and a female fitting at the other.

#212 ::: William Stead

The seat belt lesson has not as yet been effectivley inculcated among all drivers, despite massive education programs among governmental agencies, insurance companies, and the private sector.

"I'm rich and powerful. Therefore I can ignore the laws."

"Would that include the laws of physics, governor?"

#215 ::: Dr. J

Which brings me to my request: Can I use your post as a patient handout? Or, maybe to hand out at our local high schools?

Certainly! Please put the following notice on the handout: Copyright 2007 by James D. Macdonald, NREMT-I. Used by permission. http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/008845.html

#217 ::: wowmir

I did not wear seat belt but now I am going to everyday.

Thank you. You made my day.

#229 ::: anonymoustroll

Just out of curiosity, have you ever seen a belted passenger who's seat has been dislodged from its rails?

Yeah. The energy involved in doing that much structural damage was energy that didn't go into squishing the patient, so it all worked out.

#238 ::: Alex

Speaking of pickups, then there was the whole riding-in-the-back thing.

It isn't just in the Outback. Did I ever tell you about the roll-over I went to with six teenagers, two in the cab and four in the bed? More through good luck than good judgment they managed to land in a swamp and there were no serious injuries. (As I've seen more than once, they were speeding to get one of the young ladies home before her curfew. Curfews Kill Teens....) That was one of my first Multiple Casualty Events. (See Triage For Fun and Profit for more on those things.)

#257 ::: Dan Pursel

Except for how it affected the medical examiner.

The EMTs, cops, and firefighters aren't terribly happy either. All things being equal I'd rather not go to a fatal.

It'd be true, but misleading, for me to say that I've never unbuckled a corpse. I've seen dead folks with their seatbelts still properly buckled. For example, a human body is approximately eight inches thick, front to back. I recall one scene where the dashboard was approximately one inch from the front seat's back, leaving minus-seven inches for the person who was still sitting there. (Sedan vs. 18-wheeler, head-on.) I didn't unbuckle that person. The firefighters did after the Medical Examiner had been by.

We know that 60% of fatals involve unbelted individuals. That implies that around 40% are belted.

Still, belts are the way to go.

It's as if I were teaching someone to play Blackjack, and I were to say, "Always split aces, always split eights, never split tens." Now it happens that even if you split a pair of eights, you may not win. And it's possible that any number of folks who didn't split a pair of aces (or did split tens) did win that bet. But still, the advice is good, and you should follow it. I follow it. That's the way the odds run.

(When people ask me "Am I going to die?" I tend to reply, "No one's ever died in the back of my ambulance." That too is true, but misleading. I can't pronounce anyone dead. The doctor in the ER has to do it. The patient may not be breathing, and his heart may not be beating, but he isn't "dead" until a licensed physician says he is.)

#272 ::: NelC

I heard of a guy during WWII, stuck in a burning bomber over Norway with his parachute shot to shreds, decided it was better to fall than to burn.

I heard the same. This sort of thing has happened more than once: See the Free Fall Research Page. (I still split aces and never split tens, and I don't recommend skydiving without a parachute.)

#278 ::: Scott H

What's your feeling about the relative safety of cars vs. trucks vs. SUVs? Any particular make/model combinations where you were like 'wow, that is really safe?'

No opinion. I've seen people survive/uninjured and not-survive/be injured in many different kinds of vehicles.

There's a real correlation between serious injury/non-survival and non-use of seatbelts. I've already noted that this state doesn't mandate seatbelts for adults. It's my impression that around 70% of drivers do anyway, which is right around the compliance level in states that do mandate seatbelts (like in Vermont, just across the river, where I also run).

One thing that hasn't been listed, in addition to roll cages, crumple zones, airbags, and all the rest, for improving survival rates in serious accidents: an innovation (since 1972 and always improving) has been fast and efficient EMS. EMS was first designed to deal with road traffic accidents -- that's why we're part of the Department of Transportation.

#291 ::: John

As for engineers not factoring in the human and societal environment during highway design, I suspect it's because my fellow highway engineers aren't real comfortable with anything that can't be easily quantifiable.

May I suggest y'all get in touch with the folks at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie-Mellon? Those are the folks who study how to make videogame players do exactly what the game designers want them to do, while giving the illusion of total freedom of action. (Also: crowds at amusement parks -- get them in, get them to move where you want them to move in a predictable and designed way, all without letting them suspect that they're being manipulated.)

#307 ::: Amanda ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 06:13 PM:

2003 I graduated from highschool, and so did my long time friend Laura. A few months later, it was the middle of the afternoon, about 4 or 5, Laura's brother was driving her around so she could make Avon deliveries. Crossing an intersection, they were hit by a drunk driver who failed to notice a stop sign, on a road that he traveled along daily to get home. Both Laura and her brother were seatbelted before the accident, but Laura's seatbelt failed during the accident, she was thrown from the truck and died instantly from the impact alone, just the overall shock to her internal organs, not a broken skull or spine, not from bleeding. her family had been told that even had the seatbelt not failed, because of how small a person she was, the impact from the accident would have killed her anyway. Her brother survived with some minor injuries, so did the drunk driver, who was pulled over less then a year later for driving under the influence....
Every accident happens with its own different Circumstances, you can die with or without a seatbelt, of course it doesnt take a genious to want to better there chance of survival and wrap one on. I wear one everyday, no matter the length of the drive, even if im just moving my car about in the driveway, I feel uncomfortable without one. I try to make habit out of telling anyone that rides with me to put one on and when I notice that they havent I make a huge fuss and refuse to move.

#308 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 06:40 PM:

If I hadn't already had the seatbelt habit well-ingrained, I would have after what happened when my brother drove us to school on Halloween of what I believe was his senior year of highschool. He being at that time a relatively new driver, a teenage male and therefore just a bit of an idiot, he drove into the back of a stationary car at about forty miles per hour (which mysteriously became five miles per hour by the time our father asked for the details, except not for long as our father isn't stupid). Worst injuries? A small scratch on my hand and, if I remember correctly, a small bump on his forehead (I also had the breath literally knocked out of me; couldn't get air into my lungs for what was undoubtedly a much shorter time than it seemed). We'd pretty certainly have been dead without the belts, though I must give credit to Peugeot for making a car that didn't allow us to be squashed.
I can't drive any distance, not even a foot, in a car without the belt on. It feels like leaning over a cliff to be in a car at all without a belt on.

#309 ::: Martinelli ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 06:52 PM:

Dealt with an accident once. Driver ran a red light at 30MPH. Got T-Boned and submarined into the passenger foot well, over the top of a gearshift lever with interesting results. Funny how the seatbelt would have prevented that.

#310 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 06:58 PM:

I mean, they have neither seat belts nor air bags on the Enterprise, do they?

The set designer for the original show was once asked, at a Trek convention Q&A, why none of the seats on the Enterprise had belts. Without missing a beat, he responded "If they did, then people couldn't get thrown out of them."

It's the same reason that every bridge computer station (in all SF movies and TVs, seemingly) comes with a half-pound of C4 wired on a hair trigger, and all ceilings are rigged to drop rocks and jagged metal debris when the ship is jostled. Otherwise they would have had to find a more expensive way to show that something was happening, or else be stuck with a much less visually interesting show.

#311 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:07 PM:

Charlie Stross #301: Pre-1967.

#312 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:19 PM:

mk (153), unless you're working with those long-shanked narrow-gauge steel needles, circular needles with hard plastic tips can't be worse than pens or pencils. If you're worried about crochet hooks, get some that are made of plastic or wood. But socks or gloves on dpns? Much as I hate to admit it, those are not safe in moving vehicles.

Kathryn (159), Xopher (206), I've been thinking some more (see #122) about the erroneous perception that being thrown from a car is safer than being belted in. Lots of commenters have cited friends or relatives who were "thrown clear" of accidents; and yet we have Mistercalm's word (#251) that you're five times likelier to die in an accident if you're thrown from a car.

Xopher's right. How many people, when told about a friend or relative who's been maimed or killed in an auto accident, ask about the mechanism of injury?

In my experience, when everyone's in the painful early stages of bereavement, they don't want to talk about how Uncle Ethan exited his car through the windshield and hit a concrete piling head-first, or how Janey Palmer was gruesomely dismembered when she got stuck halfway out the door of a car that then rolled down an embankment.

Nobody asks for details at a closed-coffin funeral.

"You die, and it isn't just the first responders and the few hundred drivers who drove by before the road was closed who have to see your brains on the windshield. ... It's also the investigators and expert witnesses and 12 jurors for the civil case (even if there isn't a criminal case). You don't want to wear a seatbelt, so some poor guy has to be on jury duty for a few weeks. Nice of you, that."
Or the person with the not immediately fatal cardiopulmonary problems spends four hours completely unattended in an examining bay, because it's a small ER and an AFU + spinal injury unsecured MVA has come in, and in the excitement the staff has lost track of the other patients. Been there.

Julia Jones (160):

"I've been on a plane on a night when a passenger on another plane in the area died from not being buckled in, and several people on different planes were injured badly enough to be hospitalised. There's a reason why the cabin crew do regular seatbelt patrols nowadays. Wear your seatbelt on the plane."
It doesn't appear to have been uploaded to YouTube, but there was a brief newsclip some years back, amateur footage, that was taken when a trans-Pacific commercial flight hit some weird turbulence and dropped so fast that all the unsecured passengers fell up, then fell down again. There was a lot of screaming.

PixelFish (161):

"My special form of shock seems to be that I go all girl-scout and regurgitate everything I can remember about broken bones. Which is not a bad thing, I guess, since you wouldn't believe the number of people who wanted to help me get up and move around."
I do the same thing. I've got way too much practice dealing with impaired neurological states. I've suggested to Patrick that in future, even if I seem calm and coherent, if I don't know the answers to basic questions like "are you all right," "do you need to go to the hospital," and "can you drive," I am not all right, I should not drive, and a hospital is a good idea. Also, bleeping well don't move me until I've figured out what's going on.

Anent the discussion of waterfalls on the Bay Bridge: another temporary zero-visibility situation I've seen is when there's been a recent snowfall, and there's a hardened crust of snow on top of cars and trucks. When the owner then drives the car or truck onto a highway, the roof of the vehicle starts to warm up, and the high-speed airflow can get under the ice crust and lift it off in a single layer. It goes flying up in the air, then comes down and frags on the windshield of the car behind them.

The last time I was approaching Boston on the Mass Turnpike, I swear I saw one of those every ten or fifteen minutes. SUVs were major offenders, since they have flat tops that are hard to reach.

Trucks are worse. A few years back, a semi on the New Jersey Turnpike sloughed off a layer of hardened ice so massive that it smashed the windshield of the following car and injured the front-seat passengers. As far as anyone could tell, the semi didn't even notice what happened. I suspect a lot of those drivers on the MassPike also failed to notice that they'd just blinded the following cars.

File that one under "varieties of negligence I'm surprised aren't illegal."

Remus Shepherd (169), this one's for you.

Mad (177), talk about inappropriately projecting one's issues onto one's children ...

Alan (120), how do Teva sandals hold up?

Tye (182), Lydy (205), count me among those on whom safety films made a deep impression. I didn't get a license until I absolutely had to. The reason Jim warns me not to watch certain public service ads is that I've always had a good imagination for what would happen in a serious auto accident. My mother wasn't the world's most reassuring driver. (Sorry, Mom.) I remember one day when I was a kid, and we were sitting stopped in traffic, when I looked around and realized that all those other cars were big powerful motorized hunks of metal whose drivers were, for all I knew, no safer or more reliable than my mother. In fact, they might be considerably less safe. I was a nervous passenger for years after that.

High School Driver's Ed. films were designed to punch through unmindful seventeen-year-olds' assumptions of immortality. I was already inclined to err in the opposite direction. For me, it wasn't a helpful experience.

The ones I really liked explained how and why good driving habits work. There was a pretty good one about how highway engineers make their design decisions, but I think the best one was about a study of a 50- or 100-mile car trip made by two cars under middling-congested conditions. One car observed the standard rules of the road, and moved with the rest of the traffic. The other wove in and out, speeding up and slowing down, trying to get ahead of the other cars. IIRC, the difference in their travel times was all of ten or twenty minutes. In the meantime, the more aggressive driver had constantly ignored the driving laws, and created numerous unsafe situations that could have turned into accidents. As the film observed, even a minor accident will eat up a lot more than ten or twenty minutes of your travel time.

Jenny Islander (184):

"Speaking of American things that go vroom vroom beep beep, O non-US readers, wanna hear something really scary? I mean, really scary?

There are no seat belts on school buses."

I mentioned that earlier, but lord knows it's worth mentioning again.

Does anyone here know why buses don't have seatbelts?

Debra Doyle (189):

"can I take a moment to cast some opprobium in the general direction of drivers of silver-grey late-model Lexuses or Infinitis? It's not just their "I've got more money and better lawyers than God" style of moving through traffic, it's the way their vehicles are just the right color to blend into falling rain, or a fog bank, or the landscape at twilight (and they don't turn their lights on in daytime any more than they signal when they change lanes.)"
Um, they look really good in magazine ads? It is a nifty optical effect; they pick up the coloration of whatever light is around them. I guess it just hasn't occurred to them that that's not a desirable characteristic.

I once saw a motorcyclist's bumpersticker that said "LOUD MUFFLERS SAVE LIVES." It instantly turned my thinking around. Motorcyclists suffer from natural invisibility.

(You know that giddy first day of spring when everyone's a little exuberant? Near the Hell's Angels' territory on the Lower East Side I saw a Harley rider with an extremely loud bike cruise slowly down a narrow street, creating enough vibration to set off the car alarms in every vehicle parked on that block. He was grinning like a little kid.)

JanetM (191), thanks for the details, such as they are. I have to assume the semi was misbehaving somehow.

DON3k (203), I'm glad you survived that, and boo hiss on your insurance company for not paying up, the welshers. My only quibble is that there are non-American cars out there that would have taken the hit too. For instance, ome of our newer auto-safety design features came from Scandinavia.

Can I ask who insured you? I want to make sure I never buy a policy from them.

Larry Brennan (211), my sense as a driver was that the first wave of SUVs were bought by aggressive drivers, but a good many later ones were bought by drivers who were tired of being bullied by other SUVs.

William Stead (212): Thanks for the comments. Must be interesting teaching Traffic Survival School in Tucson. New Yorkers may cherish the belief that seatbelts aren't required in taxicabs, but Pima County is where I first ran into the theory that you don't have to wear seatbelts if you aren't doing any in-city driving.

If you don't mind my asking, is it still the rule that in heavy duststorms you pull over and turn off your lights, or has thinking changed on that one? Naturally, I haven't been in a duststorm since I moved out here, but if it's raining hard enough to warrant pulling over, I still turn off my lights.

Wim (219), I understand the discomfort of being up in the air in a wobbly vehicle, but my own monkey brain thinks that if I can see trouble coming, I have a better chance of dodging it.

(*snif'*) I miss my '88 Honda DX Hatchback, which maneuvered like an inline skater. Its ability to dodge, swerve, corner, and stop on a dime (if the tires weren't bald) got me out of any number of tight spots.

Abi (228): I don't have a handle on trends in driving because I've moved around too much. What I know is that when I was a teenager in Arizona, I was taught to maintain an appropriate stopping distance. I didn't drive regularly when I lived in the Bay Area, Seattle, and Toronto, but when I did, the theory held.

Driving in the Northeast was something else again. If I left what I thought was an appropriate stopping distance, some other car would speed up and pull into that space. If I was doing ten miles over the speed limit in the passing lane, guys who wanted to do twenty-five miles over the speed limit would flash their headlights at me. If I slowed down for adverse conditions like heavy rain at night, the other cars would honk at me. And no matter what else was going on, idiots would sit so close on my tail that I could see the individual bugs on their bumpers.

It was nerve-wracking.

Now, when I drive, my following distance is calculated in terms of how much space I can leave without having another car pull in ahead of me. I know it sounds weird, but the strategy yields more following distance than I'd get by leaving the canonical amount and having other drivers pull into it.

I still signal lane changes, because it helps the people behind me avoid mishaps I might get caught up in. The only exception is when I can tell that the people in that lane will speed up to block me if they know I'm going to move over. If I really need to change lanes, I signal even if it means they'll move to block me, because I'm good at forcibly elbowing my way into a lane, and signaling first establishes more of a right to do so.

I used to sit half-in and half-out of the breakdown lane during the long waits for traffic lights on the Holland Tunnel approaches, because there'd always be jerks trying to jump the line by driving in the breakdown lane. Sitting between two lanes demonstrated that I wasn't trying to jump the line, and preserved my spot in my proper lane, but let me get out of the breakdown lane if an emergency vehicle was approaching. In the meantime, it kept the jerks from using that lane to jump the line. They were furious about being balked. They'd honk and wave their fists as though I were the one violating the law.

I used to also play chicken with cars (usually SUVs) that were trying to cut in at the head of the line to get onto the Brooklyn Bridge from the FDR. I kept a flat triangular piece of rough granite on my dashboard. When these guys were trying to force their way into the (very long) exit line, I'd roll down my window and casually stick my fist out with the piece of granite sticking out between my fingers where my third finger would be if I were flipping them the bird. The intended message was "How much is that paint job worth to you?" They pretty much got it.

Cellphones have been less of an issue since NY State passed a law saying you couldn't use a handset while driving. You still get idiots, of course. I've told the story elsewhere of the time I did significant damage to the side panel of a woman who was blocking a major intersection in both directions because she was yakking on her phone and couldn't be bothered to pull forward.

I know one person who got ticketed for failing to signal a lane change. Her relatives were astonished. They'd been unaware that you could get ticketed for that. And as I mentioned up the thread, jackrabbit left turns in advance of oncoming traffic when a light changes have become commonplace. I get honked at for not doing them, and the oncoming traffic visibly flinches as they try to figure out whether I'm going to dash out in front of them.

Here's the one that really bothers me: the police not observing the traffic laws. NYC's no right on red unless otherwise posted. When we were living on Staten Island, I started to see the police briefly stopping at red lights, then turning if there was no oncoming traffic. After a little while, civilians started doing it too.

My sense is that most drivers pay far more attention to what other drivers are doing and getting away with than they do to the traffic code, and that the only traffic laws that are being observed are the ones that are enforced. If the patrol cars ticket for traveling in the breakdown lane or trying to jump the line at slow-moving exit lanes, the incidence of that particular misbehavior drops. If they don't, it creeps up again. It feels like the whole region could use a refresher course in the rules of the road.

Gdr (230):

"Seatbelts undoubtedly save the lives of people wearing them in crashes. But it's not clear whether they save lives overall."
True. Seatbelts do nothing to combat cancer or heart disease. They don't do a thing for diabetes. But when it comes to saving lives in auto accidents, they're very effective indeed.

I'm not sure I give a damn about "the John Adams paper," whatever that is. In fact, I'm pretty sure I don't. We've got every EMT, ER doctor and nurse, highway engineer, highway safety specialist, and driving instructor in this discussion stating emphatically that wearing seat belts saves lives.

The evidence you cite -- and I don't know its source, but I'll let that go for the moment -- dovetails with the observations elsewhere in this thread that law enforcement has been less effective than public information and changes in social attitudes in persuading people to wear their seatbelts. Even if I were to take your evidence at face value (which I'm not inclined to do), it wouldn't add up to the conclusion that seatbelts don't save lives. There's way too much evidence, over too much time, from too many diverse sources, that says they do.

Xopher (271):

"I've often thought Jim's safety posts should be printed up as pamphlets."
If he keeps writing them, he'll eventually have a book.

#313 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:21 PM:

I drive a 2005/6 Mazda Tribute [pic] (a rebadged Ford Escape). About 90 seconds after turning the key, if either of the two in front are unbelted, a loud beeping alert repeats over and over. I like this feature very much.

So do I. Our Escape has a lot of neat safety features and you can do most of the important stuff (like turning on the rear wipers or adjusting the lights) completely by touch.

I think the Escape is just big enough for its size to do some good. We have to have a heavy vehicle with 4WD and good clearance to get out of our driveway in the winter, but we don't want to pay for the gas to haul superfluous cubage. The Escape fits into most parking spaces and can also go off the pavement. As SUVs go, it's more U than S.

BTW, after reading this thread, I plan to stuff the car emergency kit and crowbar down beneath the kids' feet instead of leaving them in the back cargo area . . .

#314 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:28 PM:

I once saw a woman in near rush hour traffic (about 50mph but the traffic was getting near bumper/bumper density), holding a cellphone with her shoulder, a map folded over the steering wheel, writing notes on a pad fastened to the windshield, holding a coffee cup with the hand hanging onto the steering wheel, and smoking a cigarette.

I got as far away from her as I could, as fast as I could given the traffic. She was an accident waiting to happen.

#315 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:42 PM:

Teresa (312):
another temporary zero-visibility situation I've seen is when there's been a recent snowfall, and there's a hardened crust of snow on top of cars and trucks. When the owner then drives the car or truck onto a highway, the roof of the vehicle starts to warm up, and the high-speed airflow can get under the ice crust and lift it off in a single layer. It goes flying up in the air, then comes down and frags on the windshield of the car behind them....

File that one under "varieties of negligence I'm surprised aren't illegal."

There was a recent resolution introduced on Long Island (Suffolk County, iirc) to make it illegal there. I don't know if the law went anywhere, though.

Does anyone here know why buses don't have seatbelts?

No, but I do know that some now do. I don't know how strongly they enforce the kids wearing them, though.

#316 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:44 PM:

Wim 302: So if you shove something for a given amount of time at a given force level, it then travels at its new vector indefinitely (assuming zero g, zero friction), right? So if you shove on the opposite side of it at the same force level for the same amount of time, it should stop dead (that is, return to its old vector), because you've exactly canceled what you did before. Isn't that right?

Are you all just saying that if you got it moving with a 10-second shove (at your maximum strength), you can't stop it with a 2-second shove? That would make sense.

But if I use a little flick of my wrist (1 second) to start something moving, I can easily stop it with my whole body braced against the wall and using all my strength, no matter how big it is (after all, it took little strength to start it) and no matter how long it's been moving...it sounded like people were saying that the longer it's moving the more force it takes to stop it, and that doesn't sound right.

#317 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:47 PM:

TNH said, among many other things at #312, Uncle Ethan exited his car through the windshield and hit a concrete piling head-first...

To which all I gots to say is, thank goodness I don't have any nephews yet.

#318 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 07:58 PM:

Oh, and TNH also said, Here's the one that really bothers me: the police not observing the traffic laws.

I keep thinking about starting a blog that notes down times, locations, and plate numbers of police cars breaking traffic laws. I see it often enough (here in the rough-driving Northeast TNH mentioned) that I could probably have a new post for maybe every other time I leave my house.

#319 ::: Bex ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:02 PM:

File that one under "varieties of negligence I'm surprised aren't illegal."

Teresa: my last visit to the Boston Metro Area (tm) dovetailed very neatly with the storm that blew in March 16th; driving back down to Boston from Londonderry the next day (I got snowed in at my best friend's house -- no great hardship) the WBZ anchors were reminding drivers that they could be fined for not cleaning off the tops of their cars. I assumed that that meant that Massachusetts, at least, has made that particular variety illegal sometime in the last two years or so.

#320 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:05 PM:

Teresa 312: A few years back, a semi on the New Jersey Turnpike sloughed off a layer of hardened ice so massive that it smashed the windshield of the following car and injured the front-seat passengers. As far as anyone could tell, the semi didn't even notice what happened.

Happened to my friend the shlemazl this past winter. Ice slid off the roof of the SUV ahead of him and smashed through his windshield—fortunately on the passenger side, and fortunately there was no passenger. He got a few cuts, nothing more. The SUV never stopped or, apparently, noticed.

If he keeps writing them, he'll eventually have a book.

Yes, and that would be great, but the pamphlets would be something you can hand out to strangers without making them pay you. The hypothermia one at the skating pond, for example.

#321 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:20 PM:

John @ 291

Another example of a freeway with a top legal speed being at or near the design speed is the Pasadena Freeway. Legal speed is (and has never exceeded) 55 in most parts, with some of the curves posted as 40 or 45. My personal opinion is that the legal speed is about 10mph too high, given there's no center escape space, no right shoulder, and the onramps are 0-to-whatever in about 100 feet (most of the exits aren't much better, but you don't have to come to a dead stop at the end of the offramp). Drive in the middle of the three lanes, if you possibly can.

Driving it on a rainy night (or in either one of those conditions separately) should entitle you to a diploma from the Han Solo School of Asteroid Belt Navigation.

#322 ::: Elyse Grasso ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:38 PM:

Regarding seat-belts on school buses.

My Mom was a school bus driver and was horrified at the thought of installing seatbelts on her bus: there would be nothing she could do to prevent the small minority of vicious thugs from using the buckles as weapons.

I was bullied on school buses (and the drivers, who were my Mom's friends and co-workers, were able to do very little) so I tend to share her feelings, even though I always wear seatbelts in any vehicle that provides them.

Regarding laced shoes in airplanes: someone should tell that to the people who keep providing more and more incentives against wearing laced shoes through airports.

#323 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 08:43 PM:

Re: schoolbusses and seatbelts. Not only did the schoolbusses I remember riding in not have seatbelts, in most cases there were not even enough seats for the passengers; the aisles were filled with kids standing. That was years ago, but I imagine it is still common.

#324 ::: neotoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 09:09 PM:

In regards to school buses, I seem to recall watching a program on automotive safety (on the Discovery Channel) several years ago that explained as school buses are generally built like tanks, except with more padding and seats.

In fact, nosing around, it seems that school buses rely on compartmentalization for safety, and that adding seat belts does not improve things compared to other methods of improving bus safety.

Perhaps some of the more automative/crash experienced posters could sum things up better?

#325 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 09:12 PM:

The schoolbuses I rode in (early to mid-90s) had seatbelts but they were almost universally disregarded and ISTR that no one in authority made a big deal out of the matter.

#326 ::: michelel72 ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 09:19 PM:

There were articles a year or two ago about seat belts on school buses; if I remember correctly, the conclusion was that seat belts might actually introduce a new risk, while the high seats are meant to provide some of the protection as belts. There's one write-up here. Google provides other related results.

Clearing snow from vehicles is supposedly required in Massachusetts, I think as an "obvious" component of another regulation. Most people appear stunned at the suggestion if it is called to their attention. When I raised the topic, one coworker of mine snickered to another that I just didn't understand how hard it was to reach the top of vehicles like her ginormous pickup (which she drove because she might one day ever haul a horse trailer) or the other coworker's Subaru Outback w/ rack. My response is that if you can can't make your vehicle road-safe, you have no business operating it. Yes, that includes tractor-trailer rigs; I will always yield to a big truck, but I won't forgive one for shattering my windshield or blinding me with loose snow blown down from his roof.

I would love the ability to force a citation upon any driver who failed to clear all snow from his or her vehicle before starting to drive (as well as any vehicle with an obscured or otherwise difficult to discern license plate, for that matter).

#327 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 09:38 PM:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has this to say about seat belts on large school buses:

"...school buses are different by design and use a different kind of safety restraint system that works extremely well.

Large school buses are heavier and distribute crash forces differently than do passenger cars and light trucks. Because of these differences, the crash forces experienced by occupants of buses are much less than that experienced by occupants of passenger cars, light trucks or vans. NHTSA decided that the best way to provide crash protection to passengers of large school buses is through a concept called “compartmentalization.” This requires that the interior of large buses provide occupant protection such that children are protected without the need to buckle-up. Through compartmentalization, occupant crash protection is provided by a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs.

...

...States should take into consideration the increased capital costs, reduced seating capacities, and other unintended consequences associated with seat belts that could result in more children seeking alternative means of traveling to and from school or school-related events. These alternative modes of travel could put children at greater risk because they are not nearly as safe as school buses.

...

School buses are approximately seven times safer than passenger cars or light trucks. The school bus occupant fatality rate of 0.2 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is considerably lower than the fatality rates for passenger cars or light trucks (1.44 per 100 million VMT). The relative safety of school buses was addressed in 2002 by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in “The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment.”[5] It found that there are about 815 fatalities related to school transportation per year. Only 2 percent are associated with official school transportation, compared to 22 percent due to walking/bicycling to or from school, and 75 percent from passenger car transportation to or from school."

That's the government line, for what it's worth.

#328 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 09:57 PM:

SUVs vs pickups--

I'll take a pickup over an SUV any day, except for my Subaru Outback (which apparently is classified as a Compact SUV). Here's why:

SUVs have a narrower wheelbase than the comparable pickup model frame they're built on. I had this graphically illustrated for me one time when we rented a Ford Exploder and it was parked next to a Ford F-150 pickup. The F-150 was wider and had a lower roof.

Plain and simple.

We cuss and discuss the SUV vs Pickup discussion over in rec.equestrian quite frequently, when someone asks about hauling a horse trailer with a SUV. Bad idea. Wheelbase and height does not compare.

Additionally, if I wanna be tall and bad-looking, I'll take a pickup over the SUV. Must be the rural redneck girl in me. I grew up driving pickups and like the way they handle better. Even a Ford F-350 with a camper on the back is easier to handle than an SUV, in my opinion.

Plus, I've been t-boned in a pickup. My Mazda B2000 1989 crew cab. The at-the-time 8 year old son in the passenger seat. The car clobbering us must have been doing pretty dang fast, but it was a hit and run.

Son and I both were wearing seatbelts. We walked away with mild bruises and a little bit of shock. The frame on the Mazda was not bent at all--it was straight (as the body shop owner marveled at it).

We still own it.

#329 ::: The Engineer ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:02 PM:

Speed limits are perhaps are worse situation than many of you realize. There is very little engineering that goes into a regulatory (black on white) speed limit. While designers use a "design speed" that speed is only used to determine the minimum conditions for the worst situation. E.G. the tightest curve possible at the design speed. According the the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) the official way to set a speed limit is described as "When a speed limit is to be posted, it should be within 10 km/h or 5 mph of the 85th-percentile speed of free-flowing traffic."

A speed study determines the 85th-percentile speed. This is done by sitting on the side of the road and measuring how fast motorists are moving when no other motorist is limiting their speed (i.e. not held up by other traffic). The result is the highest speed at which 85 percent of the traffic is moving rounded to the nearest 5 mph increment. (Some agencies may also always round down or up). So in other words, you the driver set the speed limit. The only engineering reason the speed is set lower is to allow for road conditions (steep grade, deadman's curve), roadside development (shopping district, residential), or similar as listed in the MUTCD. There are also political reasons for setting speed limits. They vary as one might expect.

It is not all bad that speed limits are set this way. It is almost impossible to enforce a speed limit that is low, as drivers subconsciously feel comfortable at a higher speed. A straight road has a theoretical infinite speed limit since the geometry imposes no risks. Since the construction quality, ride, power, and handeling of vehicles has increased, all drivers feel more confident and comfortable at higher speeds. Unfortunately operator skills have likely not improved at the same pace.

As another post noted the black on yellow curve warning speed limits are set by Engineers as well. Those actually consider physics and the geometry of the road. However, they are the safe speed for ALL vehicles so a passenger car is usually able to "take" the curve much faster than a loaded semi truck would. All speed limits assume dry, clear conditions and a vehicle in good condition.

A few other quick thoughts. 1) I wouldn't recommend sewing or otherwise modifying a seat belt. You run the risk of compromising the belt. Use a "positioner" of some sort. The belts are designed for an "average" driver and therefore don't work by default for many of us. 2) The fact that roadside barriers are not "designed" for many vehicles on the road is not a conspiracy, it is just the result of setting a minimum standard and the ever changing nature of cars and trucks. 3) I don't doubt that congestion helps the fatal crash rate some but I doubt the total crash rate is affected. My agency (State DOT) sees the biggest number of fatal crashes in the single vehicle run off the road crash. Driver impairment typically plays a big role in these crashes. While alcohol is the impairment most people think off, drowsy driving is a huge issue. Being tired is as bad as being drunk.

Do please buckle up. You WILL stand a better change of surviving the unexpected.

#330 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:04 PM:

Teresa 312: And as I mentioned up the thread, jackrabbit left turns in advance of oncoming traffic when a light changes have become commonplace.

I'm sorry to hear that this practice has spread beyond Massachusetts, which was the only place in the US (as far as I know) it existed only a few decades ago.

I recall on my first business trip to California, I went to the rental car desk and the nice lady behind the counter asked for my driver's license. When she saw it was from MA, she said, very seriously and with a slight note of terror in her voice: "That thing you do there, you can't do that here! That left turn thing, you will get killed!"

Boston drivers are still, I think, the worst in the US, but now there is much more competition.

#331 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:04 PM:

Rob 323: If you're a boomer, maybe not.

#332 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:08 PM:

OK, I'm assuming being t-boned means the other car hits you center section, going directly from your right to your left (or left to right). I never heard it before this conversation, believe me or scoff, but I thought I'd just check.

#333 ::: Robin Z ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:13 PM:

Haven't read through all of the thread, but relating to the physics – far as I can tell (mechanical engineering, college senior), the place to look is the impulse equation:

F_avg = (m*v)/t

Energy is the same in all cases – you're going as fast as you're going, and E = (1/2)*m*v^2. Likewise mass. However, wearing the seat belt, you have (a) the inertia of the car (large m means larger t, thus smaller F_avg), (b) the crumple zones of the car (meaning larger distance, distance = v*t, v constant, therefore t larger, F_avg smaller), and (c) the elasticity of the belt (again, longer distance, but also puts a limit on F_max – there's a reason I had the "avg" in there) working in your favor.

Also, re. Laura at #225: that would be an excellent series of ads. Bruised but standing (or sitting) passenger/driver on one side of the frame, totaled car on the other. (Perhaps black-and-white for extra effect.) Maximum size font, two words above and below: "SEAT BELTS", "SAVE LIVES". Small block of text for anecdote. Vary layout for increased effect.

I wonder who we could call?

#334 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:21 PM:

Yeah, Xopher, that's what it means.

A t-bone is a nasty situation, and seatbelt or no seatbelt can result in your classic hangman's fracture (the body moves rapidly sideways, the head stays stationary due to inertia, and Bad Outcomes Ensue).

Next interesting trivia fact: in a collision, your body tends to move toward the point of maximum engagement between your vehicle and the other vehicle.

#335 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:26 PM:

Earl (293) eversion is a squicky word, but listening to Jim's EMT stories has given me a real respect for degloving, telescoping, and debris field.

Dr. Phil (297), on old cars being death traps: Amen to that. I can personally testify that if you put your knee through the dashboard of an old-fashioned Rambler Sedan, it's not the dashboard itself that gets you; it's the knobs. Quaint old features like woody wagons and rumble seats are best appreciated at car shows, not on the road.

Greg (299), I liked "No Seatbelt? Drive a Trebuchet!" as a bumpersticker slogan. I'd buy one.

Alan Braggins (305), I don't consider any of those assertions to have been substantiated yet

Martinelli (309), that's a small masterpiece of compressed exposition.

Ethan (317): Sorry about that. It started out as Great-Uncle Floyd, but then I remembered that we have a Floyd in that generation, so I switched it to a name I knew we haven't had in the family for a long time.

(318) I like the idea of a blog that collects reports of police breaking the driving laws. After a while, it would get hard to ignore.

Once, while driving in a snowstorm, I was rear-ended by an off-duty NYC police officer. He got out of his car and yelled at me -- deliberate intimidation. When he demanded to know why I'd stopped at the light, I said, "Because it turned red."

Bex (319), I am amazed. Given conditions on the Mass Pike that day, I would never have guessed it was illegal.

P J Evans (321), I think I've driven on that thing. It's an old freeway, right? From when they were still working out the design principles? If it's the one I remember, it's way too exciting.

Elyse (322), that's depressing: no seatbelts on school buses because bullies would use them as weapons. On the other hand, everyone seems to be agreeing that they aren't especially helpful, so I guess it's no loss.

Michelel72 (326), I'm in full sympathy. Americans take it for granted that we have a right to drive unless proven otherwise. People who can't clear the snow off the top of their cars either need to get smaller cars, or take mass transit.

Joyce (328), I love pickups, but in NYC you'd have to secure the cargo compartment to keep people from moving into it.

Engineer (329), interesting observations.

"I wouldn't recommend sewing or otherwise modifying a seat belt. You run the risk of compromising the belt."
Most of the seatbelts I've seen have had their fasteners attached by sewing the belting material.
"My agency (State DOT) sees the biggest number of fatal crashes in the single vehicle run off the road crash. Driver impairment typically plays a big role in these crashes. While alcohol is the impairment most people think off, drowsy driving is a huge issue. Being tired is as bad as being drunk."
I can surely speak to that one; I have narcolepsy. I figure I'm a safer driver than most because I know not to drive when I'm tired, and that force of will is not enough to bring you safely home.

DaveL (330), so the jackrabbit left turn is Boston's fault? It figures. People normally think drivers in their area are worse than average, but I'll freely admit that Boston is the hands-down winner of the bad drivers sweepstakes. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: NYC drivers will pull creative or aggressive moves if it'll get them something. Boston drivers are aggressive out of pure habit. They'll drive like jerks when it gets them nothing at all.

Jim (334):

"In a collision, your body tends to move toward the point of maximum engagement between your vehicle and the other vehicle."
Cool. It took me a minute to visualize that, but I see how it works.

#336 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:36 PM:

I have to say that the times I've been to Boston (for Boskone and Worldcon) at least once I left finger impressons in a part of the car that should not have them (I think the driver's seat top) because of his insistence that there was really a third lane in a street with two lanes enforced by buildings on either side.... I had braced myself for impact. I think it was the first Boskone I went to, the year of Snow-kone, I arrived by myself later than Jim and Margene because of work.

#337 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:38 PM:

I rolled a very lightweight car (a Ford Aspire hatchback) off a highway in Texas once. It skidded and the wind was high; the speed limit was higher than I should have been driving in that c ar, in that wind. The car somehow tumbled down a slope in such a manner as to come out right-side-up on the other (separated) side of the road, facing the opposite direction. A whole corner of the roof crumpled in. Thank all powers that be, no one plowed into me. My hat left the vehicle and was completely unfindable.

Injuries: some cuts on the back of my hand, which did not bleed very much. A light bonk on the head; I've had worse from falling down skating. A slight, short-duration backache which did not actually amount to anything.

Seatbelt? Why, yes.

#338 ::: Patrick Grote ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:46 PM:

I echo the person above who mentioned the driver's ed movie. When I saw the films I swore I'd always wear my safety belt, and I do. I figure it takes maybe 5 seconds to buckle up. No problem.

Now, if people don't want to wear safety belts, it's their right. What I would like to see is accountability for that. If you aren't wearing a safety belt and someone hits you, you're injuries aren't covered. Things like that.

#339 ::: chuckR ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:46 PM:

Joyce@328 "The frame on the Mazda was not bent at all..." The only frame I care about being unbent is my own (and those of the other vehicle occupants).

James@334 Any personal experience database with effectiveness of side air curtains in T-bones? It would be nice if the premium I paid for a car with them made sense.

#340 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:48 PM:

I completely agree with Teresa's thoughts on driving (#312). Driving and maneuvering is all about using space. In traffic, a lot of it is negotiating with other drivers for space that you or they want. Drivers' negotiating strategies seek a local maximum in the number of cars on the road and how fast they can go. Drivers who try to maintain extra clear space around their cars for safety have a tough time because other drivers see that space as usable for transportation. It's an interesting experiment to measure how safely you can drive without getting an unsafe response from other drivers. (When you do this, you still need to go with the flow. If the flow seems too fast, move over. If you're already all the way over to the right, it's your lane, they can pass you.) The one thing Teresa mentions that I really wouldn't do is block other drivers who are trying to pull an illegal move. I strongly believe that it is wrong to block other drivers in any way might make them think I did it on purpose. I do think it is a good idea for merging cars to pace the lane of traffic they are merging into. A good merge works like a zipper. It's also good to use all the space provided for the merge. Don't race by other cars on the right, and don't suddenly merge into the lane early, surprising the other drivers.

#341 ::: Bex ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:48 PM:

Given conditions on the Mass Pike that day, I would never have guessed it was illegal.

Since when has legality (or not) affected the behavior of Boston drivers? *g* I didn't notice many drivers who were listening either, but it was all over the radio the whole time I was driving. Very, very carefully, I might add -- that was the first snow I'd seen in three winters!

(It's possible that the law was in effect back when I actually lived in the area, but I got into the habit early on of clearing the snow off my car as soon as it had stopped falling, even when I had no intention of actually braving the roads -- because the Somerville police only enforced the "move it at least every three days or it gets towed" law when snow made it easy, and it was a busy week if I took the car out once.)

#342 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:50 PM:

Two accidents happened in July 2004.

I flipped my car off the freeway at about 65 mph, rolled it once or maybe twice. It was stopped by a clump of trees before it could continue in the direction it was heading, which would have landed it on top of an on-ramp.

The CHP officer who saw the wreck took several minutes to process what I was telling him, which was that I had been the driver. He couldn't believe I was standing on the shoulder with no visible injuries given the state of the car and the mechanism of the crash.

It turned out that I had cracked a vertebra and had chronic back pain for several years and possibly forever, though it's gotten a lot better recently. Still, I'm OK most of the time, my mobility isn't impaired, and I'm not, you know, dead. I had an airbag but it didn't go off. I was wearing my seatbelt, of course.

Later that month the 20-year-old son of some family friends was riding his bicycle when he got hit by a car at, apparently, a fairly slow speed. He was knocked down, broke his ankle, and hit his head. He can't walk. He can't talk. He can't eat solid food. He can't write. He's been making great progress in terms of answering questions by pointing to words on a page, though.

He was not wearing a helmet. I still cringe when I see helmetless bike riders.

I used to see lots of accidents when I lived in India, at a time when no car I ever encountered had a working seatbelt. I can tell you first-hand that one of the things that can happen if you get "thrown clear" is that your head and body will be thrown clear separately.

#343 ::: Fred ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:54 PM:

As has been alluded to in some posts, but is worth repeating:

I'll quote an aquaintance:
"If you have an accident of any consequence or roll your car, every damn thing in the car will hit you in the head, probably several times."

Think about that next you think: "I really ought to clean that crap out of my car's back seat. Tomorrow."

#344 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:55 PM:

Personally, I would agree with the anecdotal evidence that Boston drivers are at least among the most insanely dangerous in the country. However, apparently a recent study by Men's Life magazine disagrees, placing Boston as the 34th safest city to drive in, in the US. Here's their explanation of methodology:

To calculate our rankings, we included the rate of fatal accidents, as well as the deaths caused specifically by speeding, both from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In addition, we pulled city statistics on accident frequency from Allstate Insurance. And then we used statewide numbers on speeding from the Governors Highway Safety Association, plus NHTSA state data on seatbelt use. (Going without may be a sign of recklessness.)

May be a sign of recklessness? It would have been nice to see more definite language there. Not to mention something stronger than "recklessness." But hey, it's their dime.

(BTW:

96. Cheyenne, WY
97. Jackson, MS
98. Greensboro, NC
99. St. Louis, MO
100. Columbia, SC

...


5. San Francisco, CA
4. Yonkers, NY
3. New York, NY
2. Jersey City, NJ
1. Des Moines, IA)

#345 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 10:57 PM:

Teresa @ 335

Almost certainly. Given that it was designed in the late '30s as an expressway (or 'parkway' as I've see the Santa Ana freeway labelled on some of our company maps), it's probably intended for much slower vehicles than we're playing with now. Fotunately it's short. Driving on it is, for me, an exercise in how much concentration I can produce for the fifteen or so minutes I might have to be on it (which, any more, is not often, and I don't miss it one bit).

#346 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:01 PM:

I have these to keep the seatbelt from cutting my neck. I bought them from a catalog, but I don't remember which.

When I was 11 (1966), my family was driving a station wagon north on I-5 from Olympia to Edmonds, WA late at night. A drunk driver going south crossed the grassy median and t-boned us. We circled across the median, all four south-bound lanes, back across the median, and came back to rest in the right of four north-bound lanes. We were lucky -- my father had some bruises, my mother had scars from her lapbelt, I have a scar on the inside of my lip where I bit it, and my brother had a piece of glass near the top of his head. Rick and I didn't have lapbelts -- I slid from one side of the seat to the other - and Rick was in the wayback.

So when I drive my car, everybody is belted up before I shift into drive. It's not so easy in other people's cars, though. The only other car/taxi/shuttle I've been in that has a seatbelt that fits my large self is a Honda Odyssey. The problem with seat belt extenders of the type Jim described is that they tend to be car-specific, and not all cars have extenders made for them.

I've been hit in my 20-year-old minivan four times. Three of the times I was hit in the rear end by people who hadn't noticed the cars in front of them had stopped. No damage to my van and its steel step bumper, small damage to their cars.

The fourth time, I was hit in the right rear wheel well by a Toyota that was totaled. Nothing was wrong with my van or me. The motorcycle officer that had been in the shopping center the Toyota driver was trying to leave while I was driving by on the road and heard the accident refused to believe my minivan was the car she hit until we both (and two observers who stopped) told him so. I stayed with the Toyota driver until her husband got there -- she was afraid he'd kill her. It was her second totaled car in a year, both times her fault.

#347 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:08 PM:

Teresa@312:
(I tried italicizing and it only lasted for one paragraph. I don't know if that's more wrong than me, or more correct.)
- - -
another temporary zero-visibility situation I've seen is when there's been a recent snowfall, and there's a hardened crust of snow on top of cars and trucks. When the owner then drives the car or truck onto a highway, the roof of the vehicle starts to warm up, and the high-speed airflow can get under the ice crust and lift it off in a single layer. It goes flying up in the air, then comes down and frags on the windshield of the car behind them.

The last time I was approaching Boston on the Mass Turnpike, I swear I saw one of those every ten or fifteen minutes. SUVs were major offenders, since they have flat tops that are hard to reach.

Trucks are worse. A few years back, a semi on the New Jersey Turnpike sloughed off a layer of hardened ice so massive that it smashed the windshield of the following car and injured the front-seat passengers. As far as anyone could tell, the semi didn't even notice what happened. I suspect a lot of those drivers on the MassPike also failed to notice that they'd just blinded the following cars.

File that one under "varieties of negligence I'm surprised aren't illegal."

- - -

In New Jersey I have heard that it is illegal to not clean the snow off your car, because a cop got his windshield taken out, or died, or both. This may be an urban-legend version of the story you mention.

( Total tangent: Someone explained to me once that police officers tailgate with bright headlights, on small roads late at night, so they can read your license plate. I still think it's a bad idea, and I still think police officers tailgate too much in too many situations. I will admit to not having done any real research on whether there are valid reasons.)


@335:
I'll freely admit that Boston is the hands-down winner of the bad drivers sweepstakes.

My theory (which I love to repeat; sorry if it's repeated here) is that every part of the country has a different type of bad driver, and the worst problems come when you take a bad driver out of their element. Some local cliches I personally know:

Floridians don't understand that some roads curve; Montrealers start before the light turns green and (as a result) stop on yellow; Boston drivers will pull across four lanes of traffic and not think twice, because that's how the roads work there; Texans measure the distance from one place to another in beers.

To get the full list, you'd have to ask each state about their neighbors, of course.

#348 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:10 PM:

A t-bone is a nasty situation,

Also the only type of accident to date that someone I know has died in*. Her fiancé ended up in a wheelchair -- we don't know for how long, as he dropped out of our lives after the funeral, but it was sounding like it'd be quite a while.

They were wearing seatbelts. They were driving safely -- the fiancé was a really smart, responsible guy, and weather was poor. As far as anyone knew, the other guy was driving safely... I was told the guy hit a patch of ice and couldn't stop. They weren't even going that fast. It was one of those awful, genuine accidents where all the factors just came out totally wrong.

If they'd gone through a few seconds earlier or later, they probably would've been clipped front or rear and had nothing worse than some bruising and possible concussion, presumably -- presumption based on having been in that type of accident myself. (Big bruise on my arm, bump on head and worry about concussion for the driver, everything else but the back end of the car fine.)

I think 'nasty' may not be a strong enough word. 'Horrific' comes to mind.

[*Not that a lot of people I know have been in bad accidents -- my friends and family alike are generally safe drivers, thankfully -- but I did know someone who managed to get into a really nasty motorcycle accident, in which the motorcycle was totalled and he nearly was, too. And if he hadn't been wearing a helmet, likely he would've died. He was in the hospital and subsequent physical therapy for 6 months. I believe the word used when describing his legs was 'smashed'.]

#349 ::: JB ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:11 PM:

I caused an accident about eight months ago. (Sun glare on wet road combined with crest of a hill and stopped traffic on major highway meets speeding driver...I am much less impatient now.) Everyone involved was wearing a seatbelt and no one involved was seriously injured.

However, half an hour later, I was sitting unbuckled in my vehicle waiting for the tow driver to be ready. Thirty seconds after I exited my vehicle and climbed into his truck (I hadn't yet closed the door on the truck cab) a car slammed into the rear of my vehicle. Had I still been sitting there unbuckled, I'm sure I'd have been thrown into, or through, the windshield at the impact.

Wearing your seatbelt in a parked car can save your life.

#350 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:13 PM:

Greg @ 259:

No seatbelt?
Drive a Trebuchet!

OK, I want that on a bumper sticker. (Hm. Contact the folx at Instant Attitudes?)

Daniel Boone @ 279:

If a driver refused to transport me because my size made it impossible for me to wear a seatbelt in his or her vehicle, I'd consider it rude and a bit foolish. Similarly, I'd consider it rude and a bit foolish if I refused to *ride* under those circumstances, assuming we had any better reason for the trip than "just cruisin' around".

One of my friends is very large; she's in the passenger seat of my '90 Camry about three times a month. I am so glad the seat belt and shoulder belt are both long enough for her to use - I truly don't know what I'd do if they weren't. (Those in the '93 Geo were also long enough.)

#351 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:24 PM:

Regarding the blog on bad police driving, I love that idea.

I once got in a heated discussion with a traffic policeman driving one of those three-wheeled go-carts. I approached a crosswalk on foot at the same time as he approached it going about thirty five miles per hour (about five over the urban speed limit in effect). I'd say he was still half a block away when I reached the curb.

I stepped off the curb.

Rather than yielding to the pedestrian in the crosswalk as required by law, he accelerated and veered slightly to his left to go around me (far too close for my comfort).

I yelled "Pedestrians have the right of way!" in my largest outdoor yelling voice (very large).

He screeched to an immediate halt, and parked. Jumped out and demanded that I stop and show him some identification. Which I did. He then began to lecture me sternly that it is never appropriate to yell at a policeman.

Whereupon I began to lecture him sternly that it is never appropriate (policeman or not) to fail to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

His rejoinder (all very hostile and in police command voice): "A pedestrian must yield to traffic if it's going too fast to stop safely when the pedestrian reaches the curb."

I pointed out that (a) he stopped safely enough once he had a bone to pick with me and (b) he should not have been going too fast to yield to pedestrians in an urban environment.

At that point he began to get extremely hostile. So I suggested that I'd be delighted to make an appointment with the local police chief in order to continue the conversation about his unsafe driving in the presence of his command authority. (It was a small town, this could have been easily arranged.)

At that point he decided he had more urgent business, admonished me once again not to yell at policemen, and got hastily back on his power trike and zoomed away.

I really don't like cops who think they are above the law.

#352 ::: Georgina ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:28 PM:

I might have missed a posting, but this is in response to (Wendy was it?) whoever commented about large people, and then the person who added that you should use a seat belt extender. I just started reading up on it, and seat belt extenders for larger folk are apparently a very controversial issue. Not only is it tough to find them for all attachment types (and almost every car manufacturer uses a different one), but many of the car manufacturers won't offer them because they aren't safe (for a number of reasons, most involving where the load bearing crosses the body).

As a large person myself, I rarely wear seatbelts. I've been in a couple of accidents over the course of my life, and I wasn't seriously injured (I know that was lucky, trust me). I'd like to wear a seatbelt, but it's so damned uncomfortable I find that I only wear it when the weather or visibility is bad, and then I feel constrained in my range of motion enough that I wonder if I'm worse off.

Anyway, interesting thread. Oh, and #344? Boston might have aggressive drivers, but Massachusetts has the fewest fatalities http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSFAnn/TSF2004.pdf (p. 164) in the country. At least in 2004.

#353 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:32 PM:

Daniel Boone: What you do is take the twine that's left over from modifying the driver's shoulder belt, double it several times, and tie the belts together. It's not a perfect solution, but it'll eat up some joules if you have an accident.

Please don't try to tell me it's silly. I've done it when I've ridden in vehicles with malfunctioning belts. Simple low-tech solutions are us.

#354 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:38 PM:

Correction: it wasn't twine, but I can't remember just now what I did use. I think the first time, I used the leather belt I was wearing.

#355 ::: Rebecca ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:42 PM:

I'll chime in with the wear-your-seat-belt crowd.

When one of my older sisters was coming home after her prom night, the driver (who was legally blind in one eye, so I've no idea why he was allowed to drive a car) slammed into a tree at a fairly high speed. I forget the exact number, but I think it was about 55 mph. The other three people in the car were wearing seatbelts, but my sister, with parents who were resentful of seat belt laws, was not wearing hers. The other three people had bruises. My sister survived only because one of the other three knew how to do CPR. Her skull was fractured above her left ear--the surgeons spent hours picking bits of bone out of her brain--and if I remember correctly, both legs were fractured in multiple places when she slid under the front seat in front of her. She didn't wake up for days, and when she did, she had massive memory loss and personality changes. She went from being a bright, well-liked, and bubbly student to a sullen and rebellious girl who moved out of the house when she was 17--classic symptoms of frontal cortex trauma. She also had some mental health problems a few years after that, spent some time in a psychiatric hospital, and after that became an alcoholic. I am quite sure that her life would have turned out very differently if she had been wearing her seat belt that night.

On a happier note, she stopped drinking a few years ago (the accident happened in 1991 or 1992) and is happily married, with a personality approaching what she was like before the accident.

My dad, however, still refuses to wear a seat belt, and my mom will only wear the lap belt, even when in the front seat. My other sister and I are the only people in the family (out of 7 kids total) who will wear our seat belts every time we're sitting in a car, and it's because of that accident.

#356 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:50 PM:

Rebecca, one-eyed people are allowed to drive.

#357 ::: George Hunt ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:56 PM:

I've rolled a Hyndai four and a half times and wound up pointed back the way I was coming from with the roof on the passenger's side pushed down below the dash (no passenger, thank ghod). I undid both seat belts and crawled out the (broken) driver's side window. Total injuries, seat belt burns on the chest and shoulder, scalp burns from bouncing off the roof, road rash on the left arm from where it kept going out the left window as the car rolled. Comment from the county sheriff, "We usually have to call for the body bag and M.E. when we see a car like this. It's a good thing you like wearing your seat belt."

#358 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 11:59 PM:

To the Adams Report (#230;#312):

Adams himself admits (page 7, emphasis his):

I do not dispute Evans’ evidence concerning the life-saving benefits of seat belts if one is in a crash. The evidence that the use of a seat belt improves a car occupant’s chances of surviving a crash is convincing. That a person travelling at speed inside a hard metal shell will stand a better chance of surviving a crash if he is restrained from rattling about inside the shell is both intuitively obvious and supported by an impressive body of empirical evidence. Evans has calculated that wearing a belt reduces one’s chances of being killed, if in a crash, by 41%.

It's well Adams admits this, or we would assume that he is demented. What I should point out is that the entire thrust of this post, and the comments following it, has been about the effects and efficiency of seatbelts if in a crash.

It's both intuitively obvious and trivial that seatbelts have no effect on motorists' survival at any moment in which one is not hitting a tree, braking sharply, being rammed by a truck, or otherwise in a crash.

The argument here is not that seatbelt laws* save lives (a matter on which I have no opinion), it's that seatbelts save lives. Which they clearly do, and which Adams admits.

-------------
* Although the governor of a state, as the head of that state's executive branch and responsible for the enforcement of all state laws, should either obey the law or obey it while attempting to bring about its repeal.

#359 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:02 AM:

Georgina #352: I can't argue with statistics. I do know that the style of driving in Boston scares the bodily fluids from me; my peripheral vision is even worse since I started wearing progressive lenses, and left turns across my lane from two lanes to the right could have me hitting someone, a situation I've not been in for over twenty years, and one I hope to avoid for several more twenties.

#360 ::: Lynn Kendall ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:13 AM:

To those who refuse to buckle up:

If you're happy to gamble with death and eager to provide EMTs with anecdotes, think of those who will mourn you.

Even if you died with your seat belt on, the grief never stops. Changes, yes. But every holiday, every wedding, every birth reminds your friends and family that you're not there.

If you weren't wearing it, the grief and anger never stop.

#361 ::: Georgina ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:17 AM:

Bruce #359: I drive here every day, and I have to say it's indeed sadly common. Don't know why we die less. After driving a few times in the Beltway around D.C., however, I don't know why Boston still has the reputation as the worst drivers. That's somewhere *I* thought was crazy...

Mostly we Boston drivers worry about what's in front of us. What's going on behind us is someone else's problem. So peripheral vision isn't as much of an issue unless someone speeds UP to cut you off...otherwise you'll probably see it coming. Maybe.

#362 ::: Ryan Waxx ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:26 AM:

lv th SV bshng n hr. xmpl: "Physcs wrks. SV drvrs ftn thnk t dsn't. M, drv vry smll ffcnt cr. wrry bt thm nt sng m whl thy'r hvng cmplctd phn cnvrstns nd rnnng m dwn."

wsn't wr tht nly SV wnrs hv phn cnvrstns whl drvng.

M, drv n cnbx. Bt dn't gz t vry pssng SV nd lk fr bd bhvr s cn pt t n my ntbk. Wht *hv* ntcd s tht hndcppd drvrs ftn drv lk thy'r hndcppd: slw nd/r slppy ngh t b rl mnc n th rd. Bt t's nt pltclly crrct t bsh hndcppd ppl, nd t *s* PC t bsh SV drvrs. Hnc, ll th ppl cncdntlly bshng wht t's fshnbl t bsh. M.

About the Prius: Yes, I as a pedestrian use my ears as much as my eyes when I walk near traffic. Not being an owner of a hybrid or knowing a person who does, It took until this year until I realized that not every car is audible nowadays (fortunately I learned by reading, not by experience). I'm trying to train myself to only depend on the eyes, but it's rather a difficult habit to break. Maybe electrics should have a beeper when backing up?

I've had one accident - my own fault, going too fast around a curve and hit loose gravel - bounced off my side's guardrail after an overcorrect, riccocheted over to the opposite side, which was a 45 degree incline, last thing I remember was being upside down... and regained consciousness in the other lane, facing the opposite direction.

I was belted, but somehow broke my nose anyway (shoulder belt didn't catch?). Not much damage - some torn muscles in my right arm, which maintained a deathgrip on the wheel. Had I been unbelted - possibly ejected or thrown into the windshield - that would have been one heck of a different story.

Something I'd like to share is: even if you think you are fine after a significant crash... GO TO THE HOSPITAL. I almost didn't until a family member insisted, and only after the x-rays discovered that the elbow might have been fractured (it turned out to be only strained and chipped, but I wouldn't have known until I did some damage to it by using it).

#363 ::: Naomi ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:38 AM:

Nuala, regarding reasonable solutions for the carless -- if your child is big enough to ride facing forward (at least 1 year old and at least 20 pounds), you might consider buying one of these.

I wouldn't recommend one of these for someone with a car; a regular carseat will provide somewhat better protection, as you can get them in more snugly, and they have the extended padded shell. However, for someone who relies on public transportation and doesn't find it practical to lug around a convertible carseat (and they really are impractical to lug around), it's a pretty good solution.

#364 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:42 AM:

I've been for some insane reason slacking off about wearing my belt in cabs lately. Thank you for reminding me to mend my ways.

Also, on the topic of both PSA's and funny youtube videos:

A timely reminder about breast self-examination; they're your breasts. you do it.

#365 ::: elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:44 AM:

On "soccer mom arm" - my high school boyfriend delivered pizzas. He would do this to me occasionally, commenting after, "I forgot you weren't a pizza."

School buses - Whenever possible, I get my daughter to ride in one of the private cars going along on field trips. It scares me to death that they have no seat belts, or when they do, they are basic lap belts.

Taxis - Rarely take 'em, but the other day piled into one with my boyfriend. Taxi whipped a u-turn before I'd even had a chance to reach for my belt. I ended up on the other side of the car, crushing the poster my boyfriend was holding. Not deadly, but scary.

Trams/streetcars - if you've ever been on a streetcar that stopped abruptly to avoid a car, you'll wish they had seatbelts, too. Flying halfway down the length of a Muni car was not my idea of fun.

Finally, crashes. My ex should never be allowed to drive, having crashed my car (lightly) about 4 times and totaling two of his own since, none of which I or my daughter was present for. I went to retrieve belongings from one, where our Saturn Wagon has been rear-ended by a semi. The entire back had crumpled, right up to where my daughter's car seat was installed. The car seat was unharmed, my ex walked away with some PT for misc. soft tissue injuries - had my daughter been there unbuckled or had he been unrestrained, he would have been, as the kids say, road pizza.

Seatbelts good. Happy for all that have lived to tell the tale, and sad for those who can't pass on the warning they surely would.

#366 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:52 AM:

I was sufficiently indoctrinated about seat belts in childhood that I always feel uneasy about sitting in a car unbelted, even if it's parked or the key isn't even in the ignition. Nevertheless, my mom always did the "soccer mom arm" in front of me at stops if I was sitting next to her, I suppose ingrained from previous cars without shoulder belts.

Meanwhile, California (and apparently other) state regulations have been gradually increasing the upper age/weight limit for keeping kids in child seats in the back. If some of the more stringent ones had been in place when I was growing up, I probably would've been stuck in the back until I was 12 or 13, because I don't think I cracked 80 lbs until then.

#367 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:18 AM:

For what it's worth (2.99, apparently), the No seatbelt? Drive a Trebuchet! bumpersticker is now available.

;)

#368 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:26 AM:

There are billboards around here speaking of a law that children must ride in booster seats until they're 4'9" tall. (Which is weird, because looking it up, I now see that it's a WA law... but who knows?) The billboards don't mention the age cap, which in the WA law is eight. Seeing this made me wonder if grown women were being told they were too small to legally ride in cars.

#369 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:04 AM:

Elyse Grasso (322): I switched to Velcro-flap shoes. Easier to take off and put back on, but also easy to make sure they're tightly fastened before landing. (Which I do as part of my own "pre-landing checklist".)

Teresa (335): "Boston is the hands-down winner of the bad drivers sweepstakes."

My father has driven in all sorts of places, including Seoul, which is apparently fairly bad for driving. He says Boston's the worst he's seen.

#370 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:21 AM:

To Wendy at 210, and everyone else who has commented on seatbelt extenders: They do help make seatbelts reach, they do fasten securely, and so--in my opinion at least--they would probably be better than wearing no belt at all. (Part of the controversy seems to come from the fact that Honda refuses to make extenders, claiming that they "aren't safe." I'm not sure how far to take that, given other car companies' attitudes--see below.)

Extenders can be tricky to purchase, since (as has been mentioned) they are different for every make of car. You might try to get a universal one, but I'm not sure how "universal" it really would be. The manufacturers that do offer seatbelt extenders will often (in my experience) do so free of charge; just call the service department and ask for one that fits your car. That might be a good way to try one out. Why do they offer extenders free of charge? Partly under the Americans with Disabilities Act, I gather--one of the uses of extenders is for handicapped individuals using adaptive vehicles, drivers or passengers who have limited or no use of one arm or hand . . . every try to snap a seatbelt buckle one-handed? Not easy.

#371 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:25 AM:

As someone said further up the thread, in Australia, seatbelt use is compulsory. All cars have seatbelts, and have had for as long as I can remember (so since at least the early 1970s). For me, putting on the seatbelt is just automatic - get into the car, buckle your seatbelt. I tend to assume my passengers have the same mental routine well hammered into them.

The car I'm currently driving has seatbelts on all five seats, as well as an airbag on the steering wheel, and possibly one on the passenger side of the dashboard (although I'm not too sure about this last). It's also got a warning light that comes on reminding you to buckle up, as well as an anti-theft ignition isolation device (this is compulsory in my state, due to a nasty epidemic of car thefts about ten years back). I think it has ABS, although I'm not certain - I try to avoid getting into situations where I'll find out. I'm one of these annoying drivers who tends to figure that if there's a speed limit on the road, it's there for a reason, which really irritates just about everyone stuck behind me (I believe the informal Aussie consensus is that all speed limits are approximately 10km/h too low).

I've been in one crash which could have seriously injured me (and got out of it with nary a scratch). I was driving home from a party at a friend's farm out in Dandaragan (Western Australia, about 2 hours out of Perth) at something like 2 or 3 in the morning. This was stupid, but I was twenty-odd and immortal (or so I thought at the time) and I was perfectly alert, honest. So was the kangaroo who came bounding out across the road. He was a big bull boomer, and I had about 50m of warning before I hit him at 100km/h (having slowed down from 110 km/h in that 50m). He bounced off the front bumper, rolled up the bonnet into the windscreen, and then I think fell off the front of the car when all forward momentum had ceased. I survived, and I think he did too - the next drivers down the way (about twenty minutes later - country roads in Western Australia aren't overly populated at the best of times, and 3am is definitely *not* the best of times) couldn't see any sign of him when they pulled over. The car's radiator had been pushed right up against the engine, and it wasn't going anywhere.

I got a right going-over from my parents (both of them) for scaring them so much, and for costing them $450 in excess on their no-claim bonus. I think if I asked them tomorrow, they'd say it was still better than the alternative. I also learned why wearing a seatbelt is a good idea even if there's no other beggar on the road - you know you're safe, but the local wildlife may not.

Oh, and had I not been wearing a seatbelt, I would have gone not only through the front windscreen, but also straight into the (rather long and vicious) claws of the hind legs of a full-grown male Western Grey kangaroo, before hitting the road. I probably would have been able to be buried in a jam jar.

PS: Australia has its own varieties of terrible drivers - and an apparent national problem with obtaining those little orange bulbs in the turn indicators.

#372 ::: Elizabeth Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:27 AM:

When I was a dumb kid in high school I used to have even dumber friends. One day, I was driving through the neighborhood to a friend's house instead of walking, and I noticed the girl I was giving a ride to wasn't using her seatbelt. "Put your seatbelt on," I said, slowing down. She gave me a look and told me it was only two blocks, what could happen? So, I tapped the brakes a bit harder than I normally would, and she was dumped forward into the dashboard. The chick in the back who had also unclipped her seatbelt and was lying down rolled forward into the seats ahead of her. It was only a little stop, so there were no injuries, but both girs had large bruises along thier sides. "What if I had stood on the brakes instead?" I asked. "What if that toddler had rushed out in front of the car after his ball, and I had swerved and hit a tree?" They weren't actually convinced, but at least it made them wear their belts while I was driving.

In Japan, only the people in the front must wear seatbelts. Children habitually stand up and play in the back seat. It drives me nuts, and I can't convince anyone to change it, because "I'm a good driver. I won't get in an accident."

#373 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:31 AM:

This is turning into a marvellous archive of anecdotes to balance out the reporting bias of the general chatter about traffic accidents. So I'll add my reasons for wearing a seatbelt:

1. I understand some elementary physics and risk statistics, duh!

2. When I was a teenager we split the family to travel to a con. I arrived there with my dad, but my mother, grandmother and siblings didn't. But when we got the phone call that there had been an accident, Mum gave the news herself, and it was infinitely less bad news than the news someone else would have had to break. She'd hit a slippery patch on a motorway, turned the car over and into a ditch, and totalled it when it hit a fence post after rolling. My family were wearing their seatbelts, and they were fine.

3. A couple of years later, a girl in my class was killed. She was a passenger in a car driven by her boyfriend, she hadn't bothered with a belt as it was only a few minutes' drive. The boyfriend was an inexperienced but not criminally stupid driver: he tried to break in a skid, turned the car over and we were told she died instantly from a broken neck.

4. I spent a month (yes, you read that right) hanging around a neuro-critical ICU. And came to realize that my brother, the one who spent a month in a very scary situation and came out of it quadriplegic, was lucky that he only had a broken neck (C4/5, a couple of mm higher would have killed him). Lucky compared to all the traffic accident victims who came in in a steady stream. You got talking to their families, and the majority were, guess what, not wearing seatbelts when their cars got into accidents. (The minority were motorcycle accidents, where seatbelt isn't an option and everybody is thrown clear, or horseriding. As others have said, riding helmets are also a good idea.)

#374 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:39 AM:

Fascinating discussion by interesting people is why I love Making Light.

One factor which hasn't been mentioned is when and how you drive. Once upon a time, in a particularly foolish career move, I learned to drive an 18-wheeler. The only good that came of it was that I got religion about defensive driving and turned into a decent car driver after several months of being a lousy truck driver.

The thing that really stuck with me from my training was that truckers have a lower rate of vehicle accidents than the general population, but if they do get killed, it is most likely to happen in a single vehicle accident sometime between 2-5 a.m.

The lower overall accident rate is because trucks generally drive on divided highways, which, despite their high speeds, are some of the safest roads because all the traffic is going in the same direction at roughly the same speed.

The single-vehicle accident rate in the wee hours is entirely due to driver fatigue. If you drive while wobbly due to lack of sleep the effects are similar to driving drunk.

Speaking of which, accident rates rise throughout the week, with peaks from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m Friday evening and on Saturday evening/early Sunday morning (at least in the U.S. I can't speak for other countries) when the drunk- and sleep-deprived drivers start to come out. After 2 a.m., however, not only do you have the drunks, but you also have the people who suffer from terminal "gethomeitis" which peaks at 4 a.m. This is typically when sleep-depped truckers go to the big honky-tonk in the sky. Sadly, they sometimes take out another vehicle when they go, and the truck always wins, even if the driver doesn't.*

There was, a few years ago, some talk of forcing all truckers to stop driving from 4-5 a.m. to prevent accidents caused by badly fatigued drivers. But horror stories about forged log books and sleepless drivers keeping themselves awake for days on stimulants aside, good truck drivers pull over and sleep if they're slap-happy due to lack of rest.

#105: Not to disparage the dead, or to cast aspersions on the living, but I suspect that in the accident which killed Sir Osis (King of Eoldormere) driver fatigue was a contributory cause. (That, plus the unconscionable decision by the Province of Ontario to put soft, narrow, sandy shoulders along the 401, the main highway from Montreal to Toronto to Windsor/Detroit.)

When I played in the SCA, if given the choice between day-tripping and coming home in the small hours of the morning or staying the night at an event, I always choose the overnighter. If I get really sleepy when I'm driving, I pull into a rest stop (or better yet, a truck stop, close to the building and in sight of the front doors) and take a nap.

304. James: One (New Hampshire, where I live) has no seatbelt law.

Which adds an entirely too morbid twist to the state motto.

*Obligatory ex-trucker rant: Don't tailgate the damned trailer. Even if you can stop faster than the truck, you can't see around it, so if the truck stops you will go into the safety bar at the back of the trailer. Even if you are in an up-armored Cattle-lack Ecocide you will lose the fight with the real truck. Not only will you mess up your toy, and possibly yourself, but you will cause no end of grief for the trucker by making him waste precious time dealing with the ensuing accident; time which he could otherwise be spending asleep or driving around lost.

Also, don't cut in front of the tractor. The space directly in front of the giant bumper is not meant for your car/SUV but is there so that the driver can brake safely. It takes a truck 8 seconds to slow from 60 mph to a stop, but only 5 seconds for a car to do the same. This means the poor dumb trucker has three extra seconds to lose his safe driver bonus, minus the time he doesn't brake because he can't see your brake lights from the cab, when you swerve in front of him and slam on the brakes. While you might not give a rat's about the driver's safety bonus or the grief the ensuing accident will cause him, the point is moot because you'll probably be beyond caring.

#375 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:40 AM:

Along with seatbelts, around accidents drive particularly alertly.

I contracted at an office above I-90 in Bellevue next to an on-ramp for two months one. One afternoon, from about 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM the pod spent the afternoon going over to the window to watch the aftermath of the latest accident - always caused by someone slowing down to gawk at the previous one, according to the guys with the window seats.

The last accident of the afternoon provided extra fun when one of the car's wheels came off and rolled all the way down the on ramp.

I don't think anyone was badly hurt; no aid cars or ambulances stopped. But there were plenty of flashing lights.

#376 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:38 AM:

Thomas @374,

That reminds me... Atchoafe wigthats, there were downsides (that dinner conversation, those photos) but plenty of upsides, including going to forensics conferences.*

I met a forensics psychiatrist** at one conference (this around 1990) who'd just finished a study on truck drivers. They monitored a large group of truckers as they trucked:

10% of truckers were technically asleep at any given time

Now, not all of this was enfolded in the warm purple cloak of slumber sleep. Some was the "your brain thinks you're not needed to make decisions and turns You-The-Conscious-observer off" sleep. i.e. zombie drivers: sentient but non-conscious, there's no driver in the brain's driver seat.***

10%. I wouldn't doubt that the number of car drivers approaches this number too, although the mix of "full sleep" vs "awake but no there there" changed by the hour and the boringness of the drive.
____
* I've said it before: if you're a writer, you should go to a regional multi-field (not just medicine) forensics conference. The material you're hear will last for years. So will the visuals. But the material will be worth it.

** studies questions like "what factors make a driver keep driving when he knows his hydraulic lines are on fire?"

*** No, not a gratuitous reference. You don't have to be sleepy to go to sleep. Your brain really does possess the ability to turn 'you' off. Ever walk along an empty, boring path and suddenly you're 200 meters further along? 'You' weren't needed to make decisions, so your brain stopped running 'you.'

It's like the state of flow, but you didn't decide to go into it. Problem is, if you are needed to make a sudden decision, your brain can't instantly boot you up. So, if you're on a long boring empty stretch of road, put something dreadful onto the radio so that you keep arguing with it/ yourself.

#377 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:13 AM:

Re: Angela, #286:

Opting to not wear a seat belt, driving fast, and dying in the eventual car wreck is what I consider a Darwinistic weeding out of morons.

Don't do that. Please. Seriously.

I don't mean to pick on you. I'm sure you were being flippant with the best of intentions. But this attitude, which is admittedly easy to cultivate, obscures the true nature of accidents.

The trouble with morons is that morons have family, friends, co-workers, and dependents. A vehicle accident is never solely about the person or persons that cause it. Morons have a distressing tendency to strike other vehicles, or pedestrians, or even buildings, at those moments when their stupidity reaches critical mass. Last year, for example, a drunk driver broad-sided a tour bus full of senior citizens about a mile from my house, seriously injuring nearly half of them. Deserve's got nothing to do with what happened to them.

A vehicle accident will also elicit an emergency response. In my county, for a 1-2 vehicle accident, that will mean anywhere from one to three dozen people in all sorts of uniforms carrying out duties on the scene. Those people are all roused out of whatever they were doing, at any hour, and sent out in any weather to dick around on scenes that are crawling with all manner of hazards. It's easy to point and scoff and say, "Oh, ha ha, that dumbass deserved what was coming to him!" Fine and dandy, but what did we, since I happen to be one of them, do to deserve getting called out to pick up the bloody, jagged pieces in South Shrimpdick, Middle-of-Nowhere at three in the morning?

I'm not an EMT. Thanks to the wonders of politics, my city's public safety department is firmly split into the three inviolate kingdoms of EMS/Rescue/Fire. I'm Fire, and my job at accident scenes is to either assist resuce/EMS (moving stretchers with or without victims) or provide scene safety (traffic control, standby fire hose, etc.). I don't do what Jim does, but in the past two years I've seen (and heard, and smelled) all sorts of disquieting things at fatals and non-fatals alike, from an average vantage point of 5-10 feet from the swearing and screaming.

A vehicle accident reaches out to involve family and community, like ripples spreading from a heavy weight thrown into water. The whole "Bah, serves the idiot right" line of thinking conceals the truth of these events behind the self-congratulatory illusion that Unvirtuous Drivers are just getting what's coming to them and that the going-smoosh process is smooth, fair, and efficient. It ain't.

#378 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:29 AM:

#358 It's both intuitively obvious and trivial that seatbelts have no effect on motorists' survival at any moment in which one is not ... in a crash.

Of course it is. It's also intuitively obvious and trivial that seatbelts have no effect on pedestrian and cyclist survival on being hit by a motor vehicle.

What is not intuitively obvious and trivial is that, statistically, crash rates, especially those involving pedestrians and cyclists, go up in a correlated manner with seatbelt wearing.
(If anyone feels the need to explain to me that correlation isn't causation, I will take it as further evidence that they haven't actually read the linked material and are arguing from prejudice (cf. #312 and the suggestion that seatbelts not curing diabetes might be relevent).)

#379 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:32 AM:

"The Engineer":

It's not a conspiracy, it's just not something that state DOT's or FHWA tells people, that the guardrails won't protect you in the event of a very high speed crash. Sure it's cost, but IMPO putting up lots of guardrail on high speed roads is worse than leaving the point source danger unprotected at all, especially when the standards call for over 300' of guardrail just to protect one typical sign post that is only 2' across.

That's a lot of vehicles that will hit that guardrail that wouldn't have hit the signpost in the first place. It's also why I prefer moving obstacles like that out of the clear recovery zone (typically 30'-40' from the travel lane) rather than putting guardrail around them.

#380 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:07 AM:

Alan Braggins (378), are you asserting the existence of a causal relationship between automobile drivers' wearing seatbelts, and them getting into accidents involving pedestrians or cyclists?

That's getting up into the range of an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary proof.

#381 ::: VERY LUCKY!!! ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:29 AM:

THIS JUST HAPPENED SATURDAY 4/14/2007

My 2 friends and I were driving (rather quickly) up Boulder Canyon in Colorado when he lost control of our car on a sandy turn going about 70mph.

Our 2002 Subaru WRX went into a 320ft spin, off the canyon, and ROLLED 3+ TIMES down onto its side on boulders and downed trees along Boulder Creek's edge 40ft below the road.

I was riding in the back seat behind my driving friend, and my other friend was riding shotgun up front.

All three of us were wearing seatbelts and immediately climbed out of the totaled car without a SINGLE scratch on our bodies!

During the crash:

-After the skid, when I first felt the car start to roll, I remember pressing my hands desperately against the roof

-The experience was RELENTLESSLY VIOLENT and felt like an eternity

-All the glass window panes flew out whole (thank you safety glass)

-I saw everything flying around me before it all catapulted out of the car

-The loud crunching and scraping sounds of metal against rock were deafening, and not reassuring

-Rolling over in a car feels like riding a mechanical bull/roller coaster through a gauntlet

Onlookers were in disbelief to see all three of us quickly scramble out of the back windshield completely unscathed.

I immediately started taking pictures of the car and its location with my phone; everyone I show still can't believe we don't have a mark on our bodies.
The Subaru WRX was smashed front to back, with immense structural damage to the roof, pillars and doors. Overall though, the frame held.

When the EMTs arrived with us standing around looking down at the car from the road above, they at first didn't believe that we were the passengers from the car.

The EMTs said they see cars skid off this canyon every other week, mostly resulting in fatalities. Had we not been wearing our seatbelts, we probably would have been ejected out of the car (like everything else not bolted down was) onto the surrounding sharp rocks and downed tree trunks, if not crushed by the car.

There are four factors that I credit to our survival (let alone not having a bruise):

1. we all wore our seatbelts
2. Subaru WRXs, although small and light, have extremely strong frames
3. all three of us are strong 22yr old males
4. *we were lucky*

When all was said and done, one of the EMTs jokingly commented "people pay good money for a ride like that!" We all laughed.

As exciting as it was, no thank you.

I LIKE SEATBELTS!


#382 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:23 AM:

Re #380: Maybe it would help if you looked at the evidence you had been pointed at instead of declaring you were pretty sure you didn't give a damn about it.

#383 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:37 AM:

P.S. And no, I'm saying there is some evidence of a link, and some reason to believe that it may be causal.

#384 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:40 AM:

Alan Braggins wrote at #382:

> Re #380: Maybe it would help if you looked at the evidence you had been pointed at instead of declaring you were pretty sure you didn't give a damn about it.

Let me predict the future:

- if you engage in polite conversation with the people here, they will talk back, even when they don't agree with you. Everyone will end up happier.

- if you snap at people, they will ignore you or snap back. Everyone will end up sadder.

Now I know you've posted a URL - but what's to stop you from talking about the contents of it? I've got to go and do the dishes, and then God help me, I've got to do a couple of hours of overtime. Maybe I'll find something interesting here when I come back?

#385 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:01 AM:

P.J. Evans, #138: We had a few such curves, however due to the nature of the surroundings they were called something like "the farmer's tip jar." Perfectly flat land, no trees, muddy, loamy fields or meadows on both sides of the road. The only way to get a car out again was to walk to the next farmhouse and ask to be dragged out with a tractor. A 4 wheel drive SUV might have got out on its own, though, if it didn't land on its roof (which these cars seem to do easily). The curve where people got killed was the much easier one with trees and ditches.

Tereas @135: The big bumpers are there to say, "If we have an accident, you'll take a lot more damage than I will."

An old, battered car can be amazingly effective into getting new luxury cars out of the way. They are thinking about the repair bills for that extra-shiny finish.

Also (strictly anecdotal), angle of collsion seems to be more relevant to car damage than the weight of the cars. My compact/station wagon got rear-ended by a Mercedes some months ago. My car needed a new rear bumper, a new coat of paint on the rear door and a new rear door lock. The Mercedes owner needed a new car.

#386 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:25 AM:

Alan #382:

I've read the article, and I feel it is, well, full of it.

Nearly all of Adams' sources of information (citing yourself as a reference isn't very fair) are two decades old, he continually mentions total fatalities as the measuring stick without taking into account increased miles travelled (fatalities/million miles travelled is the traditional yardstick for traffic fatalities), does not mention which countries he compares Australia, etc, to on his charts of "those with seat belt laws vs those without" (for all I know he was cherry picking 3rd world nations with few paved roads vs modern, paved road nations), and does not account for other factors that may have caused this lack of decrease in fatalities. I didn't see anything about seat belts causing an increase in pedestrian/cyclist fatalities either, which you have implied are linked. In fact, by his comments, you'd think that Volvo drivers should be some of the worst drivers on the road, and be disproportionally represented in crash data.

Personally, although it's been a while, when I did drive a non-belted vehicle my habits weren't any different than they are now. The wearing of seat belts (or not) doesn't make me more reckless behind the wheel, and I doubt it really does for anyone else either.

If we are to believe the Adams Paper, in order to reduce fatalities we should immediately do the following things:

Remove all safety features along all roadsides

Remove all paint stripes and speed limit signs

Begin building vehicles to the same safety specs as those made prior to say, 1965. No seat belts, no collapsing steering columns, no air bags, no crumple zones, no ABS, no side door panels, etc. That way all drivers, realizing any crash at all will probably be very hazardous, will be much more courteous and careful vehicular operators.

All that article is is the attempted linking of two marginally related statistics (seat belt wearing and total fatalities) by a disgruntled personal rights advocate, who dislikes being told what to do by the government.

#387 ::: JanetM ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:27 AM:

I've seen the text string "Atchoafe wigthats" in a couple of Kathryn from Sunnyvale's comments, but can't decode it. Help?

#388 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:39 AM:

TNH #335 (the bit responding to me), Daniel Boone #351: I love those stories! I have many similar ones, as well as countless less confrontational "Did that cop just make a left turn on red into oncoming traffic?" ones.

I'm gonna try the experiment: policepolice.blogspot.com. There's nothing there yet, but let's keep our eyes open.

Thomas #374: Also, don't cut in front of the tractor. The space directly in front of the giant bumper is not meant for your car/SUV but is there so that the driver can brake safely. It takes a truck 8 seconds to slow from 60 mph to a stop, but only 5 seconds for a car to do the same.

Early on in my driving life, I did cut in front of a big truck, and almost at that very instant the traffic on the highway came to a sudden stop. I'm extremely lucky that the truck driver was very talented and very aware of his surroundings, and that there happened to be a large open space one lane over. The truck swerved into it and came to a stop fully in front of me. I wanted to get out and apologize and thank him for saving my life from my own idiocy, but obviously couldn't. Moral of the story: I've never done that again.

#389 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:52 AM:

Would anyone here who is still arguing that seatbelt use should be up to the individual care to address the often-mentioned fact that in a crash, you, the unsecured passenger, become a safety risk to other people as you turn into a projectile?

#390 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:08 AM:

John@386: Strange as it may seem, that stuff about eliminating lines from the road, street signs etc etc is exactly what the Dutch town planners have been doing.

I'm seeing a lot of scepticism about risk compensation in this thread. I've got a longer response planned to try and address some of the points made; I'll see if I have time to put it together tonight.

#391 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:17 AM:

There are really three subtly different questions here:
(1) Would you, personally, be safer if you wore a seatbelt (everything else being the same)?
(2) Are we all safer when everyone is compelled to wear seatbelts?
(3) If compulsion makes us safer, is the trade-off a good one?
I think the answer to (1) is "yes, almost certainly" (and indeed I always wear a seatbelt). But I'm much less sure about the answers to (2) and (3).

The reasons for doubting (2) are set out in the John Adams paper I cited: countries that introduced a seatbelt law did not experience any improvement in road safety, when compared to countries that didn't introduce a law. (More detailed, but older, discussion here.) Another line of evidence comes from Smeed's Law, an empirical relationship between rate of car ownership and accidents per vehicle, discussed here. Smeed's law suggests that road deaths are largely independent of particular safety measures.

This line of thinking is not an argument for not wearing a seatbelt: the evidence that you'll be safer if you do is very strong, so long as you manage to avoid the temptation to take more risks. But it's a caution against compulsion, because it suggests the cost-benefit argument is not one-sided.

#392 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:20 AM:

Teresa@312: Alan (120), how do Teva sandals hold up?

Guessing you meant me @181, I asked Joe and he thinks they're an improvement in the not-falling-off category, but not so much in the covering-your-feet category.

[S]andals are bad because they cover less of your feet -- but Tevas look like they'd probably at least stay on your feet in an impact, unlike slip-on shoes. So it could be worse, but it could be better, I guess.

Keep in mind that what we're talking about is survivability in a limited type of crash: the kind where the main cause of death is inability to get out of a wrecked plane quickly. Then again, that's also the only kind where you can do anything to affect your chances.

Cowboy boots or steel toes boots would be better, but more difficult to get on the plane, I guess. I'll be wearing my Teva-like gym shoes that cover my toes when I fly.

#393 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:27 AM:

Jenny Islander @164: Schoolbusses are IME the only vehicles where damage to the riders regulary happens on straight roads at a constant speed of 70 kmh. Adding seat belts would only give kids a tool to strangle each other with.

#394 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:52 AM:

John@386: there's discussion about displacement of risk onto pedestrians and cyclists is on page 6, based on evidence from Australia, and again on page 13, based on evidence from the UK.

#395 ::: martyn taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:54 AM:

I logged off yesterday to watch the Bahrain Grand Prix. Drivers who are not only better than us, but better than we can imagine being (unless you're a 20 year old male and into wearing your cap backwards) Drivers who drive, routinely, faster than us and faster than we can imagine about an inch from someone else who wants to get past them, no matter what. They all wear 5 point harnesses and crash helmets. Do you think they wouldn't save that weight if they could?

After the car racing I watched some superbike racing. All the above comments about skill and speed apply in spades 'cos they're bike racers and, by definition, crazy. Every rider in leathers and full face helmets.

I spent 5 years living on the Isle of Man where they race bikes on the public roads. Not a one of these dare devils hasn't worn a helmet in longer than anyone can recall.

I'll happily say that any 'evidence' 'proving' that helmets don't improve outcomes is spurious, and Ben Roethlisberger was an idiot before he fell off his Harley.

As for how you drive. I'm a diabetic. The second hypo I suffered - the second, so I didn't yet recognise the symptoms ('cos I'm an idiot, probably) was while I was driving. I was lucky. My daughter recognised what was happening and told me to 'Pull over, Daddy, like NOW!' Needless to say, I keep a close eye on how I'm feeling now.

As I said above, drive safe everybody - you don't know what's going on behind the other driver's eyes.

#396 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:09 AM:

Phil #390:

Yes, traffic calming measures such as no stripes, etc, are understood to be good ideas on low speed roads where there is a need to slow down traffic due to conflicts with non-vehicular traffic, and movement of vehicles is not considered a primary concern (such as in dense urban settings, or residential areas). I think removing such items on an interstate, though, would not result in any safety benefits.

GDR #394: I was hoping for more than just a throwing out of facts to make someone's case in this matter. Again, no mention was made of the increase in VMT (vehicular miles travelled) vs crashes involving non-motorists (pedestrians/cyclists), and certainly the claim that the above have "withdrawn from the roads" has been refuted rather solidly. On my projects I am getting more and more requests for pedestrian/bike considerations, not less, and US statistics show that more and more people are using both modes of transportation for more than recreation.

#397 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:19 AM:

John@386:"The wearing of seat belts (or not) doesn't make me more reckless behind the wheel, and I doubt it really does for anyone else either."

That's nice for you, but not everyone behaves the same way, or has such accurate introspection. I know I am prepared to attempt much more dangerous rock climbs when I'm protected by safety equipment than when I'm not. I don't see why something similar wouldn't be true of driving, though it's hard for me to tell because driving manoeuvres aren't graded in the way that rock climbs are. Janssen's 1991 study (see Adams, pages 8–9) supports this.

#398 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:19 AM:

Re #355-356, my dad has one eye, drives, had an accident where his life was probably saved by his seatbelt (leaving a quite extraordinary diagonal bruise across his chest). In the accident, when he was stopped by his seatbelt, his false eye wasn't, leading it to bounce all around the car. Neither the police nor my Dad could find it that night, but when we went to the garage the next morning, the mechanic had found it in the passenger door pocket (and refused to touch it).

[While searching for the eye, the policeman told a story of how he'd turned up to an accident, and there was what had looked like the end of a dog's tail sticking up between two cars. 'Ah,' he thought 'a dog ran out and the cars crashed trying to avoid it.' Going over, he looks and sees that, under the cars, there's no dog. Thinking 'All this, AND now there's an injured dog somewhere out there' he went to inspect the tail, and then realised that it was a toupee.]

#399 ::: Jim ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:40 AM:

I just want to mention an accident I was in with a station wagon. I was rear ended by a young girl with her friends and involved in a 4 car accident (that caused a couple other accidents behind us to happen as everyone stopped fast on a crowded highway). We had our seatbelts on and would likely have gone at least into the windshield. the passenger in the car behind us was not wearing a seatbelt and smacked her head on their windshield, she was the only one taken away in an ambulance (the driver wanted to drive their car home, it was already held together by bungee cords).

But that's not what I wanted to mention... I had a cinder block in the back trunk area. The impact caused the back of my car to bend in and down (she was the only driver attempting to do 80 mph when everyone else was doing 45). The cinder block was projected out the back window. I don't know if I would've been liable for that hitting the girl behind me, but she's lucky it didn't. It was in a hundred pieces on the road afterward. I know I was lucky it didn't fly forward (although it was up against the back seat, so it would've just hit the seat and not gone anywhere). The moral of the story: don't drive around with loose heavy objects randomly sitting in your car... and wear a seatbelt.

#400 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:40 AM:

Gdr @ 391, as you've provided a good example of what I was talking about in #389, would you care to address how having a restrained body (alive or dead) not flying around causing damage and presenting a safety hazard, either inside or outside the car ("being thrown clear"), is not advantageous?

Do the statistics on people who died while wearing seatbelts take into account the number who were wearing them who died because someone else in the car--or outside it--wasn't?

#401 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:48 AM:

As a result of this discussion, I'm going to purchase both seatbelt extenders for the very large and seatbelt adaptors for the petite passengers that I may have in my car in the future. I'll keep 'em in the glove box.

And also, I'll keep the cruft in the back to a minimum, and the cargo "shade" pulled into place. It would at least slow any potential missles.

Thanks for a great discussion.

#402 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:48 AM:

I wonder how many people have been seriously injured/killed from items within the car striking them during a crash, and if this is possible to determine.

Obviously if a bowling ball is lodged in someone's chest cavity that's kind of apparent, but what about something more generic such as a briefcase, laptop computer, insulated drinking cup, or even an umbrella?

#403 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:52 AM:

John D. Macdonald wrote: The argument here is not that seatbelt laws* save lives (a matter on which I have no opinion), it's that seatbelts save lives.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article for the New Yorker (Wrong Turn) which is mostly about airbags versus seatbelts (i.e., passive protection versus active). He says seatbelt laws and awareness campaigns have brought belt usage to over 70% in the US. So, if belts save lives, and laws create more belt usage, then the laws save lives.

#404 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:54 AM:

#397 not everyone behaves the same way, or has such accurate introspection

As shown by the fact that 74% of drivers consider themselves to be safer than most other motorists.

#405 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:02 AM:

#391 ::: Gdr

The reasons for doubting (2) are set out in the John Adams paper I cited: countries that introduced a seatbelt law did not experience any improvement in road safety, when compared to countries that didn't introduce a law.

While Adams doesn't mention which countries didn't introduce a law, I'm going to presume that he means the USA since (1) his data is from the 1970s when the USA didn't have seatbelt laws, and (2) the USA has a huge number of cars and drivers which provide a large statistical mass when averaged in with other countries.

Other things that happened in the USA aside from seatbelt/non-seatbelt use during that period include the roll-out of modern EMS (the Star of Life was copyrighted in 1972), the invention of the Jaws of Life, the deployment of 911 as a national emergency number, and the nation-wide 55 MPH speedlimit.

A question that isn't addressed (or even considered) by Adams is whether the gas crisis during that time led to a larger than normal number of inexperienced/first time pedestrians and bicyclists.

His paper is a regular farrago of question-begging and ground-shifting, nor does he give enough references for someone to come behind and check his numbers. Revisiting the question and doing a historical project might be a good thing for some grad student in statistics to do.

The basic argument seems to be that the Invisible Hand of the Market creates a constant number of traffic deaths, so if they don't come from vehicular passengers getting thrown through the windscreen they must come from busses hitting jaywalkers. Given the data presented by Adams, the best we can get is on the low side of Not Proved.

In the meantime, I certainly hope that Adams personally wears his seatbelt.

#406 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:08 AM:

Aconite@400:

It looks to me as though you're phrasing this as a question of morality, so I'll answer it in that vein. (If I've mistaken you, and you're actually asking about public policy, then say so.)

I think people have a moral duty to reasonably reduce the risks they impose on other people. But the same reasoning should make us reluctant to drive motor vehicles unless absolutely necessary, because of the hazards we present to other road users: half a ton of metal can cause much more damage than 70 kg of unrestrained driver or passenger.

If the freedom to drive at all is an acceptable balance between convenience to ourselves and risk to others, then I don't why driving without a seatbelt is on other the unacceptable side of that balance.

#407 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:13 AM:

James@405:"Given the data presented by Adams, the best we can get is on the low side of Not Proved."

I'm not disagreeing with you here, the evidence is suggestive but by no means compelling. But a verdict of "not proved" normally means that the accused goes free. I think the standard for justice ought to be just as high when it comes to criminalizing people in the name of their own safety.

#408 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:14 AM:

Gdr,

Since an unrestrained body in MY car constitutes a threat to me and anyone else in there in the event of a crash, everyone buckles up or they don't ride with me.

Whether you choose to endanger YOUR passengers by not buckling is your own decision, as is their decision to ride/not ride with you as well.

It's unacceptable because the risk is preventable by the simple act of buckling your seat belt.

#409 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:18 AM:

Teresa (#312): If you don't mind my asking, is it still the rule that in heavy duststorms you pull over and turn off your lights, or has thinking changed on that one?

The Phoenix area had a bad duststorm last week (when AZ had heavy winds all over), and their local news station gave that same advice. I never heard any later stories about wrecks, so I guess it worked.

#410 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:18 AM:

Re #403. Belt laws undoubtedly create more usage. An (unavoidable) problem with the population studies is that the only way you can compare more or less the same drivers with more or less the same cars in more or less the same conditions but with sudden markedly higher seat belt wearing is to make seat belts compulsary.

(Similarly observing that doubling cycle helmet use (from 43% to 92%) in New Zealand didn't produce a reduction in cyclist head injury rates tells us things that comparing the low helmet and injury rates in the Netherlands with the high rates in the USA can't.)

But that comparison only tells you about the people who wear a seat belt when it is legally required and weren't already wearing one anyway. But, given the evidence that seat belt wearing encourages overconfidence among some drivers, warning of the dangers of overconfidence makes more sense than ignoring the evidence because it might not apply to everyone.

(Again, cycle helmets aren't directly equivalent - I know of no suggestion that other drivers treat belted drivers differently (how often can you even see another driver is wearing a belt?). But there is evidence that drivers treat helmeted drivers differently. So even a cyclist whose introspection is completely accurate may be affected by risk compensation by others.

There are also mechanisms whereby helmets might increase certain types of injuries even if no risk compensation does take place - risk compensation is merely one possible explanation for the observed population statistics, and disbelieving in it doesn't change the statistics.)

#411 ::: Kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:29 AM:

#396, John the highway engineer:
For the record, thank you for showing up here and sharing your insider's perspective.

Also, can you give us some engineering journal citations for further reading? I'd even go for the really abstruse stuff, particularly on traffic calming measures on low speed streets. I had read recently (but cannot cite) that putting in vertical elements (trees, bollards, signs) right next to the traffic lane (instead of parallel parking) caused people to slow down in residential areas, because they provided visual cues for how fast they were going.

Anyway, do you guys blog? (Do you have your own scobleizer, doctrow, etc?)

#412 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:31 AM:

Thomas @374: When I played in the SCA, if given the choice between day-tripping and coming home in the small hours of the morning or staying the night at an event, I always choose the overnighter.

One of the reasons I drive a station wagon: I could get a decent night's sleep at SCA event in the (dry and silent) car. Before that, driving home the same night was safer, as I wouldn't get any sleep on-site anyway.

#413 ::: Janet Kegg ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:32 AM:

This has been a fascinating discussion. Thank you, Jim, for your excellent entry, and thanks to everyone for contributing. I'm a seatbelt user as are almost all of my occasional passengers but from now on I'll insist that all passengers buckle up. I'll also make sure that there are no objects that could become dangerous missiles in the cab.

My scariest driving incident was doing a 360 on a slight upgrade on a snowy Pennsylvania turnpike in the early seventies. I've been in no collisions that caused any damage during the 40+ years I've been driving. I've usually driven less than 5000 miles a year and I'm sure I've been extremely lucky.

I'm now driving a 2006 Subaru Imprezza with ABS brakes and front and side airbags. I marvel at how much safer this car is than my previous cars (1974 and 1987 Toyota Tercels) (and I think it's similar in body to the WRX that protected its passengers while tumbling down the Colorado mountainside) but I'm sure not changing my defensive driving style as a consequence of these improvements in safety.

Thanks also for the tip that anchor points for shoulder belts can be lowered in new cars. Indeed they can--easily in the Subaru--and I'd missed that information in reading my owner's manual.


#414 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:39 AM:

> ABS brakes ... I'm sure not changing my defensive driving style as a consequence of these improvements in safety

Good. But it's been shown that some other drivers do. "drivers of cabs with ABS ... proceeded at a shorter forward sight distance ... ABS taxis had more accidents under slippery driving condition"
(And More on seat belts from the same book.)

#415 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:46 AM:

The discussion of Governor Corzine has tended to "what an idiot!" rather than "what a crook!"

Let me tell you a little story about the effect of laws.

One winter day we got called away to an automobile accident, car vs. tree.

On scene, we find a young man, unrestrained driver, who has gone off the snowy-slick road into a tree. The car's wrecked. Looking at it, the tires are bald -- the vehicle would have failed inspection for that alone. He's pretty much okay but wins a ride to the hospital anyway. He gets a ticket for driving without a license.

Exactly one week later, we get called to another automobile accident, single vehicle against tree. On scene we find the same young man driving a different car with equally bald tires. He wasn't wearing his seatbelt this time either. The cop tries to give him a ticket for driving without a license, and he becomes Very Very Upset: "What do you mean 'driving without a license'? I borrowed my girlfriend's license! See, here it is!"

There is a group of people who will always wear their seatbelt, regardless of any law. (Me, for example. The law doesn't compell me to wear a seatbelt, but I always do. Back when seatbelts were an option at added expense, my father (an engineer) had them installed and we always wore them.)

There's another group that will never wear seatbelts regardless of the law. That young man, I suspect, would be one of them.

I don't think that citing his case as an argument against requiring that drivers be licensed, or that annual safety inspections aren't an overall good, would fly. Nor is citing him (and people like him) as an argument against seatbelt laws a good argument.

The laws will actually affect a small percentage of people. What will affect them far more than the remote possibility of a small fine is the social pressure to Not Be An Idiot.

If Adams is correct about risk compensation in this case, then not only should seatbelt laws not be passed, but the public awareness campaigns should be discontinued. The risk compensation should occur regardless of the person's motive for buckling their seatbelt. The mere fact of wearing the seatbelt must be enough.

One of Adams' arguments seems to be that since seatbelt laws have no effect on total traffic deaths, and that philosophically it is better to have fewer laws than more laws, that seatbelt laws ought not to be passed.

I can't say that I disagree with the position that fewer laws are better than more laws, or that ineffective laws ought not to be passed. But if one is trying to prove that seatbelt laws have no effect on total traffic deaths then I think that requires strong proof, which hasn't been offered.

#416 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:55 AM:

kathryn @ 376

Ah, 'autopilot mode' raises its head!

#417 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:09 AM:

File that one under "varieties of negligence I'm surprised aren't illegal."

It may not be illegal per se, but in NJ, motorists are explicitly liable as a civil matter for any damage caused by snow or ice flying from their vehicle.

In the NJ Driver manual, under the heading "Snow and Ice":

Before driving in cold weather, let the vehicle warm up. Remove all snow and ice from the car, including from on the roof. In New Jersey, motorists are liable if ice flies from a vehicle and causes death, injury or property damage. Always make sure the vehicle has windshield wiper fluid.

Speaking of, why on earth did I have to brush slushy snow-like stuff off my car in central NJ today? I expect mid-April snow in Minnesota or maybe upstate New York, but this shouldn't be happening here.

#418 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:14 AM:

gdr @ #407 But a verdict of "not proved" normally means that the accused goes free.

Innocent until proven guilty is a legal convention, not one of the laws of logic. It exists because of a desire to protect innocent people from wrong convictions, not because logic would dictate that something that can't be 100 percent proven must be false.

In many contexts aside from criminal trials, it makes more sense to go with what seems most likely.

Besides, James Macdonald meant that Adams' claims are not proven (and have very little to back them up).

#419 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:34 AM:

Christopher Davis #369: Teresa (335): "Boston is the hands-down winner of the bad drivers sweepstakes."

My father has driven in all sorts of places, including Seoul, which is apparently fairly bad for driving. He says Boston's the worst he's seen.

The first time my husband took me to Boston, he said, "You know everything I've ever said about safe driving? Try and not believe it for the next few days, because it just doesn't apply here."

#420 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:36 AM:

Kimiko #411:

Re: Engineering manuals related to traffic calming, safety, etc.

The one I'd start with from a non-engineer's perspective is "Flexibility in Highway Design", publication # FHWA-PD-97-062. It covers how engineers can (and should) design facilities for the surrounding environment, and covers the basics for traffic calming as well.

NCHRP Report 480, "A Guide to Best Practices for Achieving Context Sensitive Solutions". This one is a compilation of research papers on the subject and can be found at the Transportation Research Board's website, www.trb.org.

AASHTO's "A Guide for Achieving Flexibility in Highway Design", May 2004, ISBN: 1-56051-259-8

AASHTO's "A Guide for Transporation Landscape and Environmental Design", June 2001,
ISBN: 1-56051-009-0

While it doesn't cover traffic calming, the FHWA Roadside Design Guide, 2002 Edition, covers roadside barriers, slopes, and other protective devices that may be useful to you.

A couple of websites that may be helpful with respect to traffic calming:

http://www.ite.org/traffic/index.html
http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/tcalm/index.htm

The City of Portland has an excellent website on traffic calming; the link is here:
http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=32360
and do a search on "traffic calming".

As for vertical objects near the street helping to slow down traffic, yes, that's true. A line of trees between the sidewalk and curb, if high enough, will create a visual barrier to motorists and the result will be slower traffic operations.

#421 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:38 AM:

I've seen the Adams study, and updates, cited in industrial safety discussions as an example of the need to take risk compensation into account when designing safety measures. However, the lesson drawn was not that it's pointless to insist on safety measures, but that you must think about what risk compensation behaviour is likely to happen, and prevent that as well. In the case of seatbelts, the answer is not to refrain from seatbelt laws -- it is to add other measures to improve the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. There are a lot of things that can be done with a) road design, b) requiring higher standards of driving, c) better enforcement of existing traffic regulations, with penalties stiff enough to make people think twice about indulging in behaviour that endangers others.

#422 ::: Janet Kegg ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:47 AM:

Re my comment at 413: I said I'd never been in a collision with damage but a repressed memory has surfaced and I must amend that claim. A certain aggresive stone wall on a narrow road in Wales scraped the side and broke the mirror of my rental car.

(And of course it should be fewer miles instead of less.)

#423 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:55 AM:

As to guardrail safety, or lack thereof, one thing nobody seems to have taken into account when designing the things is what happens when the car's impact takes place right where the guardrail begins, such as the start of an exit ramp. I saw this on a local freeway a couple of weeks ago; the railing had rolled up, just like one of those key-operated sardine can tops. All the car detritus had been cleaned up, so I don't know what shape the offending auto was in, but it can't have been good.

Note that this was *not* the exit on the same freeway where the exit speed is clearly posted as 25 mph, complete with flashing warning lights, where the property owner at 30 degrees off the highway gets a new back fence on an average of every six months; this despite a guard rail and a rather large grass buffer. Flips, rolls, and no seatbelts combine to make regular headlines.

#424 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:57 AM:

I've been in two accidents, both times I was very glad to be wearing a car. Both were in a 2-door 86 Cherokee. No airbags, built like a tank.

First one was a Dukes-of-hazzard style leap off an embankment when the other option was a head-on Jeep vs. dually-pulling-cabin-cruiser with both vehicles doing approximately 65mph. Oncoming dually might have been going faster; he was trying to pass other traffic.

Was left with a bruise, cuts and bruises from small flying objects and branches whipping through the open windows. I wasn't hurt, just sore. Had I not been wearing a seatbelt I likely would have been thrown out of the seat -- probably hitting my head on the roof -- and likely would have lost control. Jeep went airborn for a good fifteen feet. (I was able to drive the Jeep away and continue on my trip, BTW. It needed some front end work later, but was driveable.)

Second one was a Jeep-vs-dishwasher. Dishwasher fell off a truck in the next lane over and bounced in front of me. I was doing 75mph (on road rated for this). Had I been driving a shorter vehicle, it likely would have been Jeep-vs-dishwasher. Also drove the Jeep away, with significantly more damage -- the cops had to pull the fender out of the wheel well using a tow strap so I could drive it. Dishwasher was totaled. I had a nice diagonal bruise from the seatbelt on that one too, but since I did a 360 on the freeway after hitting it and the G's alone were enough to temporarily knock me out ... I came to sitting in the emergency lane with no real damage other than bruises ... probably a good thing I was wearing the seatbelt. Apparently I drove over to the emergency lane after spinning on autopilot, but have no memory of this.

On helmets -- worst wreck off a horse I've ever had was off a 13'2" hand mare. (That's a pony, for the nonhorsey folks. Her back was elbow high to me.) She came to a dead stop from a canter, I didn't, and launched over her head. I had my hand caught in the reins, and came down on the helmet. Smashed the helmet. The horse was a total robot to ride -- showed nationally when she ws a children as a child's hunter/jumper and in driving -- and she only stopped like that because another horse threw a bucking fit in front of her.

My helmet was in pieces. I was lucky to walk away with only a stiff neck (the same sort of hand-in-reins accident is what broke Christopher Reeve's neck, going at about the same speed) and a broken hand. When I got up, my pinky was on backwards ... my hand will never be the same, but hey, my skull was intact and I didn't break my neck, so I didn't have many complaints.

I also came off a race-bred thoroughbred (who had a few hundred thousand in race winnings to his name) who showed me just how fast a race-bred thoroughbred could run when he saw his first cow out in open country. When I tried to stop him, he shied/bucked or stumbled (not sure which) and I went off over his shoulder at 35-40mph. Resulted in another smashed helmet, possibly from a hoof. I walked away unhurt, except for a good case of the shakes. I think I was pretty lucky on that one ...

#425 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:28 PM:

Joann #423:

Actually, the new guardrail end treatments are much safer than the older ones, which did nothing to keep energy from being transferred into the impacting vehicle.

The new ones have movable heads on the ends (they are big square plates of metal) that when hit, turn the guardrail into big strings of curly metal. All that energy doing that to the steel guardrail is energy that isn't tearing into your vehicle.

#426 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:30 PM:

Regarding the mom arm, there is also, in the parental brain, a direct connection between the part of the brain that detects danger and the mouth, one without editing built in. This morning I was driving the kids back from dropping their father off at work (those of you from Massachusetts will have noted the rather bad weather, meaning that I was being cautious. Having read this thread last night, I was being especially cautious) when younger boy threw a fit and unbuckled himself, on the Mass Pike during rush hour, in a rainstorm with twenty-mile-per-hour-or-so winds. Pulled over. Hazards on. Younger boy unmercifully buckled in; me hastily rebuckled after doing so. Pulled back into traffic as smartly as possible and harangued child for several minutes as to the utter stupidity of what he had just done, ending with, "If the Pope, the president and Ray Bradbury were in this car, they would be wearing their seatbelts!"
And about a mile down the road said out loud, "Wait a minute - what the hell did I just say?"

#427 ::: Cynthia ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:36 PM:

I'd just like to add that people are going on and on about other drivers and how they impact our safety, but in my experience, seat belts have saved my life in accidents where no other drivers are involved -- but plenty of moose, deer, and other critters who have a very poor handle on traffic law!

Until the critters learn the rules of the road, everyone in my vehicle gets buckled up.

#428 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:41 PM:

John #425:

Thanks for the info; it looked really bad. I think I feel better to hear it was a new design and meant that way. It looked just like it had been peeled off with a giant can-opener.

#429 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:46 PM:

joann #428:

The damage done to the end treatment units is severe, but that's a small price to pay (each one of the units runs around $3000 to replace) compared to having the guardrail spear the vehicle's passenger compartment, which the older ones used to do.

#430 ::: marrije ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:50 PM:

I think the 'thrown clear' idea is quite a local one. I live in the Netherlands and have never heard it cited by anyone. Do British and Australian people talk about that, or is it a purely American thing?

Here I don't know anyone who is still grumbling about wearing a seat belt. Now if we could only eradicate cell phoning while driving, but also while cycling and walking - those people are all traffic hazards as far as I'm concerned.

On the other hand, I wonder about my own attitude to bike helmets. The are a couple of kids in my sons' classes who wear them, but only a few. They look weird and over-protective to me and probably to most Dutch parents, since so few of us use them. All people who would never take their kids out in their car without car seats and booster seats and seat belts. Are we still in denial? Overly reliant on out (admittedly great) system of separate bike lanes and the safety-in-numbers that comes with so many people on bikes? Must think some more on this...

#431 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 12:56 PM:

John @425, I've noticed that there are apparently permanent farms of water-filled barrels at the ends of beam- type barriers in known heavy accident locations (one, strangely enough, was at the 1-90 interchange in Bellevue, mentioned above, but that has been replaced with New Jersey barriers). And there's also a lot of steel beam barrier ends which are curved down into the surface (notably just north of Kelso in the northbound lanes).

*Shakespearian aside: Do not fear for my driving record, what with noticing all these highway safety devices; I don't drive, thanks to what gets called "global reversals," among other things. I also know the location of every resident pair of Red Tail hawks between Seattle and Woodburn, OR.*

About pedestrian and bicycle vs car fatalities: the big error I'm seeing in the paper cited above is that they are being treated as if they occur in the same kind of environments as car vs car fatalities. In my observation (of car vs pedestrian, car vs bicycle accidents in this state over the past short time) Most of them occur in what is the safest car vs car environment: city streets and residential neighborhoods. The commonest scenerio amounts to "I didn't see him until it was too late-" cars making turns over pedestrians in crosswalks, pr pulling out of driveways or into four way stop intersections in the path of cyclists. The presence of a seatbelt seems external to such low-speed events.

#432 ::: drowsy ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:01 PM:

Bruce @ 54: I think that's exactly right. No helmet = DNR.

Equestrians: We know the helmet is just as important when you are off the horse in any situation where the horse is not secured. Add another horse and frisky 'horseplay' can send a hoof to your head and dent it. A playful turn of its head can send you to the deck and knock you out.

#433 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:09 PM:

JESR #431:

Those are attenuators (the water filled cylinders at the end of a concrete barrier). They work just fine unless they freeze, and are used where there's no room for the usual barrier end treatments. There're some other types that use dense foam in sequence to slow down the impacting vehicle; the water cylinders don't work all that well if a vehicle hits right at the corner between obstacle and attenuator.

As for the ones that curve downward into the ground at the end, I have two words for those:

Ski Jumps

Here in NC we often bury the end of guardrail in the back slope of a ditch if there's one handy, which keeps vehicles from leaping over the rail. But, just bending it down and into the ground is definitely not a good way to end a median barrier.

#434 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:09 PM:

JESR # 431

I saw a near-accident with a skateboarder just last week. Guy came down the hill in the street, light turned red in front of him, he was going too fast to stop and went into the cross street. Fortunately there wasn't anyone going through in the right lane, or he'd have been a flat skateboarder. Also fortunately, the bus in the *next* lane was a bit farther back in traffic. I could just see explaining to the law enforcement folks who would have shown up that 'he ran the light'. (It's posted 'no right turn on red'. Not everyone waits.)

#435 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:31 PM:

Tangentially, I just got diagnosed with a condition that can result from seatbelt injury: Meralgia paresthetica. Some people get it really bad, but in the worst case you can resect the nerve and have a numb thigh; the nerve is purely sensory.

Mine was probably from tight clothing and walking too hard, and it's mostly numbness with occasional pain, not bad enough to do anything more than watch out for behaviors that cause flareups. I might have waited until my next physical except that leg pain is possibly indicative of phlebitis. It's mostly an enjoyable but time-wasting experience--a semi-lame conversation topic and an opportunity to play doctor on Wikipedia.

Well, enough waste for now.

#436 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:36 PM:

JanetM @387,
"as the child of a forensics engineer..." (sorry about that, using an acronym that has meaning to just one person. But for this thread it is weakly relevant.)

All, ObSF YASID * question:
Short story, no later than 1980, regarding a VR driving test? The person wanting to get licensed gets put into an immersive environment where he goes through a virtual car crash. Because the testee still wants a license even after the VR crash, the testee must be crazy and cruel and can't get a license (Catch-22).

--
* Yet another story id request

#437 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:57 PM:

I got "seat-belt religion" several years ago...

It's the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, so in the interest of avoiding the crowd at the grocery store on Wednesday, my partner and I decide we'll go food shopping that night. To make things go a little faster, she takes me to work.

For those who may know Columbus, Ohio roads, we were southbound on Olentangy River Road on the divided portion, we had the green light at the Thomas Lane intersection (Riverside Hospital) when a sedan in the northbound lanes pulls an illegal left turn in front of us.

I was not wearing a seatbelt. I grabbed the chicken bar on the door and braced my right foot against the wheelwell. My partner managed to dump enough speed so that the airbags in the Voyager did not deploy. We nailed the rear of the sedan's trunk. The little sportscar in the next lane T-boned the sedan's passenger door.

My partner being a first responder, she asked if I was ok then went and checked everyone else. It turns out the lady who was driving the sedan was late for an appointment with her physician. The 3 college students who'd been in the sportscar loaned us their cellphones so we could call our offices and tell them we'd be late.

Hospital security was first on the scene, but no one had a scratch and declined their offer of a ride to the ER. (Yes everyone else had been wearing their seatbelts.)

The police were next on the scene -- we got a laugh out of the inch thick stack of photocopies that the cop had in his briefcase. They were all of this particular intersection...

Didn't really start hurting until about an hour after the crash. We ended up going to the chiropracter that evening before we went shopping.

X-rays for me showed all the cervical vertebrae which normally curve inward like this ) were bowed in an outward curve ( like that, and from mid-shoulder to waist the vertebrae were rotated 30 degrees off their normal axis.

It took several weeks of adjustments to get things back to normal.

I now wear the belt whenever I'm in the van.

#438 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:02 PM:

Alan@410 - I assume you mean bicyclist, given the article you cite. I'll keep on wearing my bicycle helmet anyway - I know too many people who have been spared concussions courtesy of their helmet. The study talked only about motor vehicle/bicycle accidents, but said nothing about just plain falling, due to road hazards, random pedestrian antics or even simply being unable to unclip from a pedal in time.

Ledasmom @ 426 - Your young child knows who Ray Bradbury is! Wow. I'm not so sure that the president is bright enough to fasten his own seat belt, though.

Cynthia @ 427 - Amen! I've yet to hit a critter and have either of us sustain damage, but I've had close calls with moose, deer, geese, ducks, quail, turkeys and a stray alpaca. Personally, I'm convinced that one of these days, a chicken is going to come through my windshield.

drowsy @ 432 (And Bruce @ 54) - let's not say that out loud. Some bright boy or girl in some state legislature somewhere might hear and actually try that.

#439 ::: Bill Wilson ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:13 PM:

Just a quick note to say you've written an excellent post. I was on this bandwagon 20+ years ago, and I'm glad legislatures are finally seeing the light.

And for those who have been in a MVA where they'd "have been killed if wearing a seatbelt," start buckling up now. You've had your one incredibly lucky break--don't go wasting money on lottery tickets.

#440 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:15 PM:

This is an interesting discussion.

I'm not sure about the risk balancing stuff overall, but (as I think Jim commented) it surely has to do with the risk perceptions of the drivers making decisions. My sense is that many 4WD drivers obviously do risk balancing with an incorrect assessment of their risks--basically, thinking they can safely drive much faster in bad conditions than they really can.

As far as the seatbelt laws go, to the extent you're talking about protecting an adult from his own decisions, I think you guys are using justifications that you would never accept in other situations. For example, driving your car for the next month without wearing a seatbelt is much less risky to you than climbing Mt Everest. We accept you deciding to climb Mt Everest, or go cave-diving, or whatever, because you're choosing your own acceptable level of risk. (The issue gets more complicated when there are multiple people in the car, of course.)

That said, I have to admit I find it bizarre that anyone doesn't regularly wear their seatbelt. I mean, I can kind of see it for helmets and bikes/motorcycles, since people do sometimes complain about the heat or discomfort or loss of visibility. I get why, once addicted to nicotine, you keep smoking. But the actual cost for wearing a seatbelt seems so amazingly small that it's surprising to me that it's much of an issue for anyone.

#441 ::: RP ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:16 PM:

Thanks to this discussion, I'm never lowering the passenger seat for a nap again, and neither will my passengers.

re untethered children and unsafe police officers: Yep, yep, yep. My husband had seen loads of unsafe driving in a fairly short time (including a woman nursing a baby while driving), and thus yelled at a guy driving on a major road in Chicago at twilight with his unrestrained son on his lap "learning how to drive". The driver was in a late model car that certainly had airbags. Turns out the guy was an off-duty Chicago cop, and thus got my husband arrested for felony assault for yelling across 2 lanes of traffic. (The guy never showed up in court - he just wanted my husband to spend 6 hours in jail.)

#442 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:20 PM:

Marrije @430 re: Bike helmets

Why do I always wear a helmet when biking, if there are any hard surfaces anywhere on the route (i.e. even bike paths)?

Because of a roommate I lost in college. Patrick didn't die, but he had to drop out of graduate school college because of his helmetless single-rider 12 kilometers/hour accident.

While biking home late at night (in a town where bikes outnumber residents: everyone bikes), he somehow fell. All the energy- 90 kilos of human at 12 k/hr- that should have been transfered to his helmet's plastic and foam went into his skull.

Patrick continued home. Another roommate- a medical student- noticed the signs of a concussion. We brought him to the hospital: other than the concussion Patrick seemed fine. No fractures, no stiches needed, not even a 'chiseled spam' road rash*.

Except he lost about 20 IQ points. His was a real Algernon moment. He could read newspapers but not his own notes. He could understand TV shows but not lectures.

His brother put law school on hold and flew out to California to help, but even with his brother shadowing him Patrick couldn't handle grad school. He dropped out and left for physical rehab in Colorado. He didn't return to school in the next 2 years. After that I lost track: I don't know if he ever went back to a grad school.

Wear a helmet. Knee and elbow pads- that can be excessively protective. Children can learn to love scars- it makes for a conversation opener. Children won't love not being able to hold an intelligent conversation.
---
* In retrospect Patrick should have wanted a broken arm and road rash- energy that could have been absorbed in his skin and arm bones went into his skull.

#443 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:29 PM:

I can kind of see it for helmets and bikes/motorcycles, since people do sometimes complain about the heat or discomfort or loss of visibility

Roomie was out on his bike (ex-LAPD Honda 750) one morning in mid-June - this was in the early '80s. Came in at lunch, one leg of pants shredded, leg with road rash. He was on the Pasadena Freeway when traffic suddenly slowed ... and the bike chose that moment to blow the oil seal. Which is in front of the rear wheel. He went down, fortunately at about 20mph, and the total damage was the scraped leg, the ruined pants, his wallet (in pants pocket - went after the outside layer of fabric), his leather gloves, and the faceplate on the helmet (came off and went somewhere). Abrasion-resistant jacket, just scuffed.

He said that a few minutes he'd watched a kid go by on another bike in shorts, tennies, teeshirt, no helmet, and thought that while the kid might be more comfortable, he was also a lot more likely to get serious damage.

#444 ::: SallyW ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:36 PM:

I used to never wear my seatbelt because I figured I would leave things up to fate--"if it's my time to go, it's my time to go." But then in 1998 my little brother died, not in anything car related, but now that I know from experience the hell and misery that my family would go through if I died, I wear my seatbelt for them.

#445 ::: Joe Morrison ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:48 PM:

Coming late to the discussion, but I want to add my two cents and have a comment or two that actually hasn't been mentioned prior to #422.

First I am at best an average drive and have had my share of accidents. I have made a concious decision not to wear my seatbelt 4-5 times over the last twelve months. In all of those cases it was to drive approximately 3 blocks between my local chinese takeout and home and I did drive slower and more paranoid to compensate.

In the accidents that I have had they have all been single vehicle accidents while I was wearing my seatbelt and with one exception have all been in icy conditions. The one exception happened on my way home from work in broad daylight with dry pavement. A suicidal deer came up out of deep ditch across the oncoming lane of traffic and basically cleared my hood wiping out my windshiled and the roofline of my car, totalling it out. It was an instant fatality for the deer and I developed a bruise on my arm like I had been hit with a baseball. Even though the only decelleration was due to my braking the contents of my car were thourghly scrambled and glass splinters were everywhere except in my underware. I don't think that wearing my seatbelt has had an effect one way or anther in the accident's I've been in, but since I can't tell the future I bet that wearing it is worth the tiny inconvenience.

Now the addition to the discussion. In certain situations ABS brakes can prevent the vehicle from stopping becasue the transmission doesn't disengage. Specifically on icy roads ABS brake wil preserve control at the espense of continuing at approximately 2-3 mph until you reach a patch with traction or manually put the vehicle in neutral. In almost all situations it is safer, but it has almost caused accidents for me where non-ABS brakes may have resulted in some skidding, but a shorter stopping distance.

#446 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:06 PM:

Larry Brennan #438: As far as I know he doesn't know who Bradbury is, which is why I can't quite figure out why I phrased my safety warning in the form of a bad bar joke.

#447 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:13 PM:

Albatross @ 440 - In my (not insignificant) experience, a motorcycle helmet affords not only protection from head injuries in an accident, but serves to generally improve rider comfort by blocking wind and rain, reducing noise (earplugs are good too) and providing protection from random bits of road debris. Yeah, they can be hot, but most modern helmets have vents and are much cooler at speed.

I also wear armored gear (both jacket and pants) when riding. Commuting, I look like Mr. Hi-Viz Cordura Geek, but even the leathers I wear on weekend rides are fully armored.

As far as the climbing Everest comparison goes, if Mr. or Ms. Mountaineer freezes to death, I don't have to worry about getting contact frostbite. I do have to worry about someone else's body flying around my car. The law gives me extra leverage to get the recalcitrant into their seat belts.

#448 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:41 PM:

Joanne wrote (#419): The first time my husband took me to Boston, he said, "You know everything I've ever said about safe driving? Try and not believe it for the next few days, because it just doesn't apply here."

I don't think that's true, actually. Not to sound too much like a goody-goody, but just because the cultural norms allow you to do things like turn left in front of oncoming traffic doesn't mean you have to. I always wait for oncoming traffic before I turn left (most of the drivers will hesitate and then go, but sometimes I get an unambiguous signal, like a flash of lights, to turn), I always signal my lane changes (and if someone moves to not let me in, I let them go ahead - do I really want that T-fueled jerk on my bumper?), and I leave what I think is an appropriate amount of following space (2-3 sec), letting people move in to the spot and and drifting back as I need to.

To be fair, my incentive to drive this way is purely mercenary; I live in an urban area in MA, and I got my license mere months before I became the primary driver on my car, so my insurance rates are hellacious. I have a strong incentive to behave in a way that would let me point to the other driver if there's an incident. A small amount of annoyance on the part of other drivers beats explaining to a cop why I got t-boned while making a left and dealing with the hike in my premiums.

#449 ::: Janine ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:49 PM:

While I always wear my seatbelt, my truck is infamous for amount of stuff I shove into the passenger seat. I'm cleaning it out tonight.

#450 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:50 PM:

#427 ::: Cynthia

Until the critters learn the rules of the road, everyone in my vehicle gets buckled up.

Moose vs. ambulance collision photos. (Safe for work, non-gory.)

#451 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:06 PM:

That thing they do in Boston, they do in Pittsburgh too. Just warning anyone travelling that way... It's pretty much expected, and the folks going straight generally let the first (and only the first) person in the left turn lane go.

Someone way up thread said something about your safety bubble (what I learned as "the Smith System" in driver's ed) being seen as a space other drivers can squeeze into. Annoyingly true -- happens to me every single day on my commute into town. I've got my nice four-second gap between me and the guy in front, and some bozo invariably pulls out (on an uphill, natch) and I have to hit the brakes. I saw in our local paper that driver's ed is not required for kids in Oklahoma, and a very small percentage take it...it shows.

#452 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:10 PM:

You know what I don't understand? Why there's all this angsty I-don't-hafta, you-can't-make-me, so-there! indignation about being required (not compelled, required) to wear seatbelts. Anyone who's driving a car in the developed world is constantly having to pay attention to rules and requirements: licensing, parking, insurance, registration, maintenance, road rules, emission standards, auto safety standards, accident liability, et cetera.

They're not free to drive when impaired, drive in an unsafe manner, drive an unsafe vehicle, or purchase a new vehicle that doesn't meet a stringent and constantly evolving set of safety standards. If they screw up on those, they can be fined, forbidden to take their car out on the road, and in severe cases have their driving privileges suspended or revoked.

And yet. And yet, we're supposed to believe that being required to fasten their seatbelts represents some kind of huge reduction in their personal freedom? What a crock. Buckling your seatbelt takes a few seconds. Wearing it is barely noticeable (unless you've got that problem with the shoulder belt sawing at the side of your neck, which none of them have mentioned having).

Not one of them has addressed the point, made again and again here, that an unsecured driver or passenger is a potentially lethal hazard to other people riding in the car. Neither have they addressed the point that they alone are extremely unlikely to bear the full costs of the kind of catastrophic injuries unsecured riders pick up in MVAs. I notice they're not even acknowledging John's very astute remarks in comment #386. And they've ignored all along the fact that every public safety professional in this thread is emphatically in favor of seatbelts.

Put up or shut up, guys. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to engage with the whole argument, not just the bits you think are favorable to you.

What we've gotten are assertions and statistics that reek like week-old fish. Wearing seatbelts increases the hazards to pedestrians and bikers? That's nonsensical -- the kind of argument that can only be believed by someone who started out wanting to believe it. And here's a hint: when the main authority you're citing solemnly argues that seatbelts do nothing to lower the general mortality rate aside from reducing injuries incurred during automobile accidents, it's time to either find a different authority, or change your opinion.

Yeah, driving a car is liberating. It's empowering. It's also a socially mediated, wholly cooperative, heavily regulated activity. You don't get to have the one without the other. You also don't get to pretend that that's not how things work. Understanding that point is a basic part of becoming a grownup. And if having to wear your seatbelt comes as an unwelcome reminder that you're still subject to laws and obligations -- well, tough.

#453 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:19 PM:

debcha #448:

It wasn't that *he* was going to deliberately drive contrary to his own safety lectures, but more of a warning: most of the population would be driving in a less than optimal manner, and therefore not to be surprised either at what they did or if he felt it necessary to take extreme measures in response. And I don't mean by performing what we call a "pre-emptive left".

#454 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:24 PM:

Gdr (407), you've failed to take Jim's politeness into account. "Given the data presented by Adams, the best we can get is on the low side of Not Proved" is a fairly heavy condemnation of Jim-speak.

Also, your assertion that "not proven" means the defendant goes free mixes several different levels of argument, the civil and criminal justice systems, and the Scottish legal system with everyone else's legal system.

I have two questions for you:

1. Do you always drive alone, or do you take passengers in your car?

2. Are the only car trips that you take ones where you're driving in your own car, or do you ever ride as a passenger in other people's cars?

#455 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:48 PM:

442 Kathryn: Except he lost about 20 IQ points. His was a real Algernon moment. He could read newspapers but not his own notes. He could understand TV shows but not lectures.

He may have had an undiagnosed subdural hematoma (in English, bleeding in the brain). There are often no obvious symptoms from this except mental impairment.

(Not directly relevant to your story, but this is a common cause of "dementia" in older people, misdiagnosed as early stage Alzheimer's, but can be caused by something as simple as turning ones head too fast or bumping against a cabinet door, or of course, a fall.)

#456 ::: The Engineer ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:08 PM:

@ John 379

Yes. It is not an easy topic to clearly explain. I misread you as saying "won't tell" rather than "don't tell."

I agree the clear zone should be as clear as possible. It is true that for most errant drivers the single two foot wide "point" object is better than the 300 foot guardrail, but it is that odds thing again. More motorists will hit the guardrail but at typically less damage than they would see if they hit the point object. Those "point" objects usually will not move even when hit by the biggest vehicles and are almost guaranteed to result in fatalities.

Many designers need to actually "think" about what they are doing. Doing on-scene reviews of fatal crashes certainly focuses the mind on these issues. Something I no longer do since moving to a different area of DOT engineering.

#457 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:09 PM:

PJ Evans@ 434, I've actually been in what was close to being a car vs bicycle collision in Seattle, in similar circumstances: we were making a left on to Lake Washington Blvd at the east end of the Washington Park Arboretum, and a helmetted and padded woman came down off the bit of Lake Washington Blvd east of (and up hill of) Madison and blew through a red light substantially above the automobile speed limit, then flipped us off as she cut around us and continued on her merry way.

I'm pretty sure she was no more law abiding and considerate than she would have been minus the helmet, though. Maybe it was the skull-and-bones on her cycling gloves that suggest that.

It rather ruined the happy post-plant sale glow.

#458 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:11 PM:

Applause for Teresa's post at #452.

Hey. I used to be part of that "Why should the law make me wear a seatbelt/helmet?" crowd. I was profoundly irritated that the government was mandating my choices about safety, even though I generally chose the safe way anyhow. (I did spend a while not wearing a lapbelt when I first got fat enough that it was uncomfortable, but eventually I figured out how best to adjust seats so it worked for me.)

Until I figured out that actually, they were also mandating the safety of other people in the car. Likely there's a few other considerations, like costs of maintaining EMS and other financial issues, but the fact is that wearing a seatbelt isn't just about personal safety. Much like the rest of the laws involving driving.

How many of you still on this kick have viewed the video posted in #15?

I admit I'm still bothered by it having to be a law, but we (the collective national we, not me or most of the people in this thread) did it to ourselves by not choosing the safe path.

#459 ::: Agnes ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:13 PM:

Thank you for a very informative article. I am going to clean out my back seat tonight.

Do any of the seat-belt modifiers in the thread have ideas about lap belts? I have times when even the slightest pressure on my stomach is fairly painful, which includes the lap belt in my car, which of course I wear religiously. Wrapping it around my knee instead or holding it with one hand both work, but I'm sure they're both unsafe. So are there any ways I can get the lap belt just half an inch away from my stomach while still driving safely?

#460 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:17 PM:

Note: Jim's participation here may be limited for a while. They've lost power in Colebrook, and have been warned that it may take 48 hours to get it back.

Jim says the stuff in the jump bag is coming in handy.

#461 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:27 PM:

> Why there's all this angsty I-don't-hafta, you-can't-make-me, so-there! indignation

It must be an American thing. I've never seen it here, and my understanding is that car airbags were developed largely because Americans rejected seatbelt laws.

#462 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:39 PM:

Teresa@454:

I'm not really sure why you're asking this, but the answers are (1) no, yes (2) no, yes. Same as everyone else, I expect.

#463 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:42 PM:

Agnes #459, it sounds like you'd be best off -- for at least significantly long trips -- to get something like one of those hernia belts that will fit snugly and offer some support.

Or.... how expensive would it be to get those 5-point "racing" seat belts installed in your usual car seat? I think they cross mid-chest.

In my travels this afternoon I picked up some seatbelt adapter devices at Target -- they were like $7.99. Now I'm all set for any smaller friends that I may be transporting in the future.

#464 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:43 PM:

Agnes @ #459 -- that lap belt should be in your lap not across your stomach.

When you fasten the lap belt it should lay across the top of the thigh, just at the hip. If you are fastening so it crosses the lower abdomen, you're courting major internal injuries if/when you hit something.

#465 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:46 PM:

> And here's a hint: when the main authority you're citing solemnly argues that seatbelts do nothing to lower the general mortality rate aside from reducing injuries incurred during automobile accidents

And here's another hint: when you are reduced to strawman arguments like "Seatbelts do nothing to combat cancer or heart disease. They don't do a thing for diabetes." it's time to consider arguing against the actual arguments being cited not a parody. Adam's argument is not that seat belts do not help aside from reducing injuries incurred during automobile accidents, but that the reduction in some injuries is balanced by increases in other injuries in automobile accidents.

#466 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:50 PM:

marrije @ 430: Regarding bicycle helmets, something to consider is that they protect the rider's head in many situations, not only in the case of an auto-vs.-bike accident.

I promised myself to always wear my bike helmet after a friend wiped out when he hit a patch of gravel going around a corner. No other vehicles involved, nothing dramatically smashed into anything else — but the 2.5-inch piece of jagged metal which had been lying on the ground where he went down and which had embedded 2 inches of itself in his helmet made an impression on me. Not as much of an impression as it made on his helmet, of course...

#467 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:53 PM:

Alan Braggins @ 465:

Here's another hint: Arguing with your hostess is likely to get you disemvowelled. Seatbelts won't protect you against that, either.

#468 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:13 PM:

Since it's the flavor du jour, here's my would've-gotten-killed story:

Back when I was in high school, my mother picked me and my sister up early to go to the dentist. We were going down the FDR Drive at ~25 mph, it was raining heavily and traffic was pretty heavy too. We were about 1 1/2 car lengths behind a small moving van, when he hit his brakes gently. My mother did the same.

That's when we hydroplaned.

The front 3 feet of the car went under the van, and the metal step at the back accordioned the hood of the car. We were completely unharmed. Not a scratch, not a bruise, some minor hyperventilation. If any of us had been seat-belt-less, we would've gone through the windshield.

The car was also perfectly fine, once the hood was replaced. I'm convinced that the only reason we stopped (without the metal step going thru the windshield), was that the truck had exerted sufficient pressure on the front of the car to give us back our traction.

#469 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:26 PM:

467: I beg to disagree. In the couple years I've been reading here, I don't believe I have ever seen Teresa disemvowel anyone for arguing with her, even heatedly. I have only seen it for abusive language, impoliteness, apparent "drive-by" argument-pastings, or rampant sock-puppetry.

There have been occasional times in the last two years where I have chosen not to argue a disagreement with Teresa or Patrick, but that was a personal choice in the interests of what I consider polite. I have never worried that they would disemvowel me for arguing with them. Indeed, the last time I disagreed vehemently with Patrick on something, he gave me ample space to express my disagreement, and we found we shared some points of agreement on the subject.

#470 ::: Electric Landlady ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:31 PM:

Teresa @ 452:

They're not free to drive when impaired, drive in an unsafe manner, drive an unsafe vehicle, or purchase a new vehicle that doesn't meet a stringent and constantly evolving set of safety standards. If they screw up on those, they can be fined, forbidden to take their car out on the road, and in severe cases have their driving privileges suspended or revoked.

A friend of mine answers letters for the Ministry of Transportation in my province, and from the stories she tells, a really astonishing number of people who write in believe they should be free to do all those things without penalty and the government is infringing on their freedom by not letting them. Makes her crazy.

(Usual cheers for the post, of course.)

#471 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:34 PM:

Teresa @ 312

If I was doing ten miles over the speed limit in the passing lane, guys who wanted to do twenty-five miles over the speed limit would flash their headlights at me.

Last fall I went to Louisiana to visit my son and his wife; they'd just moved to Baton Rouge. Because my wife, Eva, had never been to New Orleans, we figured to fly into New Orleans, stay for a day, then drive to Baton Rouge, where we'd stay with the kids, and go on a couple of day trips back to New Orleans.

I'd been to New Orleans several times before, but never to Baton Rouge, and never farther west of the city than Metaire, an adjacent suburb. So I was not prepared for the way people drive on the interstate between cities there.

Now the two cities are connected by about 70-80 miles of I-70, which is two lanes each direction, mostly straight as a string, and mostly flat, because a lot of it is causeway over the swamps. It's zoned for 70 mph almost the whole way. I was doing 75 to 80 most of the time, and being passed by everyone. Most cars were doing over 80, and a significant percentage, not just a few outliers, were doing well over 90.

The funny part was that it was all very civil and orderly. Everyone I saw in the left lane who was overtaken from behind would move to the slow lane as soon as possible to let the overtaker pass. No fuss, no speeding up temporarily to match, and the overtaking cars never honked and only very rarely flashed their lights when they'd been behind for some time. There was some passing on the right, but not a lot of high-speed weaving.

On the other hand, the civility disappeared as soon as we got close enough to the city (at either end) for the road to expand out to more lanes.

#472 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:37 PM:

Hi, Clifton!

It was more a warning, because he seemed to be wanting to start something. Mostly his tone of voice - if you can have one when you're writing! Besides, why shouldn't he have the fun of trying to read his own post minus vowels?

#473 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:43 PM:

Teresa@452:

Your criticisms would be fair if there was plentiful evidence that seatbelt laws reduce numbers of casualties. Then the laws would be fair, because the imposition is indeed a small one. Perhaps there is evidence from the United States, which has introduced seatbelt laws more recently than Europe?

I get the feeling that I'm not putting the case clearly. The point against compulsion is ironically that the evidence for the protective effect of seatbelts is very strong: case-control studies of accidents suggest that something like 40% of fatalities can be avoided by wearing a seatbelt (this is the kind of evidence that Jim sets out so eloquently in the original post, and is why I wear one). But in all countries that introduced laws, even though the rate of seatbelt wearing went up dramatically (e.g. in the UK from 40% to 90%) the number of fatalities didn't fall by anything like that amount; indeed in some countries (e.g. Denmark) the number of fatalities rose. So there must be some confounding factors. It looks like selective recruitment and risk compensation are the culprits, and indeed there's direct evidence for this, for example the Janssen study.

If risk compensation is indeed to blame, then it's reasonable to ask if other road users are affected. The statistical evidence for adverse effects on pedestrians and cyclists is fairly weak, but the Isles report (prepared for the UK government before the 1981 introduction of a seatbelt law) looked at pedestrian injury rates for 8 countries (Finland, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany) that introduced seatbelt laws in 1973–76 and reported:

Although none of the results is individually significant, it is remarkable that the estimated effects are all positive, whether the law was introduced before, during or after the fuel crisis.
Combine this statistical evidence with the known risk compensation behaviour, and, without suggesting that this is conclusive, I think there is a case that deserves to be answered. After all, pedestrians and cyclists suffer in just as gory and distressing ways as occupants of motor vehicles.

Alan@465:

I don't think you're being fair here. I think Jim simply misunderstood what I was saying because I didn't explain myself very clearly. Sorry about that.

#474 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:46 PM:

Ethan @ 388 I'm extremely lucky that the truck driver was very talented and very aware of his surroundings, and that there happened to be a large open space one lane over.

That big space might not have been luck, but rather due to the driver's awareness of his surroundings. Experienced truckers tend to be excellent defensive drivers who instinctively use the Smith System, even if they don't know what it is. The trucker, from his perch 6 feet above the road , probably saw the emerging situation before you did (Aim high in steering), noticed that you were about to do something stupid (keep your eyes moving), and took appropriate action (Get the big picture) by changing his lane (Leave yourself an out). When you're driving a 70' long vehicle which bends in the middle, and which can weigh up to 80 tons, you learn to think ahead by a few seconds.

martyn taylor @ 395
Drivers who drive, routinely, faster than us . . . all wear 5 point harnesses and crash helmets. Do you think they wouldn't save that weight if they could?

Some of them do, but they pay the price for their stupidity. (viz. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dale_Earnhardt)*

John @402
I wonder how many people have been seriously injured/killed from items within the car striking them during a crash, and if this is possible to determine.

My guess is that it's damned hard to determine exactly what hit who when, unless the "what" gets stuck in a victim or leaves a distinct mark. I'll let the experts confirm or deny.

Addendum to the perils of trucking: An ugly truth is that the chains or straps holding the load in place on a flatbed trailer are really nothing more than a friendly suggestion to the load that it stay in place as you drive along. In an accident, the trailer and the load are quite likely to part ways.

This is why truckers who coils of steel refer to the two ways of loading the coils as "shotgun load" or "suicide load". Shotgun has the hollow centers of the coils lined up in parallel with the trailer length, like the barrel of a giant gun, so if you swerve very hard or roll over they fall off to the side, squashing whatever is next to the trailer. Suicide load has the center of the coils at right angles to the trailer, so that in an accident they either roll off the back of the trailer and squash whatever is behind the trailer or roll forward, crushing the tractor and the driver inside (hence the name). Moral: Don't drive along side or close behind flatbed trailers, especially in congested urban areas or in bad weather conditions.**

Janet Kegg @ 422
A certain aggresive stone wall on a narrow road in Wales scraped the side and broke the mirror of my rental car.

Friendly note for Americans driving rental cars in the UK:

1) Don't drive in London (or any other big city).

2) Be sure to get a rental car with pre-scraped hubcaps on the passenger side of the car. Off of the A routes, roads are narrower than in the U.S. so you will scrape the hubcaps against those lovely hedgerows and stone walls as you try to keep keep the "proper" distance between your car and the oncoming traffic. The rental companies will charge you for new hubcaps if you scrape them up. My wife and I lucked out and didn't get charged (we got pre-scraped hubcaps), but I got to hear a fine row between the rental agency manager and some poor schmuck who did.

Marrije @430


The high number of bikes and dedicated bike lanes seems to me like a good argument for helmets. Higher traffic density means collisions are more likely.

Kathryn from Sunnyvale @ 442

Wear a helmet. Knee and elbow pads- that can be excessively protective. Children can learn to love scars- it makes for a conversation opener.

I hope you were being facetious. Kids will need to bend and bear weight with those knees and bend those elbows for the rest of their lives. Serious joint injuries are just as painful, limiting and expensive to treat for kids as they are for adults and old injuries sustained in childhood can result in chronic problems starting in middle age. I don't know how many 30- to 50- something people I know whose knees are screwed up due to high school sports injuries.

Use all the recommended safety equipment for every task you perform. Even if it makes you look like a dork, better a whole and healthy dork than a pretty corpse or invalid.

Janet Brennan Croft @451

That thing they do in Boston, they do in Pittsburgh too.

That sounds like the name of a Tin Pan Alley ditty.

[Cue the 78 up on spindle and wind up the Victrola.]

Shh..shh...shh...shh

[Tinny sound of Al Jolson-wannabe singing through a megaphone]

That thing they do in Boston, they do in Pittsburgh, too. They do it round the country, so let's do it me and you.

We'll do it both together, come on let's have some fun, don't let those folks in Pittsburgh, be the only ones.

The craze they've tried to ban in Boston, has swept the U.S.A., let's try it 'fore they can it, you and me, today.

Oh come and be my honey, come and be my girl, and we'll do the thing they do in Boston, all around the world!

Seriously, I wonder if there is a correlation between screwed up traffic patterns and rude/unsafe driving. Due to history and geography both Pittsburgh and Boston suffer from road networks which look like plates of electrified worms, with lots of situations where "you can't get there from here." By contrast, in thrilling defiance of topography, San Francisco's streets are (mostly) arranged in a grid and I've found it much less stressful to drive.

*My wife and I were living near Mooresville, NC - the epicenter of NASCAR - when St. Dale the Intimidator hit the wall at Daytona in 2001. There was great lamentation in the land of Cheerwine and vinegar-cured barbecue; every body shop, mechanic, oil change place, gas station, auto parts store, etc. from Charlotte to Greensboro had signs up reading "We miss you #13." [Earnhardt's car number]

**Steel-haulers are also notorious for grossly overloading their rigs, especially for short-haul trips where they are unlikely to face a weight check. To make things worse, they often get paid by the load, which gives them every incentive to speed. Logging trucks (although I have never encountered them personally) are said to be just as bad. Paradoxically, some of the safest trucks on the road are the tanker trucks filled with gasoline or other liquid nastiness. Not surprisingly, tanker fleet operators are very picky about who they hire. Tanker drivers also tend to be short haul truckers who get to sleep regular hours in their own beds, so they aren't likely to fall asleep at the wheel.

#475 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:54 PM:

Teresa @452: in some cases they're the same people who argue about or ignore all those other restrictions on their freedom to use the car in any manner they please regardless of the consequences to others. I say this as someone who was nearly hit by "why shouldn't I talk on my cellphone as I drive?" types twice within two blocks as I walked past car park exits a couple of weeks ago. It's amazing how many people will stick their fingers in their ears and go lalalaicanthearyou when you start talking about the statistics on mobile phone usage and RTAs.

#476 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:06 PM:

P.J. Evans @443, and re: protective clothes for motorcycling, two anecdotes:

He said that a few minutes he'd watched a kid go by on another bike in shorts, tennies, teeshirt, no helmet, and thought that while the kid might be more comfortable, he was also a lot more likely to get serious damage.

I was in a debate on this with a friend who was wearing full protective clothing on a 40°C day and fainted from the heat when his bike was going about 15 km/h in thick traffic. The positions were a) better to wear the clothes, fall off your bike but take no damage, or b) ride in a t-shirt and try not to fall off. (Bicycling was not an alternative, as the heat had killed a bicyclist the day before.) We discovered that there are protective clothes for very hot weather, but they cost about as much as a cheap used car.

However, the most stupid reasonable case of not wearing protective clothes was a friend who lost control over her bike in a wall-of-water-rainshower. She had been wearing a woolen sweater and no jacket and had a miserable case of road rash. Her comment? "Thank god I wasn't wearing my motorcycle jacket, it might have got damaged."

#477 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:23 PM:

Xopher @ 316

it sounded like people were saying that the longer it's moving the more force it takes to stop it, and that doesn't sound right.

I've always interpreted the original Heinlein quote to mean that you can't stop masses in zero-g in substantially less time than it took to start them. I believe it's also true that it takes more time to stop a mass with a push than to start it with a push, because human bodies can generate more power (energy per unit time) pushing in expansion with leg muscles than pushing against compression. Is there an exercise physiologist out there who can confirm or deny this?

#478 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:24 PM:

I've gone and looked at the Adams paper now. So have various other people in this thread. It's a piece of crap -- no rigor, basic information missing, huge lacunae in its models, et cetera. I'm not going to pretend that it's intellectually respectable. That would be like arguing over the history in The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, the theology in The Two Babylons, or the science in Von Danniken.

So. Is there some other source that can be cited instead?

#479 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:28 PM:

Gdr (462): I asked because if you ride in a car with other people and you don't fasten your seatbelt, you potentially make yourself into the mechanism of injury that will kill or maim them in an accident. Watch the video linked from comment #15, the one flagged "not for Teresa", if you're unfamiliar with the concept.

How do you justify that?

#480 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:39 PM:

Thomas @ 474: Seriously, I wonder if there is a correlation between screwed up traffic patterns and rude/unsafe driving. Due to history and geography both Pittsburgh and Boston suffer from road networks which look like plates of electrified worms, with lots of situations where "you can't get there from here."

Hmmm. Perhaps Seattle is an exception, then. Our road network is a study in false promises. It's mostly a grid, until it hits a hill or a lake or some other obstacle, and then some random street gets called into service to bridge the gap while all the others simply disappear only to resume on the other side. Just because two addresses are on the same street doesn't mean that you can get there in a straght line. And if you miss your turn, it may take miles of driving to recover.

Despite all this, and our ghastly traffic drivers here are pretty sedate, and most of the aggressive driving of the passive-agressive form (e.g. drivers in light traffic and good conditions three abreast in each freeway lane at 10 mph below the limit).

***

inge @ 476, part of protective gear is that it should be appropriate for the conditions. Your freind who fainted should have made sure that he was properly hydrated, and ideally would have been wearing a mesh armor jacket, perhaps even with a damp t-shirt underneath. 40C is nothing to trifle with on a bike, in a car or even on foot.

#481 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:43 PM:

The Engineer @ 329

Boston drivers are still, I think, the worst in the US, but now there is much more competition.

I lived in Boston for several years in the early '70s, and unless the drivers there have gotten better, there is still no competition, certainly not on the West Coast at any rate. Come to think of it, I was back there for several days in the summer of 2005, and they hadn't changed.

One attribute of Boston drivers is obliviousness*. Twice while I was living there I was hit by other drivers (low speed on surface roads, luckily) and when I confronted them** they denied they'd hit me. Not denying they were at fault, I mean denying that a collision occurred.

* Well my spellchecker thinks it's a word, even if it doesn't think that "spellchecker" is.

** One of them hit me head-on to the right-front quarter panel, not a sideswipe, and I had to chase her down, pull in front of her, and cut her off to get her to stop and exchange insurance info. Pissed off the trucker behind her car no end; I think it would have caused a riot if I hadn't gotten her by force of threats to pull off the street. One among many reasons why I don't live in Boston anymore.

#482 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:47 PM:

DaveL @ 330

Oops, sorry, wrong attribution on that last post. I was replying to DaveL, not The Engineer.

#483 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 07:57 PM:

Teresa @ 335

Boston drivers are aggressive out of pure habit. They'll drive like jerks when it gets them nothing at all.

Except when their being timid will screw you over worse (or make the other drivers so mad they lose any semblance of rationality). I used to have to take Storrow Drive into the center of Boston from my home in Brighton quite frequently. There are very few situations more exciting than having to merge into Boston drivers on a 45 mph road behind someone doing 30.

#484 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:03 PM:

Teresa@478:

Adams' 1982 paper The Efficicacy of Seat Belt Legislation covers the same ground as "The Failure of Seat Belt Legislation" but was peer reviewed. But if you didn't like the one you won't like the other.

I'm sorry to say I can't find another systematic review, which is rather a shame.

For a smaller area study with similar findings to Adams, see Asch et al. (1991), Risk compensation and the effectiveness of safety belt use laws: a case study of New Jersey, Policy Sciences 24:2.

Teresa@479:

I always wear a seatbelt. What I have more trouble justifying is driving a car at all.

#485 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:07 PM:

Bruce Cohen #481: I lived in Boston for several years in the early '70s, and unless the drivers there have gotten better, there is still no competition, certainly not on the West Coast at any rate. Come to think of it, I was back there for several days in the summer of 2005, and they hadn't changed.

We were last actually in Boston in 1998 (as compared to leaving Logan for points north), and it all seemed much more sedate, except for some truly unfortunate stuff right on Newbury Street a couple of blocks from where we were staying. I don't recall the details, but double parking was only the beginning. Fortunately we weren't driving.

#486 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:09 PM:

TomB @ 340

I do think it is a good idea for merging cars to pace the lane of traffic they are merging into. A good merge works like a zipper. It's also good to use all the space provided for the merge. Don't race by other cars on the right, and don't suddenly merge into the lane early, surprising the other drivers.

And the law here in Oregon now requires alternate merge at any place where the driving conditions require a merge (road narrows, construction or accident closes a lane, etc.). Drivers are even starting to get the idea.

#487 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:10 PM:

PJE (467), it really is okay to argue with me. Honest.

Gdr (473):

"Your criticisms would be fair if there was plentiful evidence that seatbelt laws reduce numbers of casualties."
But of course there's evidence. If you don't care for any of the material that's in print, you might want to consider the unanimous testimony of all the public safety personnel who've taken part in this discussion.

On the other hand there's the Adams paper, from which I believe your arguments are primarily derived. It's so short on information that the factuality of many of its assertions literally can't be checked. You do know that that's a very bad sign, don't you?

It credits a drop in the rate of deaths and injuries in the United States during a period when seatbelt use increased to slower traffic due to congestion. At the same time, it credits a comparable drop in the UK rate of deaths and injuries during a period when seatbelt use was increasing to better enforcement of the DUI laws. Given that seatbelt use so manifestly decrease the severity of injury in individual test cases, it would be a very odd thing for it to fail to have any benefit when widely used by the general population.

It would likewise be a very odd thing that in the case of both countries, what looks like a reduction in injuries and deaths due to increased seatbelt use should have been produced by an unrelated factor that turned up at exactly the right time and in exactly the right measure. Moreover, during that time, driving in the UK was becoming more congested, and enforcement of the DUI laws was improving in the US -- and yet I see no evidence in the Adams paper that its author sorted out the relative contributions of these factors. In fact, neither of those factors were adequately substantiated for either country.

In short, the paper's bogosity is so high that it's occasionally grazed by low-orbit satellites. From statistics to ballistics, it's a weak and foolish argument, and I will not take it seriously.

#488 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:12 PM:

Whether or not you should drive a car at all is a different panel.

#489 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:24 PM:

#473 ::: Gdr

Alan@465:

I don't think you're being fair here. I think Jim simply misunderstood what I was saying because I didn't explain myself very clearly. Sorry about that.

Alan wasn't responding to me, so this is rather baffling.

For my part, I understand Adams' argument(s) well, but find them unconvincing. The Janssen study is a good start, but doesn't address many variables. If I understand the abstract correctly, the experimental results supported both of the hypotheses presented. There's room for a lot more work.

One reason for a smaller than expected decrease in overall fatalities (if that is indeed the fact) might be this: The people who always fasten their seatbelts will fasten them regardless of a law. The people who refuse to fasten their seatbelts will not do so regardless of a law. Only a much smaller population will fasten their seatbelt every time if there is a law, but not if there isn't.

That is a problem not of seatbelts, not of law, but of expectations.

It is also possible that seatbelt usage is actually lower than assumed, or that seatbelt usage before a law was passed was actually higher than stated. That's a problem for the statisticians.

But I'm not here to debate Adams. Someone else can do that somewhere else. Anecdotally I have seen few automobile vs. pedestrian or automobile vs. bicyclist accidents over the past ten years. (I mentioned one of those few before: Hit and Run and Hit and Run, Redux. As a bit of a followup, the gentleman has since moved to a rehabilitation hospital; the driver still hasn't been found.) But hardly a week goes by when I don't see an automobile vs. automobile, automobile vs. fixed object, or automobile vs. animal collision. In all of the latter cases seatbelts are immensely useful.

#490 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:48 PM:

Helmet story; way back in the day (ca 1970) a family friend ended up with a free helmet replacement, and the old one in a Bell ad.

He was on a small road in Ohio. Drunk driver, with no lights, wrong side of the road. Denny woke up at dawn, helmet was off his head. Head hurt. He picked up the helmet.

It had a really big dent. Said dent fit the rock next to his head, like a hand in a glove.

I've taken a few falls from horses. One of them was a Christopher Reeve sort of deal. I hit with head and shoulder, and felt the rest of my body piling in behind me.

No helmet, and I'm probably typing this with my mouth.

Troxel has a really nice policy. If you are in a fall, send them the helmet, and for fifteen dollars they send a replacement.

Horses are also my best example of protective clothing.

The horse lost his footing, he fell. I got my leg clear on the way down, and did a roll-and-a-half, with my elbows, hips and knees acting as brake pads.

My upper body was wearing a light weight leather jacket, elbows were fine. My legs had breeches. My hips were flayed.

I've been in a few serious near-wrecks. A guy cut me off in Seattle, forcing me onto a transition, for which I was travelling too fast.

I did a 200 degree spin as I lost the back end.

Had I not been belted, I suspect I'd have lost my seat, and the ability to work the wheel and brake, which would have led to flipping the car over the lip, and down into the trees; with the resulant unpleasant consequences.

I don't let people ride in the car without seat belts on. If they refuse to wear them, they can call a cab, or walk.

#491 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:52 PM:

I simply cannot get the original link to come up in any way shape or form, so I'll have to use the link from the Internet Archive to tell the story of what happened when this John Adams fell asleep and woke just as he, his wife, and his baby daughter went into the ditch at or around the posted speed limit of fifty-five miles per hour.

I thought I told it at greater length and detail, but apparently I didn't--anyway, we went head on into a culvert at a great enough speed to set off the airbags, so I gather it was at least thirty-five miles per hour.

Sheer terror, and I barely spoke for about a day (hard for anyone who knows me to imagine), but aside from that, a sore back for a few weeks, and some nasty bruises on the wife, we were unhurt.

I don't know how much of a part the belts played in that, but I don't care to repeat the experiment with the one variable changed, as I got pretty much the result I wanted the first time around.

YM, as it were, MV. Let me know how it works out.

Digging out this old comment brings two thoughts to mind:

First, am I a terrible father for driving my four-year-old daughter, belted into her seat in the back of my convertible? She loves it, and the wife no longer forbids it, but now I'm wondering.

Second, anyone else planning on attending the Heinlein centennial?

#492 ::: Elyse Grasso ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:25 PM:

Very Lucky 381: What in heaven's name were you doing driving the canyon that fast after the winter we've just had? Even the roads on the flat are full of potholes and disintegrating pavement.

And be sure to get yourself checked out thoroughly: my best friend's CU-student daughters are having long-term intermittent back and neck problems after being in accidents that were MINOR compared to what you described. Takes awhile for the symptoms to show up, too.

#493 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:27 PM:

Bruce:
Now the two cities are connected by about 70-80 miles of I-70, which is two lanes each direction, mostly straight as a string, and mostly flat, because a lot of it is causeway over the swamps. It's zoned for 70 mph almost the whole way. I was doing 75 to 80 most of the time, and being passed by everyone. Most cars were doing over 80, and a significant percentage, not just a few outliers, were doing well over 90.

That matches my experience on that very same highway just this weekend. But, because I'm used to driving on 101 and 5 between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, it was more or less how I expected the freeway traffic to behave. :)

#494 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:43 PM:

Alan @ 465: Adam's argument is not that seat belts do not help aside from reducing injuries incurred during automobile accidents, but that the reduction in some injuries is balanced by increases in other injuries in automobile accidents.

Oh, good grief. That's got to be the silliest thing I've heard.


#495 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:57 PM:

Thomas, I haven't seen steel trucks, but... when I dreamed of dragons as a child,they looked exactly like logging trucks.

#496 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:02 PM:

Thomas @ 474

You don't want to be behind a logging truck going uphill [slow and no forward visibility] or in front of one going downhill [gaining on you if it isn't on your bumper already].

#497 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:12 PM:

The not-safe-for-Teresa video is striking. I don't know why it had never occurred to me that unbelted passengers would be a menace to everyone else in the car, but it hadn't. I used to occasionally skip the belt if I wasn't in one of the front seats, and I have no idea why. I like to say that humans aren't nearly as rational as we'd like to think, but sometimes I think it's just me. Anyway, never again.

Does that happen a lot? Unsecured passengers hurting the others, I mean? I suppose it must be pretty hard to tell.

Thus ends the on-topic portion of this post. What follows is junk that hit me during proofreading, and a couple follow-on questions. I shall bear its' disemvoweling with humility if this sort of off-topic rambling is frowned upon here. This is a pretty awesome place and I don't want to track mud all over the joint.

Note upon proofreading: I checked up-thread for correct spellings of "Macdonald" (for a passage since edited out) and "Teresa" (for one that remains.) Imagine my amusement when I later notice the helpful spelling reference, which incidentally yielded two further surprises: That I'd been misspelling "minuscule", and that someone somewhere has misspelled "weird".

When you're using words as objects as in the use of "minuscule" and "weird" in this and the previous sentences, should they be italicized, underlined, enclosed in quotation marks, or in any other way set apart?

Extra bonus question: Is there a better way to express the concept that I'm fumbling toward with the phrase "using words as objects?" I bet there is, and I bet this is the place to find people who know it.

#498 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:20 PM:

P. J. Evans, it'a also unpleasant to be pulling out of ones own driveway and having an empty logging truck with its trailer down blow by at 80.

Or be following one and have a piece of doug fir bark the size of a platter blow off and hit your windshield.

#499 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:20 PM:

aphrael @ 493

That's why I don't take I5 through the valley. I'd rather be on 99, and people who mostly are going around the speed limit. Not that there aren't speed demons, but there are fewer of them, because they'd rather be on I5.

I'm wondering if those giant oleanders make a better barricade in the center divider than fencing or K-rails. They at least give a bit (although I wouldn't bet they'd do more than just slow a semi).

Teresa, I noticed in the stuff on the Adams paper than none of the source were less than twenty years old. Twenty years ago, California didn't have a seatbelt law, the speed limit was 55, and the blood alcohol limit was 0.10; all of those have changed since then. That skews a lot of comparisons, without the differences being conspicuous. You'd have to put asterisks on everything, to use a sports term. Texas allows 70mph on roads where no sane person should be doing 60. (Two lanes, dips and rises, intersections and driveways and farm equipment, and the occasional pheasant or turtle crossing the road. Pheasants prefer windshield level.)

#500 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:30 PM:

Oh my god, logging trucks on those roads going through, I forget where but wherever we have to drive through when we go camping in the Wallowas with my mother (the particular road I'm talking about passes through something called "Chief Joseph Memorial Tree Farm", I believe). Those two-lane roads over drop-offs that, if you happened to lose control, someone will eventually pick the pieces out of the valley and send them home, possibly on a logging truck. There are also constant falling-rock signs and lots of little crosses to show your possible final resting place, or at least your first bounce.
I once drove along that road while in the grip of a serious stomach illness contracted during a camping trip, having already thrown up in the tent. It is better to have the tent with the working zipper if one is likely to be sick to one's stomach in the middle of the night.

#501 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:32 PM:

Because some folk dont trust the gummint, I won't talk to gummint numbers. But when in doubt, I find that sometimes the best way to get at the truth, is to find someone who's gonna lose money if the answers wrong. So, here is just one website I found that indicates some corporation is betting money that "seatbelt" is safer than "no seatbelt". It's a car insurance company.

They are encouraging their clients to wear seatbelts. If they are wrong, if "belt" is actually more dangerous than "no belt", then they're losing a lot of money being stupid with statistics. And if I learned anything in my brief experience with actuarial mathematics, it is this: don't bet against an actuary. You MAY win, yes. But winning will likely take years and cost thousands of lives.

So, here's a couple of bits these guys are putting their money where their mouth is:

1) three of five people killed in vehicle accidents would have survived their injuries had they been wearing their seat belts. (Source: NHTSA)

2) Seat belts save an estimated 9,500 lives in the United States each year. (Source: NHTSA)

So, to all you staticians out there who have "proven" that seatbelts are more dangerous than beign unrestrained: there's a billion dollar insurance industry who is betting against you, and who has absolutely NO REASON to encourage their clients to do stupid and dangerous things that will cost them loads of money.

So, please, tell me how every single insurance company in the world is wrong, losing billions of dollars every year by wrongly encouraging their custumers to get themselves killed, and you're right?

Because if all you've got is some scrap of paper from decades ago, written by some nutter who doesn't have a consequence for being wrong, (if Adam turned out to be wrong, would Adam have to face any measurable consequence?) then I think I'll go with where the billion dollar bet is.

Really, if you don't wear your seatbelt, I can't force you to. If a copper pulls you over for it, just pay the $60 ticket. But for pete's sake, don't be getting all flat-earthy about it.

#502 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:37 PM:

Oh, and I don't know why, but I keep having visions of the time I got to use a Jaws of Life and totally can-open a car. Fricken things are awesome. Just had to say that.

#503 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 10:48 PM:

araphel@493: That's the Atchafalaya Swamp Freeway portion of I-10 , which connects LA with NOLA (and points east, like Jacksonville, FL). I was pulled over on I-10 for failure to keep right. I had all my stuff in the back of a Saturn hatchback, and when I explained to Officer Friendly that I was moving to New Jersey and I would certainly keep right in the future, he gave me a verbal warning and sent me on my way.

#504 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:00 PM:

For those few among us who do not remember Dave Barry's description of why a cyclist should always wear a bicycle helmet...

#505 ::: Rich Lafferty ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:10 PM:

@71: Imagine how I felt in the left seat of a Cessna at 7,000 feet when the door popped open the same way! Belts come in handy there too, it turns out. And some pilots have the same irrational dislike of them once they're away from the ground, sigh.

(Standard procedure is to leave the door alone and land, but I was flying with another qualified pilot in the right seat, so he took control while I gave the door a shove and let the wind slam it shut.)

#506 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:16 PM:

This has been a fascinating thread to read. I go away for awhile and there are 100 more comments.

My seatbelt story: Twelve years ago -- I'm driving from San Pablo to Berkeley, 10 pm, I'm tired, I-80 going west toward the Maze, everyone moving fast, coming round the Albany curve just (for the Bay area locals) past the 580 merge, and I start to change lanes to the right just as the driver to the right of the lane I'm moving into does exactly the same thing to the left. Into the same space. At 40? 50? 60 mph? Scary time. I end up spinning completely around and stopping -- car stalled -- facing back into 4 lanes of traffic all with glowing headlights, all coming right at me.

Somehow, they don't hit me. I start the car -- my magnificent little Toyota Corolla -- turn it to face in the right direction, and get the fuck off the freeway. I am wearing a seatbelt. I always wear my seatbelt. I am not hurt -- not even bruised. After reading this thread, I think if I had not been wearing that belt, the last twelve years would have been very different. I still don't understand why nobody hit me. Every time I pass the 580 merge going west (which is often) I thank whatever angels happened to be hovering in the area at that moment twelve years back for keeping a bunch of weary fools alive.

#507 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:26 PM:

Nuala - When my daughter was small, I had a Sit 'n' Stroll for her. (It's a bit pricey, but I got it in a closeout sale; you could check around.) When she gets too big to hold in your lap on a plane, she can be strapped into her seat in it. (Until then, since you seem to be saying that finances forbid two tickets now, you can get a bag for it that lets you check it through.) Then it turns into a stroller. It buckles into regular seatbelts in cars, as well. (I bought a seat belt extender at an auto supply place, but didn't need it very often.)

I didn't use a stroller for my daughter most of the time, only when travelling, but it was well worth it. The Sit 'n' Stroll was also the only way I felt like I was keeping her safe when travelling. We went around China, through Eastern Europe (different trips, although both are places where seat belts are laughed at), and all over the US with it, and I really recommend it.

#508 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 11:28 PM:

Laertes 497: When you're using words as objects as in the use of "minuscule" and "weird" in this and the previous sentences, should they be italicized, underlined, enclosed in quotation marks, or in any other way set apart?

I distinguish between use and citation. The difficulty comes when you're quoting usage. I resolve that by using single quotes for citation and double quotes for quotation. Examples:

He said there was a "minuscule" chance of surviving without a seatbelet.
He used the word 'minuscule' to describe the chance of surviving without a seatbelt.
Normally, citation has some tag like 'the word', 'the phrase', or 'some tag' preceding it (the tag can be implied, so that's not a sure sign). Quotation usually refers to what someone else said or wrote (the major exception being "scare quotes").

I don't know if this is a common convention (the punctuation, I mean), but I've done it that way for decades and I'm not changing now.

There's an old distinction that (SPOILER) figures prominently in the resolution of The Name of the Rose. The distinction is between using words de dicto, that is, about the words ("using words as objects"/"citation"), and de re, about the thing. A lot of riddles depend on misleading the riddlee into thinking something is meant de re when it's actually being used de dicto.

#509 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 12:05 AM:

#494 ::: Greg London

Oh, good grief. That's got to be the silliest thing I've heard.

Adams' argument isn't quite that simple. His argument, basically, is this:

Risk is neither created nor destroyed, it merely gets displaced. Thus, if someone's behavior becomes less risky in some one area, he will take up more risky behaviors in other areas. Lessening the risk of getting thrown through a windshield will make the person more likely to drive too fast, follow too closely, glide through stop signs, fail to look both ways at intersections, and run down pedestrians and bicyclists. Thus the risk to the driver of dying in an accident is displaced to the pedestrian who is now more likely to die in an accident. The total casualty numbers are unchanged, therefore a law mandating the wearing of seatbelts has no utility.

#510 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 12:08 AM:

Greg #501:

I think the argument doesn't question whether seatbelts improve your chances when you're in an accident, but rather whether the added perceived safety of your seatbelts (ABS, SUV, airbags, pretensioners) makes you more willing to take risks. I don't think there's any question at all that you want the seatbelt on in an accident. There have been some anecdotes about seatbelts maybe killing someone or people being thrown clear or ducking certain death, but your odds clearly improve with a seatbelt on.

Risk balancing does seem to happen, and it's conceivable that all the improvements in safety technology (including better EMS response) don't make people safer. But I doubt it, since there are other substantial costs to accidents, and since people probably aren't all that good at estimating their risks. Also, it sure seems like an aging population and increasing enforcement/social unacceptability of DUI would have a big impact here.

#511 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 01:02 AM:

Adamsj #491: "am I a terrible father for driving my four-year-old daughter, belted into her seat in the back of my convertible? She loves it, and the wife no longer forbids it, but now I'm wondering."

Emphatically NOT a terrible father, I would say.

I think (I hope?) that what we are talking about in this thread is the sensible, nearly-costless mitigation of excess, easily-mitigated risk. Wear your seat-belt, there's no good reason not to.

When your response to risk climbs into the realm of "I'm going to stop living my life because the stuff I enjoy is too risky", you're taking the risk too seriously. Life is risk, pilgrim. Enjoy it while you can.

Children are not exempt from this philosophy. They need to enjoy life too, they just can't be trusted to make sophisticated risk-management decisions. So you make those for 'em.

That's not the same thing as keeping them in a padded velvet box until they go off to college. You don't have to do that to be a good father.

#512 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 01:13 AM:

P J, #467, Teresa doesn't disenvowel just for arguing. She makes dazzling counterarguments.

The only loose things in the back seats of my van are an afghan and matching pillow I keep in the van for when I need to pull off and nap.

I can't get the snow or ice off the top of the minivan by hand, but I do get it off. First, because my parking space is in the shade of the buildings, I turn it around and back into a spot across the parking lot/street. I turn the defroster up high and get out and work on the windshield, back windows, lights, etc. Then I get back in and turn the heat on high. After about 10 minutes, I drive out into the culdesac that my street comes off. I make sure nobody is coming, and drive fast donuts in the circle until the snow slides sideways off the van top. Usually that's about four turns.

#513 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 01:26 AM:

Larry @ 480

Hmmm. Perhaps Seattle is an exception, then. Our road network is a study in false promises. It's mostly a grid, until it hits a hill or a lake or some other obstacle, and then some random street gets called into service to bridge the gap while all the others simply disappear only to resume on the other side. Just because two addresses are on the same street doesn't mean that you can get there in a straght line. And if you miss your turn, it may take miles of driving to recover.

I used to live at the corner of 2nd and Woodlawn. I had to make sure that people knew which corner of 2nd and Woodlawn I was referring to (the southerly one). I used to describe as "Go north on Latona. Stop before you fall in the lake. I'm on the left."

__________

As for why the fuss about wearing seatbelts, I'm wondering if they trigger some sort of phobia in some people? Phobias can cause people to do some pretty odd and counterproductive things. I'm thinking of clausterphobia (sp?) or maybe a fear of being trapped/bound?

#514 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 01:30 AM:

This thread has once again gotten me to start putting on my seatbelt before I turn the ignition on, in case Jim wants more proof that he's being useful.

As a born and bred Boston driver (well, I was born in Maryland but I moved to the Greater Boston area when I was 4, but anyway), I have to say that it's all true. Though I interpret it less as people being mean and more as the entire city pushing the safety margin. (I try and avoid the real bad spots-- like, in fact, Storrow Drive.)

I will say, though, that while Boston drivers squeeze the orange a lot, the highest proportion of people I've ever seen just randomly running red lights for no good reason was in San Francisco. Very peculiar, since the city was fairly laid back in most other ways.

#515 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 01:39 AM:

James MacDonald at #489 wrote:

> Anecdotally I have seen few automobile vs. pedestrian or automobile vs. bicyclist accidents over the past ten years.

And a little off topic, but one that tends to get neglected: A while ago one of my wife's workmates was killed when she (a pedestrian) was hit by a bicyclist. They may not be as big as a truck, but they still move, and the pavement is still hard.

#516 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 01:45 AM:

It's simple: Seatbelt laws cause more people to survive auto accidents. More people surviving accidents means more people on the roads. More people on the roads means more accidents. Therefore, seatbelts cause accidents. There is no denying the logic. </snark>

#517 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:02 AM:

And I just love it when a driver turns into the crosswalk without bothering to look first and then glares at you for daring to be in it. You should have seen the stinkeye I got when I dared to shout, "Pedestrians have the right of way!" at the inattentive F450 that kissed me with its bumper. Thank God for low small-town speed limits.

There was a comment a long way up the thread about regional driver stereotypes--Alaska commercial fishermen tend to treat their trucks like their boats. If it's big and far away, keep an eye on it; if it's small and close, it must be, you know, a sea lion or something and it can take care of itself. OTOH, I once had an 18-wheeler stop traffic for me half a block away so that I could get my pregnant belly and my toddler in her stroller through the crosswalk.

#518 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:08 AM:

Larry Brennan @ 438

Personally, I'm convinced that one of these days, a chicken is going to come through my windshield.

Hand to Buddha, I really almost ran down a peacock a while back. There are a bunch of them at the Portland Zoo; they let them run around loose*, and they've been known to stray for miles. In this case, the bird was on the far side of the freeway from the zoo, over a hill and partway down the other side when it stepped out in front of my car. Lucky for it those are narrow, winding residential streets where I'm certainly not going to be travelling faster than 20-25 miles an hour at the most. This time I was probably doing around 15. Also, I've gotten used to fowl on the road, as ducks and geese are very common around here.

* Peacocks are vicious little beasts, with a temper worse than a goose. I certainly wouldn't try to corral one. I once had a German Shepherd who was curious what that strange bird was. The thing took off, went away far enough to get some height, then dove and strafed the dog. Poor thing ran as fast as he could and just barely avoided getting a claw on the back.

#519 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:11 AM:

Risk is neither created nor destroyed, it merely gets displaced.

Ah. Hm. Well. That no qualifies as silly.
What it qualifies as would probably get disemvoweled, so I'll lead it to the reader to create the proper descriptive in their minds. I am mentally sending the word ... now...

No, I don't think risk remains a fixed quantity, simply morphing into different risks of the same risk level as old risks are mitigated.

It's two in the morning, and I'm tired, but the thought that immediately comes to mind is that if that were true, then as we got rid of various risks that kept the average human lifespan to, say, 40 years, we'd take up equally risky things in different forms, and the average lifespan would remain constant.

But, lifespans keep creeping up, a fact also reflected by life insurance companies, so it would appear that as we remove some risks, not all are replaced with new risks of equal value.

#520 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:22 AM:

Gdr, #484: "if you didn't like the one [paper] you won't like the other."

Oh, for heaven's sake. It's not a question of liking; it's a question of credibility. Primary sources can be very tricky to work with. Publication of a peer reviewed paper is only the first step in validating a scientific hypothesis; belief only comes after replication and study from multiple researchers and points of view.

I am so out of this one.

#521 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:57 AM:

James D. Macdonald @ 509

Risk is neither created nor destroyed, it merely gets displaced.

Well, I kept telling myself I wasn't going to get involved in this discussion, especially since I was always lousy at statistical arguments, but if that's a fair description of Adams' argument, I have to object. There is absolutely no reason to believe, and a lot of reason to disbelieve, that human beings behave according to simple, mathematical laws like that.

In fact, what you've just described is the simplest, most classical kind of physical law there is: a conservation law, and it's typically described by a simple linear differential operator, called a Hamiltonian. Some examples are the motion of a pendulum, the orbits of planets, etc. OK, I know some physics; I've also read some cognitive psychology of the human factors variety: there's not a lot of commonality there. Predicating an argument on the basis of a law or rule for which there is no evidence of correlation, let alone no evidence for it being a causal relationship is rather silly. And if it's an analogy used for didactic purposes it's even sillier, because then you have no excuse at all to treat it as real without some evidence that the analogy holds.

#522 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 03:19 AM:

#478 Is there some other source that can be cited instead?

Gdr mentioned "the Isles report (prepared for the UK government before the 1981 introduction of a seatbelt law)", but didn't link to it.
Here's a scanned copy of the typewritten report, linked from one of Adam's articles about it.

And here's the Wilde Target Risk link again (though of course it cites Adams among others).

(I don't have any opposing studies to cite - though comments of the form "that's just silly" are common when risk compensation is discussed (with the implication that no-one would possibly drive more cautiously if, in an emergency, they were forced to use a car without a working seatbelt), comments of the form "that's just silly, here are the studies that refute it" are much rarer. That doesn't mean I find Adam's work completely convincing, and I wear a seatbelt myself of course, but that's different from wanting to see it misrepresented.)

#523 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 03:22 AM:

#521 Predicating an argument on the basis of a law or rule for which there is no evidence of correlation, let alone no evidence for it being a causal relationship is rather silly.

That would be very silly indeed. But it's not Adam's argument, obviously.

#524 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:04 AM:

Alan Braggins @522

no-one would possibly drive more cautiously if, in an emergency, they were forced to use a car without a working seatbelt

The situations aren't comparable. Although they're both variations from the baseline of the driver's standard driving style, they're in different directions.

People may vary their driving style to become more cautious in circumstances of increased perceived risk (a rainy day, no seatbelt, poor brakes). That doesn't automatically mean they'll drive less cautiously than normal - also a conscious variation from the default, habitual style - because they're driving a super-safe vehicle.

I'm not saying Adams is wrong - I haven't done the research. But the argument that, because they'll vary from baseline one way, people will also vary the other direction, doesn't work.

#525 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:13 AM:

I'm feeling just a tiny bit left out, because while I've been in something like half a dozen automobile accidents in my life, none of them have ever been more than the gentlest sort of fender-bender. Nonetheless, my parents (who were shockingly lax about any number of things) raised me and all my siblings to always wear belts, and I do still.

Margaret Organ-Kean@513: clausterphobia (sp?)
Claustrophobia. Metathesis of r's strikes again.

#526 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 06:20 AM:

I think there is a serious flaw in this reasoning. Adams seems to assume that there is no covariance between seatbelt non-use and risky driving. His argument can be summaricatured (summarised/caricatured, a word I've just invented that I think will be very useful) as follows:

At time t, drivers drive with risk factor x. Then, they are obliged to wear seatbelts. This reduces the risk factor by y. At time t+1, they are then operating at risk factor x-y.

Fair enough. He then asserts that they drift up by a factor equal to y, so as to return to past levels of risk.

I disagree that seat-belt use is strongly determining for risky driving compared to other factors, which this argument requires. It's trivially observable that some people are dramatically more dangerous drivers than others. In fact, some groups of people are very predictably more dangerous - as is reflected in insurance premiums. Stupid young men (i.e. all of them) pay more, drivers of powerful cars pay more, and stupid young men who drive powerful cars pay more still. This was so before seat-belt laws.

I propose an alternative that experience suggests (see my last comment) is empirically strong. Bad driving is correlated with seatbelt non-use. After all, if you are arguing from perceptions of risk, both are risky behaviours. People with a high risk tolerance are more likely to drive dangerously AND not wear seat-belts - after all, they presumably are more willing to risk breaking the law, right?

If you force them to wear seat-belts, they are not going to be any less stupid, but they are less likely to kill themselves or others.

There's also a deeply, deeply stupid assumption here that all injuries are equal. Cycle helmet use went up in New Zealand, but so did "head injuries" (because of more cyclists?) - but how serious were they? Are you sure this isn't an artefact of moving some people from the deaths category to the injuries category?

As the docs say, the difference between wearing a helmet and not wearing one is between losing teeth and learning to walk over again.

In fact, a thought: Adams' argument is worthless without consideration of the percentage of stupid young men in the population and its change over time. The boom years getting cars, and also trading-up from their first cars to more powerful (read: deadly) models, could well swamp any other effect.

#527 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 06:43 AM:

Further point: looking at that last paper, he seems to think that an increase in the percentage of dead drivers wearing seatbelts is a point in his favour. This is silly. Obviously, any increase in seat-belt use would have that effect, because there are some accidents when it won't save you, and more people will go into these wearing a belt.

Also, not everyone in a car is driving.

There's also an issue of modesty here - how do you know, when you choose to not wear a seatbelt, that you are doing so 'cos you're a perfect right-wing libertarian who is always right and not because you're irrationally risk-loving?

After all, we know among other things that people are subject to fundamental-attribution error (we overrate the importance of individual agency), confirmation bias (we overrate things we agree with), Wobegon disease (we all think we are above average), and asymmetry with regard to losses (experimentally, we will usually take $8 now over nine chances out of ten to get $10).

That would suggest a) anyone who thinks they will drive worse with a seatbelt is denying the risks they can't control and probably overrating their abilities, b) that people take special care if exposed to greater danger doesn't imply they take special risks, and c) that their extra care is probably ineffective.

#528 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 07:05 AM:

Xopher #508: Would that be the same distinction (de re/de dicto) as with that door in "Lord of the Rings": "Speak friend and enter"?

#529 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 07:24 AM:

> I disagree that seat-belt use is strongly determining for risky driving compared to other factors, which this argument requires.

What makes you think it requires that? Of course the average values for x and y will be different for inexperienced young male drivers and older drivers, but the argument doesn't depend on them being constant across drivers, merely that some drivers, some of the time, will drive more carefully without seatbelts than with.
Adams explicitly acknowledges that other factors are important - he attributes some of the apparent success of UK seatbelt laws to the extensive anti-drink drive campaigns that happened at the same time.

Hmm - I wonder if this form allows img tags. Apparently not, so have a look at the top of this
The bits marked "Perceptual filters" are the relevent bit here, that get changed by things like education/experience/changing social allowability of drunk driving.


> I propose an alternative that experience suggests (see my last comment) is empirically strong. Bad driving is correlated with seatbelt non-use.

That's not an alternative, it's an independent postulate. (And I'm sure it's true. But that doesn't mean that making people wear seatbelts will make them better drivers.)


> population and its change over time.
See #410

> Cycle helmet use went up in New Zealand, but so did "head injuries" (because of more cyclists?)

No. As in Australia, there were fewer cyclists afterwards, and the number of cycling head injuries went down as a result - but the per-cyclist rate didn't.


> Are you sure this isn't an artefact of moving some people from the deaths category to the injuries category?

That can happen - I've been told that the introduction of helmets in WW1 produced a marked increase in recorded head injuries, because deaths from head injuries weren't recorded separately.
But RTA figures are usually either for deaths, or for "killed or seriously injured". The definition of "seriously injured" can vary from legislation to legislation, as can the reliability of KSI figures (death figures are more reliable but much smaller, so noisier), but I've not seen anything on "injuries, ignoring deaths".
But neither death nor KSI figures show significant benefit from increased helmet use.

#530 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 07:27 AM:

> da re/da dicto

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use-mention_distinction

#531 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 08:04 AM:

Alan Braggins @ 523

That would be very silly indeed. But it's not Adam's argument, obviously.

Not obvious to me. Since I've dragged myself into this, I just read the chapter on seatbelt regulation from Adams' book. I do not see how his argument, whether it is right or wrong, consists of more than the statement that the statistics he shows don't support his opponents' view, and that they might support his own view. On his own admission, there have been no studies that were designed to test his hypothesis, and none of the data he presents supports it to the exclusion of other hypotheses, yet his rhetoric implies that his hypothesis is confirmed by this.

That sounds to me like starting out with an assumed conclusion.

I have other problems with the thesis and its presentation, but I'm not going to get into a detailed criticism; I'll just say that I see no strong evidence for the notion of a proportionate risk compensation in this work, and a good deal of rhetoric that seems designed to hide that. In fact, I can't see evidence for much either for or against any hypothesis in the paper; Adams may be right or wrong, but there's no support either way in the data he gives (as opposed to the rhetoric about the data).

#532 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 08:19 AM:

Any attempt at correlation between two possibly related pieces of data concerning vehicular deaths that focuses on total fatalities leaves out one critical fact:

If the total fatalities remain the same, but the number of vehicular miles travelled (VMT) increases, then vehicular traffic is becoming safer, not more hazardous or remaining the same.

VMT has increased every year, while fatalities have remained the same or actually decreased. This reduction in the fatality rate began occurring in the 70's and accelerated in the 80's.

Why those years? That's when auto makers and highway engineers began hard looks at how to make their products safer. Vehicles started getting crumple zones, airbags, side door reinforcements, and yes, seatbelts. Highways started getting better guardrails, wider shoulders, flatter slopes, better bridge rails, and improved clear recovery zones.

Even after the speed limits were raised after the repeal of the US NMSL (National Motor Speed Limit) of 55mph, the fatality rate did not increase although VMT again made an upward climb.

You cannot look at fatalities as a standalone fact, compare it to another bit of information, and then claim there's a causal relationship between the two, unless you take into account VMT and these other factors.

That's why I think the Adams' report is full of it.

#533 ::: Steve Wheelock ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 08:34 AM:

Why do I feel like there should be a post here from Charles Darwin? Maybe I just missed it.

#534 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 08:38 AM:

Adam's argument is not that seat belts do not help aside from reducing injuries incurred during automobile accidents, but that the reduction in some injuries is balanced by increases in other injuries in automobile accidents.

Well of course. The whole reason to wear a seatbelt is that it decreases your chance of a crushed skull or broken neck or being dead, even if it does increase the chance of getting injured with a nasty bruise from where the seatbelt held you in place.

Shifting from one type of injury to another is an argument in favor of wearing a seatbelt.

#535 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 08:46 AM:

To add to #534 (why do I always think of another point after I post?)

Wearing seatbelts might very well increase the total number of injuries. I can be bruised from a seatbelt in an accident many times over my life, but I can only be killed once. If I'm killed in the first accident, rather than surviving to be injured in a second accident, I've suffered fewer incidents of injury from automobile accidents.

Somehow, I don't mind the increased number of injuries...

#536 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:00 AM:

Jenny Islander #517: "You should have seen the stinkeye I got when I dared to shout, "Pedestrians have the right of way!" at the inattentive F450 that kissed me with its bumper."

Jenny, I once had to push off with my hands against the body panels as I jumped back from a pickup that blazed through the crosswalk I was in. I think I shouted "Hey!" as I did it, and my hands made a big noise on their sheet steel.

They actually drove around the block and came back to cruise beside me as I walked along the sidewalk, so they could shout obscenities and abuse at me for "hitting their truck." I was astonished.

Also, I was loud and uncouth.

#537 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:02 AM:

#534: You're begging the question. Of course shifting from worse injuries to lesser ones would be worthwhile, but Adams' argument is that, overall, that doesn't happen - fatal and serious injuries apparently remain at a similar rate, once you include all road users.
(Where "similar rate" means "in line with gradual change from other causes" not "absolutely constant for all drivers across all time". This should be obvious, but several posts suggest it isn't.)

#538 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:03 AM:

Jim Macdonald @ #509

Risk is neither created nor destroyed


"For whatsoeuer from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide vnto an other brought..."

#539 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:06 AM:

Daniel Boone @536
Before the move to business casual in the States, mother (a lawyer) was walking with three colleagues when a van cut her off at a crosswalk in San Francisco.

Without thinking, she pounded the heel of her fist on the panel several times as it passed all too close to her. The driver pulled over immediately, furious, and saw himself confronted by four immaculately suited people who were so obviously lawyers. He got back in the van and drove off.

#540 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:17 AM:

abi @ 539

What do you call a person who takes a van to a lawyer fight? The loser.

#541 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:38 AM:

Terry Karney @ 490:Troxel has a really nice policy. If you are in a fall, send them the helmet, and for fifteen dollars they send a replacement.

Yep. They use those helmets to study what's working and what's not in their safety designs--one of the reasons I buy Troxel.

Gdr @ 406: It looks to me as though you're phrasing this as a question of morality, so I'll answer it in that vein. (If I've mistaken you, and you're actually asking about public policy, then say so.)

I'm talking about both, but mostly public policy. As an unsecured passenger, you are an increased safety risk for those around you, both in and out of the car. This is fact. Unsecured, your body is a projectile; your unsecured body flying around makes it impossible for you to react in a manner likely to reduce the risk of further injury to others, especially if you are the driver, and increases the risk that others will not be able to do so either. If your body--whole or in parts--is thrown from the car, that presents a safety hazard for other drivers as they either hit, are hit by, or try to avoid hitting biological debris.


I think people have a moral duty to reasonably reduce the risks they impose on other people. But the same reasoning should make us reluctant to drive motor vehicles unless absolutely necessary, because of the hazards we present to other road users: half a ton of metal can cause much more damage than 70 kg of unrestrained driver or passenger.

Which is a side issue here. We are talking about driving and seatbelts.


If the freedom to drive at all is an acceptable balance between convenience to ourselves and risk to others, then I don't why driving without a seatbelt is on other the unacceptable side of that balance.

By this argument, drunk driving should fall on the "acceptable risk" end of the scale as well. Just as being drunk when driving affects the safety of others, both in and out of that particular vehicle, so being unsecured affects the safety of others, and is therefore a public-safety concern.

#542 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:47 AM:

If Adams is right and an increased perception of personal safety results in an increase in risk taking among drivers, then where are all the maniac Volvo drivers?

After all, Volvo reportedly makes the safest cars around, so if we are to believe Adams, their drivers should also be some of the worst out there.

This isn't a scientific study; it's someone's attempt to link two statistics to prove an already believed (by the author) position.

#543 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 10:04 AM:

> Volvo reportedly makes the safest cars around, so if we are to believe Adams, their drivers should also be some of the worst out there.

Your point being? :-)
(Of course those are stereotypes, not serious studies. But then the Volvo suggestion doesn't actually follow from Adams' work.)

#544 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 10:07 AM:

Thomas @474 -- Lovely, a real Mike Ford moment!

Larry Brennan @480 -- The Seattle street layout sounds a bit like Norman, OK. Streets disappear into Lake Thunderbird and come out again the other side (well, Lake Thunderbird wasn't THERE when the town was laid out, so it sort of makes sense), or they dwindle to a dirt road for a mile, disappear for a mile, and reappear two miles later as a proper road with painted lines and everything. I OUGHT to be able to take Cedar Lane the whole way from my house to Highway 77, but uh-uh...However, the grid system is a great improvement over Pittsburgh -- I can get incredibly lost there, even though that's where I grew up! It's very relaxing to know that as long as you keep your directions straight you can probably get wherever you want to go.

I've never been in a real accident, but it may help that I didn't learn to drive till I was 23 and missed those prime teen-age accident years. The closest I came was doing a 180 on a snow-slick highway in western Pennsylvania -- no damage, but it took years to get my confidence back. I did slide into a ditch here in OK a few years ago, after an ice storm, but again, no damage. Seat belts? Of course!! And being a real snow wimp and staying home helps, too.

#545 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 10:25 AM:

Alan Braggins, I discard you. The collective amount of intelligence and effort that's been expended here on analyzing your points, and explaining to you what's the matter with them, has been very generous. You have failed to engage with it, and you've you've ignored the input, questions, and discussions that have been offered in return for your own comments.

You phrase your arguments to give them the appearance of intellectual rigor, but the thing itself is lacking. Your statistics are tripe. You repeatedly cite defective sources, and ignore authoritative sources that don't support your argument. You derive startlingly novel conclusions from these bad sources, and then don't check those conclusions against other data or testing mechanisms.

I can't improve on Greg London's description of your methods as "getting all flat-earthy about it."

There are two kinds of debaters: those who think debate is a method for testing the validity of propositions, and those who think it's about who wins. That second sort isn't worth anyone's time or trouble.

#546 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 10:26 AM:

Actually Adams' paper completely supports my claim that the safer the driver feels, the more risky his behavior should become. Isn't that what he's saying, that the wearing of seatbelts (making the driver safer) is linked to an increase in risky behavior?

#547 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 10:37 AM:

Steve @ 515

One person where I work was hit from behind by a bike messenger (who put a lot of effort into leaving the scene, blaming her for being in front of him, etc, without success) and got a concussion. (My opinion of bike messengers is not high.)

#548 ::: Electric Landlady ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 10:45 AM:

A little more to throw into the mix. I did a quickie Medline search on "risk compensation driving". From the resulting abstracts it seems that the jury is still out, at least in some areas.

One points out very sensibly that "there are two basic design changes that make cars safer: the first reduces the likelihood of a crash; the second reduces the chance of injury during a crash. Because design changes that reduce the likelihood of a crash also often provide direct and immediate feedback, drivers may change their behavior, although there is no evidence that the change offsets the benefits of the increased crash avoidance capability. Design changes that increase occupant protection usually provide no direct and immediate feedback and, therefore, should have no effect on driving behavior."

Cute study involving go-karts with between-subject and within-subject seatbelt/no-seatbelt comparison of driving behaviour.

No evidence for increased injury or death following seatbelt legislation: Illinois, Britain.

On a marginally related note, as my taxes pay for the care of people who are injured in car accidents, I'm perfectly fine with seatbelt legislation.

#549 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 10:48 AM:

Changing the topic slightly:

What science-fictional car safety mechanisms do you know of, and how well would they work in real life (you know, if they were remotely plausible)?

Aside from self-driving cars (which I suspect would only work if all cars were self-driving by law), the only one I can think of is the Demolition Man one.

After a thrilling fistfight atop a police car (with no visible means of holding on), Sylvester Stallone manages to pilot the now out-of-control car into a controlled crash in the police station fountain. Whereupon the car fills with styrofoam (ba-dum-dum-*ching*).

That looks good from a driver-survivability standpoint, except for the breathing issue, but not so great for control of the car after the first impact.

Any others?

#550 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 10:52 AM:

Janet @ 544

The San Fernando Valley has streets like that. Part of that is because of the railroad running northwest to southeast, part of it is the LA River (west to east), part of it is freeways, and part of it is because the streets are like Topsy (they just grew). Sometimes it requires either a map or local knowledge to get from point A to point B. I've seen (more than once) a driver do a U-turn to get out of waiting for a train to pass, and go down a street that doesn't go through, or they go along thinking that a street goes through, find it doesn't, then do a U-turn back the way they came.

#551 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 10:54 AM:

John @ 546

As I said above, the paper doesn't support any conclusion at all, one way or another. It certainly doesn't provide unambiguous evidence for existence of the risk compensation hypothesis, let alone data to provide a compensation proportion with any confidence. In other words, the effect may in fact exist, but there's no evidence for it that doesn't also support alternate hypotheses equally well, and if it were supported, there'd still be no way to tell how much of an effect there actually was. And that's a point that's been overlooked, both in Adams' paper and in the discussion here: risk compensation is not a binary it's-either-there-or-it-isn't phenomenon; if it exists at all it has to be a quantity, a proportion of increase of risk-taking per unit of risk abated. It might exist or be almost negligible.

In fact, Adams admits at one point in the paper that the data supports other hypotheses as well as his own, and doesn't distinguish among them, then goes on to claim support of his hypothesis anyway. This isn't science, it's political rhetoric.

We can argue 'til the cows come home about the political and public policy issues surrounding seatbelt, helmet, and other safety feature regulation, but if we claim support from scientifically collected and analyzed data, we had better have some that actually supports what we say it does.

#552 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 11:01 AM:

Malthus @ 549

Probably the ultimate sf vehicle safety story is Larry Niven's "Safe At Any Speed." It was intended as a barbed satire of the Ralph Nader view of lack of safety in car's in the late 60's, but it reads a little differently now.*

* At least in that (rot13 spoiler) V pna ernyyl frr fbzrbar fhvat bire n Fbyvgnver cebtenz ehaavat bhg bs qvssrerag fgnegvat ynlbhgf nsgre bayl n lrne.

#553 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 11:11 AM:

Malthus @ 549: IIRC Niven had a couple of variations of "impact armour", stasis fields, and force fields which became rigid or otherwise activated on impact. I think some of his vehicles included force fields which allowed slow-moving objects to pass, but blocked fast-moving objects, but I may be cross-connecting that concept with Peewee's Vegan space suit helmet in Have Space Suit -- Will Travel.

#554 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 11:18 AM:

What if you honestly believe that seat belts are less safe, because (for example) you subscribe to the "thrown clear" thing, but you decide to wear the belt because it's the law?

In that case, you would perceive your situation to be more risky, and therefore drive more carefully.

But seriously: is there anybody out there who would actually think, "It's okay for me to hit that guardrail/go over that cliff/crash into that car because I'm wearing a belt"? Nobody would take a risk like that.

#555 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 11:22 AM:

#531:

I think the basic model is really simple: Aggressive driving has a cost, part of which is risk of death/injury. To the extent that drivers understand the magnitude of that cost, it makes sense that they will buy more aggressive driving when the price (in terms of risk) goes down.

One problem with this model is how the driver gets information about risk. That is, how does he know his price? As Electric Landlady pointed out, some safety devices give you feedback--4WD and stability control and maybe ABS are examples. I did some research before buying my most recent car, and am not the least bit intimidated by technical reports and statistics, but I don't know precisely how much safer my current car is than my previous car. So it's hard to see exactly how I'd incorporate those changes in price into my driving behavior. People are really bad at intuitive estimation of risk.

The other issue is that the price of aggressive driving as perceived by the driver probably involves a lot of other stuff, like probability of getting a ticket or two and having your insurance go through the roof. For a teen driving his parents car, wrecking the car is a substantial cost even if he's not hurt.

#556 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 11:25 AM:

Fred Mannering, head of Purdue University's School of Civil Engineering, also supports what he calls the "offset hypothesis", the notion that the perceived safety of cars inspires more risky behavior by the drivers. He's got a paper about it, which I haven't read and therefore can't speak to the quality of, but if anyone else wants to give it a look, here's a link to a PDF.

#557 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 11:29 AM:

'If a driver refused to transport me because my size made it impossible for me to wear a seatbelt in his or her vehicle, I'd consider it rude and a bit foolish. Similarly, I'd consider it rude and a bit foolish if I refused to *ride* under those circumstances, assuming we had any better reason for the trip than "just cruisin' around".'

I would never consider it rude to protect my own life. No seatbelt use possible in my car? I'm sorry, you can't ride with me.

I convinced my (then boyfriend) husband to wear seatbelts. One month later he had an accident where he went off the road into a ditch. He most certainly would have gone through the windshield. Now he always wears his belt.

#558 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 11:43 AM:

> I can't improve on Greg London's description of your methods as "getting all flat-earthy about it."

I'm sorry you feel that way, but I note that Greg London's "flat-earthy" post wasn't describing me.
He said "Really, if you don't wear your seatbelt, I can't force you to. If a copper pulls you over for it, just pay the $60 ticket". I've said I wear a seatbelt (not just because of the up to £500 fine if I don't), I haven't suggested that anyone else stops wearing theirs, and, like James, have said I don't think Adams proves his claims.

#559 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 11:44 AM:

Seattle and San Francisco both lack one charming feature to make them truly inaccessible to the casual driver. Streets keep their names.

The streets in British cities have no such tiresome consistency. Sometimes a street will change its name from block to block. Sometimes it will have two names, depending on whether you're talking about the end to end street (eg the Royal Mile in Edinburgh) or one section of it (eg the High Street, which is part of the Royal Mile).

Sometimes, to be extra fun, one side of a street will have its own name. There is one block in Edinburgh to which three names apply: the northwestern side is Haddington Place, the southeastern side is Elm Row, and the street as a whole is part of Leith Walk.

And I always wear a seatbelt.

#560 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 12:01 PM:

#536: I banged on a van that swerved in front of me when I was cycling; the van then followed me and actually attempted to run me off the road. Memo to idiots: being run off the road is not a problem for an off-road bike.

#553: the force fields that allow slow-moving objects through are in "Dune"; don't know if they're also in Niven books. The flycycles in "Ringworld" have interlocking airbags that inflate if the cycle turns over, in order to hold the driver in place. (No idea why they don't just have harnesses, but presumably the airbags work as crash protection too).
Utility fog was suggested as a crash-protection method: in a crash, the air in the cabin turns solid instantly.

#561 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 12:13 PM:

I think those force-fields also show up in The Forever War--qbrfa'g gur pyvznpgvp onggyr gnxr cynpr vafvqr bar?--and something like them in Steel Beach and The Golden Globe.

#562 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 12:19 PM:

Re: #556 The paper seems to be subscriber only, but there's a Purdue press release that does have a bit more detail than the abstract.

#563 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 12:21 PM:

#529 ::: Alan Braggins

But that doesn't mean that making people wear seatbelts will make them better drivers.

A darned good thing, then, that no one has made that argument.

The argument I and others have made here is that people who wear seatbelts are less likely to get their chests crushed against the steering wheel in an MVA.

=================

Re: the Isle Report. One should tread with care when a report is littered with phrases like "the assumptions of the model are unlikely to be correct."

A bit from the Isle Report that Adams didn't underline is this: "These differences are unlikely to have much to do with seatbelts. There does not seem to be evidence here that 'law' countries suffer much heavier pedestrian casualty rates in comparison with trends in 'no law' countries."

The data that was fed into the formulae in the Isle Report was remarkably shakey. Small wonder that the results coming out are also remarkably shakey.

Adams' handwritten notes on the bottom of the report say that the report "Says, in effect, that anything is conceivable." It's true; that's the report's conclusion. That's also remarkably useless since we knew as much already. Jumping from anything is conceivable to this supports my hypothesis is a leap that I personally wouldn't be prepared to make. Yes, it is conceivable that Adams' hypothesis is correct. It's equally conceivable that he's incorrect.

The diagram at the top of the page here only tells us that Adams agrees with himself, which again is true but both trivial and obvious.

Adams admits that the data that might support his hypothesis does not exist/has never been collected. He then assumes that if the data did exist that it would support his hypothesis, and urges public action based on that hypothesis.

I would suggest that, rather, that data ought to be collected and analysed. In the meantime, I suggest that everyone buckle their seatbelts.

=================

For folks who want video of an unrestrained person in a rollover, here you go.

Warning: This is the real deal, not actors and special effects.

=================

This post has been widely linked all over blogdom. One of the places it's been linked had a commenter say that he/she works in a rehabilitation hospital and that they have a name for folks who were wearing their seatbelts in MVAs: they're called 'visitors.'

#564 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 12:23 PM:

Another question: what if you learned to drive, and therefore presumably acquired your baseline risk perception, whilst wearing a seatbelt - which will soon enough be the vast majority?

#565 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 12:52 PM:

> The argument I and others have made here is that people who wear seatbelts are less likely to get their chests crushed against the steering wheel in an MVA.

And having seen a surprising (at least to me) number of people saying they didn't wear seatbelts before but will now they have learnt something, it was clearly a worthwhile post, it case it wasn't clear I thought that. (It never would have occured to me that anyone didn't know that already. I think it's partly a UK/US thing, as I mentioned above. I had heard the "but you might be thrown clean" argument used here to justify not wanting to wear one in the UK, but not for ~35 years (and I'm not old enough to have been driving then). "What if I end up in the water" is still relevent locally, but I haven't heard it as an anti seat-belt argument for years either.)

#566 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 12:59 PM:

Alex @ 564

There are a lot of people who did, and still do things like drive with the cell phone glued to one ear. (I saw someone holding cell to left ear with right hand. And someone else with cell in left hand and cigarette in right hand, steering with wrist pressure. Then there was the guy who almost went over the center curbing into heavy traffic while talking on a cell - with a passenger next to him.)

#567 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 01:50 PM:

kate #514: This thread has once again gotten me to start putting on my seatbelt before I turn the ignition on, in case Jim wants more proof that he's being useful.

I always put my seatbelt on, but about three moves *after* I start the car. Why?

A) This is Texas, and for at least four months of the year, you can't even *think* without the air conditioner on. Start car, which has been left with AC on full max, roll down window (also requiring ignition) and then worry about other matters. Believe me, without some coolth, you're not going anywhere anyway; best to get it started first thing.

B) I can't adjust the seat (which my tall husband has left lying Real Far Back because he's got headroom issues) without the ignition. And I can't really get the seatbelt going from Back There.

I've never needed it, but the little bonging noise is there to annoy me into fastening the belt should it be required.

#568 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 01:57 PM:

Abi, what always flummoxed me about Seattle was the ability to have a corner labeled, for instance, NE 30th and 30th NE. Not to mention the occurence of both 14th and E 14th on Capitol Hill.

Portland {shiver}- there was a night that, due to a couple of one way streets with no apparent opposite numbers, we went from a bar in the Multnomah district to West Linn by way of both 99W and 99E. I don't actually remember how we got on the wrong side of the river...

Howver, Portland and Seattle proper and anywhere else my husband has ever gotten us lost (excluding parts of the Southern Highlands where fingerposts denuded of their signs in the interest of confusing invading Germans have never been restored) pale before the horror that is West Seattle.

#569 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 01:59 PM:

There's obviously a lot of hostility to Adam's position in this thread. Understandably I think. However, the fact that risk compensation affects driver behaviour has been demonstrated in some studies. The one that springs to mind is the Munich Taxi driver experiment (cite taken from Target Risk by Gerald Wilde)

A quick summary: over three years the taxi fleet in Munich was followed. All taxi drivers drove the same model of vehicle, expect for the fact that half the fleet had ABS (anti-lock brakes) and the other didn't. At the end of three years, the results showed that the two sets of vehicles had exactly the same accident rate (to within experimental error: in fact the ABS group was marginally higher than the non-ABS group).

However, the accident profiles were slightly difference: the ABS drivers tended to have more 'driver not at fault' accidents (people pulling out in front of them, etc). When their driving behaviour was studied (without any of the drivers knowing) the ABS drivers were shown to drive faster than the non-ABS drivers & to maintain a closer distance to the car in front. In other words they were 'spending' the safety advantage of ABS by driving more aggressively.

Risk compensation really happens. It's a bit of a bugger all round really :(

(In a further fourth year of the study, the taxi company started charging Taxi drivers a portion of the cost of accident repairs. The accident rate fell significantly in the fourth year.)

#570 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:02 PM:

On the subject of Eastern cities versus Western cities, the differences in street plan come down to the ease of gridiron planning, the lack of American imagination in planning (Circleville, OH excluded), and, in the case of San Francisco, existing Spanish missionary planning.

Pittsburgh and Boston were laid out according what route got people places fastest, where fastest was measured in walking and riding distance. Boston's plan comes partially from the constant infilling of Boston Harbor; as the Harbor got further and further away from the central markets, the roads were extended along the shortest parts to the water. Add in some unusual topography, and presto! you have a city that's not made for motor vehicles. The addition of I-93 and then the construction of the Big Dig didn't help matters. This doesn't completely absolve the Massholes for their driving styles, but I can you from experience, there are some places in that city where you *have* to cross three lanes of traffic in a very short time if you want to get where you're going.

Any city within or beyond the bounds of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 is almost guaranteed to have started as a grid. Grid planning as mandated by the Ordinance, and even when the laws changed, grid planning was still the easiest idea around. The Spanish had used it in their missions, which followed the grid-based Law of the Indies, and it was the kind of planning that even inexperienced surveyors couldn't screw up. (Unlike surveying most of the open West, where they forgot to take the drift caused by lines of latitude into account.) And so San Francisco had a grid laid over its hills, in what turned out to be one of the better planning moves of the 19th century, and Seattle acquired streets that continued straight across lakes.

More on the topic of seatbelts: I learned to drive with seatbelts, ABS brakes, and all the bells and whistles of a modern car. I adjust speed for conditions, use my turn signals religiously, check my blind spots, and leave stopping room. I do speed, but I always adjust based on where my center of gravity is an any given moment (i.e. if my internal gyroscope says I'm shifting too far left on a turn, I slow down and correct myself). I wonder if us young'uns who are used to the new-fangled stuff are better or worse than those who adjusted to them?

#571 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:03 PM:

Electric Landlady@548: that looks an interesting pair of papers, I'll see if I can get hold of them...

#572 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:09 PM:

But we aren't talking about anti-lock brakes, are we? We're talking about seatbelts.

Nor are we talking about accident rates: We're talking about injuries.

#573 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:09 PM:

Jenny 517: I find that the drivers in Hoboken are somewhat more inclined to yield the right of way (or at least drive a wider arc around me) when I have my keys out. You know, on the side facing them. With the longest key firmly grasped between thumb and forefinger.

Ledasmom 528: Exactly! Why I didn't think of that example is beyond me. Gandalf read the text as "O Friend, speak and enter" when it really meant "Say 'friend' and enter." Elvish doesn't have any particular punctuation, and the idea of italic tengwar fairly curdles the blood. (Hmm, I guess calling them italic doesn't really make that much sense...not like regular tengwar are roman, after all.)

Alan 530: Use/Mention! That's what it's called. I was groping around for that. Thanks. And I like the Wiki article too...especially the part about how 'copper' is not a metal.

Bruce 531: That sounds to me like starting out with an assumed conclusion.

Which, despite the semiotic crimes of newscasters the world over, is called "begging the question."

Ursula 535: (why do I always think of another point after I post?)

It's that whole "being human" thing. Get you every time.

Daniel 536: The best thing to shout at them in that situation is the number on their license plate. They tend to drive away quickly.

#574 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:18 PM:

I could prove beyond the shadow of a doubt, using Adams' methods, that public-access defibrillators cause an increase in heart attacks and therefore that laws mandating that they be placed in public places ought not to be passed, and that CPR causes injuries and therefore ought not to be taught.

#575 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:23 PM:

> But we aren't talking about anti-lock brakes

Several posters have mentioned them (and Phil wasn't the first), from #141 on, within the scope of normal topic drift.

#576 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:29 PM:

James: it's an interesting conundrum. If risk compensation is real, then safety features that people are aware of won't make any real difference. Sure they'll protect people in a crash, but if they make crashes more likely then you're right back where you started.

Road accidents are rare, serious road accidents involving harm to life and limb even rarer. It only takes a very small change in behavour, one which a driver wouldn't be conscious of (and would probably deny making if asked) to eliminate the net benefit of seat belts (or air bags, or whatever).

Fwiw, I wear a seat belt religiously. But I do wonder whether it really makes me safer.

As a side note, somebody upthread pointed out that Volvo drivers have cheaper insurance costs & claimed this was an argument against risk compensation in action (since insurance companies have a strong financial incentive to get this right). This doesn't really work however: every individual has a different appetite for risk (indeed, our appetite for risk usually changes with age). Since we have a free choice in which kind of vehicle to drive (subject to financial constraints), more risk averse drivers tend to choose cars which they perceive as being 'safer'. Hence, Volvo drivers have fewer crashes & this shows up in the actuarial data the insurance companies keep which they use to calculate their premiums.

These kind of risk choices are the bane of epidemiologists everywhere: if the more risk averse people choose safety features over performance (say), then it makes the safety features look better than they really are in the accident statistics. You can see this in the Steven Levitt (Mr Feakonomics) paper on air bags where he points out the obvious effects of risk choices on the data set. (It's also what caused the whole mess over Hormone Replacement Therapy)

#577 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:38 PM:

James@572:Hmm. I guess the logic goes: Availability of public defibrillators => less likelihood of dying of a heart attack => less point in stopping the behaviour that leads to heart attack.

Well, as far as it goes it might even be true. After all, many of the things which lead to having a heart attack in the end are things which give people pleasure. Of course, lots of people get heart attacks regardless of how they behave so it would still make a difference to them. Plus there are many other influences on whether people get a heart attack or not that are out of their direct control, so even if risk compensation does affect heart attack related choices then the net effect may still be positive.

#578 ::: S. Ann Ran ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:43 PM:

Another person here with the belief that my seatbelt saved my life. Also, warnings that the story to follow may not be suitable for people like Theresa whose overactive imaginations immediately go to the worse: no one was even injured beyond moderate bruising, but yes, the way the probabilities go, I should be dead.

I was going south in a '95 Camry in late 2001 along a major highway between eleven and midnight on a Saturday night, in an area that had no lights along expressway, where the only illumination was my headlights and the headlights of the semi beside me in the left lane - and I do mean right beside me - and the semi right behind me in the right lane, there being only two lanes. Suddenly, lights turn on about a quarter to a third of a mile up the road: a pickup truck was pulling from the right shoulder into the right lane.

He was not going fast enough, and there was too little distance for a crash not to happen, especially with the semi behind me - I've been aware the distance a semi has needed to fully stop since a tv news magazine report vividly showed the force a semi in motion carries. Those are the thoughts I remember as I made the decision to hit my brakes to at least minimize some of the force of the accident; the brakes immediately locked up from my slamming on them.

The back of the car swerves right and then left in to the semi beside me - you know that bar that usually hangs off the back the trailers? The back left corner of my car latches onto that, pivoting on it to spin my passenger side into the semi that had been - and was still - behind me.

The last conscious memory I have of those brief moments until my mammalian brain decided it was okay to start recording again was knowing I could do nothing as the car turned; my seatbelt was on, and I pulled my forearms to be parallel to my chest, but up covering my face, hoping my jean jacket would protect my face from flying glass. Coming to, I found my car in the ditch to the right side of the road, which was now on *my* right: the car was facing back the way I had come, passenger side down in the ditch, driver's side up in the air, and the top of the car perpendicular to the road.

I remember saying help, but even then, I knew I was in shock because I was saying it - I couldn't get myself to scream. A father and son rushed up to pull away the shattered front windshield - my dad had had the car tinted, and the glass shards had continued to stick to the film, even after the window itself had broken. I unbuckled my seatbelt, put my feet where the front passenger window had once been, and walked/climbed out of the front window.

The rest of that night is a blur, but several memories stick out: I borrowed a cell phone from one of the semi drivers (who both were extremely worried about me, they were both gentlemen who deserve that title) to call home - I was 18 at the time. My sister answered the phone. "Rach, put Dad on. Now." She told me later she knew something bad had happened. Dad got on. "Dad, I'm fine." No tears, just a leveled tone from being in shock. I had always heard that the car is not important - I am, and never forget that. In shock, I still knew the car was replacable, I was not. He asked what had happened, told him I wrecked with two semis, but I'm fine, come pick me up.

Another memory: the cops didn't was to believe I was the only passenger, was somebody else in the car? From what other people had mentioned, I now understand why they were so insistent on making sure there was nobody else who had been thrown out of the car, at the time, it just felt like they thought I was lying. Also, they told my father (but not me) who told me later, with that type of crash, "We expect to pull out a corpse."

Final tally of injuries and damage? My breasts were black, blue and purple from the shoulder harness. A cut on my right shoulder, that I didn't discover till the next day when I was shaking out the glass shards from the jean jacket and found a cut in the fabric that I then found corresponded to the cut on my shoulder. I felt like I had slept wrong for the next two days. My Camry was utterly destroyed - only two parts were salvagable for other cars off it: the driver's side passenger door and the spare tire. Oh, and I utterly destroyed the brand new 2002 semi cab that had been behind me: we found a shard of blue fiberglass a hand wide and 18 inches long (my car was apple red, no way it came from mine) in the wreckage of my car. I kept that piece of fiberglass for a few years, as wells as TOYOTA thingy from the back trunk - the raised letter sign they put on the cars. I eventually tossed both of them, but it was proof I had survived.

I never saw the car after that night - my parents (likely completely right) refused to let me see anything but pictures of it afterwards. The most damage had been done to the passenger side after all, and that had been hidden in the ditch, on a dark night.

I grew up wearing my seatbelt - my parents never had to tell my younger sister and I to put them on, as there was never any question of the car moving until we did. I saw what happened to my loose stuff that had been in the car - it went all over the highway; I did not.

My seat belt made sure I was not another corpse they had to pull out of the car.

(And to that father and son who pulled the window out because they were afraid a fire was starting in the engine block: thank you! I never got your names, and I can't remember your faces, but you help me keep faith that even strangers will help strangers in emergencies. I will always remember that.)

#579 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:45 PM:

Oh, I foget one problem: the fact that the behaviours that lead to an increased risk of having a heart attack predate the introduction of portable defibrillators by about, say, forty years for the average patient means that they can't really be engaging in risk compensatory behaviour!

#580 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:50 PM:

within the scope of normal topic drift

[suppressed snickering, because this topic hasn't reached the normal level of drift. Yet.]

My brother rolled his VW Beetle. He got a slight concussion (we think). The people who lived closest later claimed he'd given them the car, although he had no memory of that. Wearing seatbelt? You bet.

The next accident, some years later, involved an unlicensed motorcyclist (on a third party's bike, without their permission) hitting my brother's car (a Ghia). The bike passenger (yes, he *was* going for major stupid) went over the Ghia and escaped serious injury. The car had to be totalled (bent frame: the bike hit a corner just right). No injuries in the car; seatbelts were on.

#581 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:58 PM:

Incidentally, the claim about the traffic accident rate being primarily influenced by traffic density (to within a factor of 2 IIRC) goes back to a guy named John Smeed, and the "law" is named after him: Smeed's Law. It is not entirely uncontroversial of course! There's a great Freeman Dyson quote on that page:

"Smeed had a fatalistic view of traffic flow. He said that the average speed of traffic in central London would always be nine miles per hour, because that is the minimum speed that people will tolerate. Intelligent use of traffic lights might increase the number of cars on the roads but would not increase their speed. As soon as the traffic flowed faster, more drivers would come to slow it down.....Smeed interpreted his law as a law of human nature. The number of deaths is determined mainly by psychological factors that are independent of material circumstances. People will drive recklessly until the number of deaths reaches the maximum they can tolerate. When the number exceeds that limit, they drive more carefully. Smeed's Law merely defines the number of deaths that we find psychologically tolerable."
#582 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 03:04 PM:

Also: if someone has a heart attack, is saved by a public-access defibrillator, and goes on to have a second heart attack, you have increased the overall number of heart attacks by one, even if no one said "Screw it, I'm gonna smoke cigarettes and eat steak because public-access defibrillation will save me."

(Another proof that PAD is useless is this: There is a wide variety of cardiac dysrhythmias. Public-access defibrillators are only useful with two of them. A person with pulseless bradycardia won't be saved by a PAD even if he falls on top of one. Even if you have one of those two rhythms, defibrillation won't bring you back a large percent of the time. Your chances are better but still not good.)

#583 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 03:10 PM:

I've seen similar comments by those who feel speed limits are way too low on interstates (as in, any SL is too low), that they like to drive fast because their cars are "high performance" types with state of the art handling systems and the best tires available.

So, does the fact that they've got the high performance cars cause them to drive fast, or do they drive fast and therefore want the cars that make it easier (and safer) for them to do so?

Chicken/egg, egg/chicken. It doesn't really matter; their behavior and attitude means that they feel entitled to drive faster than everyone else, since they are convinced they --can-- safely drive faster.

#584 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 03:17 PM:

I wore a bicycle helmet because it's a reg on the military base. Then one clear sunny day, on a manicured road with no traffic, I woke up to an EMT asking me if I knew what day it was, and I was trying to remember the word for Thursday. I don't know if I would have ever remembered the word if I hadn't been wearing the helmet.

Good thing they took me to a hospital. The concussion went away quickly, but I had gouged my spleen. Spleens aren't terribly important in adults, but when they break, all your blood goes interstitial and there's none left to pump upstairs.

I don't really know what happened—there's a thirty-second gap on the tape. But they found my paper bag twenty feet behind the accident, so I suspect I dropped it, grabbed for it, and lost control. The spleen injury was probably from the handlebars, and the knockout (and hand sprain) from the low dive into asphalt. The moral is to keep paying attention, and to wear the helmet in case you don't.

#585 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 03:29 PM:

"(Another proof that PAD is useless is this: There is a wide variety of cardiac dysrhythmias. Public-access defibrillators are only useful with two of them. A person with pulseless bradycardia won't be saved by a PAD even if he falls on top of one. Even if you have one of those two rhythms, defibrillation won't bring you back a large percent of the time. Your chances are better but still not good.)"

I was recently trained on these things and at the very least they are monitoring heart rate, which has got to be helpful before the ambulance arrives.

#586 ::: Dosco Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 04:04 PM:

1991, Los Angeles. I was one of the thousand stories in the city that night. I was driving a 1981 Isuzu I-Mark, sitting at a red light minding my own business. (An Isuzu I-Mark was little four door 85 horse power econobox. Nothing much to speak of as cars go, but she was my first car and I loved her).

Drunk Guy hits me from behind doing 50+ mph. My entire trunk folded up. The impact was so strong that my seat twisted in its mounting brackets, the steering column collapsed under me, and the steering wheel bent to form the shape of my chest. I looked down next to my seat and could see the spare tire that had been in the trunk a moment earlier.

My seat belt held. I opened the door and walked away with no injuries at all.

Later, I sent a thank you note to the engineers at Isuzu.


My folks had always drilled the wear your seatbelt thing into me as a kid. I never move the car without it, and my passengers are always belted. I even have a seatbelt harness thingy for the dog.


I'm an ERT and have stopped to help at a number of vehicle accidents over the past twenty years. I've never seen a dead person wearing a seat belt or a motorcycle helmet. I've seen quite a few that would have been toast without them, myself included.


#587 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 04:04 PM:

JESR @ 568

Most people blame Portland on the hills the city's built on, particularly Council Crest and Mt. Tabor (our very own in-town volcano, no joke). That doesn't explain SW California St, where I used to live. Here's a street that runs straight for about 60 blocks, just not contiguously. I don't think there's a segment of the street that's longer than 5 blocks, or a gap longer than 10. No blocking terrain except for one creek that's not very large, no major changes in zoning, just ... interruptions.

Luthe @ 570

Pittsburgh and Boston were laid out according what route got people places fastest,

As far as Boston is concerned, I've heard that the downtown area (the Commons and Beacon Hill) was laid out by cows. Now if only SUVs gave milk ...

#588 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 04:15 PM:

Drat. It was Rueben Smeed, not John Smeed...

#589 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 04:22 PM:

Bruce, I've long suspected that the reason so very many businesses are on Burnside is that it's one of the few streets that run straight for any distance.

West Seattle, mentioned with out comment above, has a similar complicating structure: it's chopped to bits by tiny fjords, but the streets are numbered as if it were a solid grid.

#590 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 04:29 PM:

#577:

This really makes sense only if the risk being reduced is the only cost of taking the risky behavior. For example, if the airbag saves your life, but your car is totaled, your insurance rates go up, and you get a reckless driving ticket out of it, then there were other costs. Similarly, an unhealthy lifestyle that leads to your heart stopping also leads to all kinds of other problems, many of which don't have anything to do with defibulators.

Many of these posts seem skeptical of the notion of risk balancing. This is odd to me, since it seems like this is an everyday part of life. People behave differently when they perceive themselves to be at higher risk--they're more careful of their surroundings in higher crime areas, they slow down in icy conditions, etc. People who think they're safer than they are screw up a lot and get hurt--as with teenagers who think bad things can't happen to them and new 4WD drivers on a snowy day.

I don't know how much impact this has on road safety, for reasons I've outlined. I'd bet it has some impact, and that it doesn't nearly outweigh the benefits of better safety devices and EMS.

#591 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 04:31 PM:

> If risk compensation is real, then safety features that people are aware of won't make any real difference.

Only if it's real, and 100%, and people are always accurate in their assessment of how much difference a safety feature adds (ho ho), and safety features (or campaigns associated with them) never change their perception of acceptable risk.

In particular, if people are aware of risk compensation and compensate for that as well, they will end up safer. (And if risk compensation isn't real and 100% and they compensate for it, they will end up safer still.)

#592 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 04:43 PM:

> Another proof that PAD is useless is this ... Your chances are better but still not good.

I assume the fact that something that makes your chances better but not good isn't actually useless is a parody of a poor "proof" elsewhere, but I think I'm missing something.

#593 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 04:47 PM:

I drive too fast on highways.

I mean, I know I'm not a great driver, so under most circumstances, I go out of my way to be as safe as possible. Always wear my seatbelt, always use turn signals, obey all posted speed limits on standard roads, obey all black-on-yellow speed signs for exits and the like. I never pass on the right except by accident (Oops, car in the left lane is going slower than I realized, I'm sort of passing without meaning to).

But I know I drive too fast on highways. Usually ten miles per hour over the speed limit. If it's in a construction zone, I try to slow down, but I also go even higher if I'm not watching the speedometer. I'm a lousy judge of speed, and so I spend an awful lot of time looking at that little dial.

Why do I go so fast? Because because driving more slowly on freeways frightens me.

Some of the time it's that all the other cars are going so fast, I'm going to get tailgated for twenty miles by a car twice the height of mine and driven by someone talking constantly on a cell phone (and sometimes with brights on glaring into my rearview mirror) if I don't. I have had people with a perfectly clear left lane choose to sit on my bumper in the right lane instead if I go below a certain speed, and I honestly don't know why. You'd think they would just go around.

But it's mostly because when I was learning to drive, the closest I ever came to getting killed was when I was driving on a highway, and a car decided to pass me on the right exactly as I was moving over into the right-hand lane to get out of her way so that she could pass. It was a red convertible with diplomatic plates, going somewhere around 95 mph. There was a very large truck I was trying to pass. I was too close to be comfortable moving behind the truck, but the woman behind me wasn't slowing down at all. I carefully checked my mirrors, put on my turn signal, started to move to the right... and nearly got hit as she whipped past me, up to nearly the rear bumper of the truck, and out again. She was moving so fast she'd gone through my blind spot between when I checked the rear view mirror and started to move over.

I know I shouldn't drive so fast. But if I drop below a certain speed on highways, I get deeply nervous, and soon so scared I'm driving worse and overcompensating, because part of my brain is telling me "If you let too many people pass you, one of them will hit you. The people driving fast are out to get you and will try to hit you if you don't drive fast too."

I don't know how to get over this feeling, and I really wish I could. I also don't know how that weighs into risk assessment; I do something I know is risky because it actually feels safer than if I did something safely.

#594 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:02 PM:

Bruce @ 587:

The cows are an urban legend. The streets around the Common and State House are actually straight.

#595 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:03 PM:

Seattle and San Francisco both lack one charming feature to make them truly inaccessible to the casual driver. Streets keep their names....The streets in British cities have no such tiresome consistency. Sometimes a street will change its name from block to block.

Oh, I grew up on a street in a suburb near Seattle that was amazing in this regard. The development had been laid out in the 1960s with nice windy streets that curved around lakes and up hills and created excitingly chunky cul-de-sacs. BUT, they had to adhere to the county-imposed street numbering scheme, which decreed that whenever a street changed alignment significantly, the street name had to change. Thus, our street, at about a mile long, had 5 different names. And sometimes, those names reappeared on other streets, which might be on the other side of a lake. It was very challenging giving people directions - basically, I would tell them that I didn't even know what the street name was at that point, they just needed to turn left "after it starts going up hill, and you see the big green house on the right. If you pass the tennis court, you're too far."

#596 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:09 PM:

Alan@591: people don't necessarily need to be able to accurately measure the benefits of safety measures directly, they can do so empirically from the accident rate they hear about via their personal network of friends and contacts (and through the media of course). (This only really affects the 'compulsory' safety features of course, which nearly everyone uses)

This was pretty much Reuben Smeeds line of thought IIRC.

#597 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:20 PM:

Sometimes a street will change its name from block to block.

I've seen that a few times in LA. There are, to cite one case, two streets, Dorrington and Gullo, parallel and two blocks apart, except for a quarter mile section which has Gullo at each end and Dorrington in between. No apparent reason for it, and it was a great gimmick ('by name') on skill-gimmick car rallies.

#598 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:23 PM:

Re: James D. Macdonald @ 572 Nor are we talking about accident rates: We're talking about injuries.

Forgive me if this has already been addressed upthread, but the argument that says "there are just as many accidents now because drivers think they are safer and so engage in riskier behavior" doesn't seem to take into account the difference between an accident in which wearing a seatbelt means getting bruises and an accident where not wearing a seatbelt means not having a face.

#599 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:44 PM:

#593 I know what you mean, Fade Manley. Usually I am good about speed limits, but get me on the Parkway in Pittsburgh and I know I can't even look at the speedometer -- just try to be not too fast and not too slow compared to surrounding traffic. Anything else and YOU"RE the one causing the accident. On the interstates in the southwest I also usually go a bit over. Oddly, I don't see quite as many people doing the constant-ten-miles-over-the-limit thing here in Oklahoma as I do in Texas or New Mexico. One thing I like about Texas is the signage warning slower drivers to move to the right lane -- but when I'm passing a semi at five miles over the limit and someone comes up on my tail at 15 miles over, well, it's unpleasant...

#600 ::: Scott Wyngarden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:44 PM:

Fade Manley @ 593:

My Mom doesn't like driving on Interstates because she's uncomfortable going as quickly as everyone else and from having nearly everyone pass her quickly by because of her reduced speed.

Since I'm comfortable driving at Interstate speeds, I have a standing offer to be the driver in situations where such speeds are commonplace.

#601 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:51 PM:

The biggest difference between seatbelts and anti-lock brakes is this:

I'm no more aware of my seatbelt than I am of the belt that holds up my pants. But with anti-lock brakes I'm reminded of them every time I step on the brake, including at the foot of my driveway on a snowy morning. I'm sure you'll find that was the case with the German taxi drivers as well.

One of the objections to airbags is that they give people an excuse to not fasten their seatbelts. (Airbags are less useful than they could be in anything other than simple straight-on crashes. In the case of multiple impacts, impacts from odd angles, and rollovers they leave you essentially unprotected if you aren't also wearing that seatbelt.)

#602 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:51 PM:

Aconite: I think you're confusing the effects of safety features which protect car occupants in the event of a crash, like seat belts, and those which (all other things being equal) help prevent crashes, like grippier tyres or ABS.

The risk compensation hypothesis suggests that the protective effect of the latter is eliminated by riskier driving, leading to the same number of crashes, whilst risk compensation for the former would lead to a greater number of crashes than would otherwise be the case.

The fact that risk compensation occurs is uncontroversial. The full 'risk compensation eliminates the benefits of safety features' hypothesis is of course as demonstrated conclusively by this thread !

John Adams main statistical argument that seat belts don't have the claimed protective effect on a whole population basis comes from observing countries where large changes in measured seat belt use occurred (normally due to the introduction of seat belt laws) in a relatively short period of time. One would expect a corresponding decrease in the fatality rates. He claims there isn't one, but you can go and check the figures yourself -- the papers are fully referenced IIRC (the summary papers with the figures on his website mostly reference his own earlier papers which you might have to get out of a library though, or just borrow a copy of his book...)

#603 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 06:00 PM:

James@601: The idea that you are unaware of something that you have to physically drag across your body, and that presses into every time you brake sharply (the same time that you claim ABS makes it's attention felt) beggars belief frankly. Just because something is habitual, doesn't mean that you are unaware of it.

Oh, and if you're triggering the ABS every time the brake, then I *never* want to be in a car with you. Please tell me you're not having to brake that hard on a regular basis: I can count the times I've triggered the ABS on my car on the fingers of one hand.

Incidentally, you should read that Steven Levitt paper on air bags vs. seat belts I linked to upthread.

#604 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 06:02 PM:

NB. Unless you're doing it on ice & snow of course. But in the wet or dry, if one is triggering the ABS on a regular basis then there's something wrong (in my opinion).

#605 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 06:04 PM:

John Adams' main statistical argument is not supported by the evidence he presents, as has been demonstrated conclusively on this thread.

#606 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 06:10 PM:

Phil 2@ 603

It's easy to be unaware of the seatbelt, if you wear it as a habit. It's just part of the feel of driving, like the feel of the pedal. (I have ABS on the car I have now. It doesn't feel the same as the non-ABS brakes on the previous cars. Possibly this isn't what you meant.)

#607 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 06:35 PM:

The streets in British cities have no such tiresome consistency. Sometimes a street will change its name from block to block.

The streets in Tenerife (Canary Islands) do this, too. But for extra fun and confusion, most of the streets have two names. There are the "new," official names, which were introduced decades ago and are used on the maps and on the street signs. And then there are the old names, which all the locals use instead of the new names but which can only be found in very small letters on the street signs, and not at all on the maps.

Before I fully understood this, I was once looking for the Indian consulate in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, which -- according to the Indian embassy website -- was on "Calle San Jose," somewhere very close to the seaside. I couldn't find it on the map, but put that down to it maybe being a smaller street, and spent almost two hours wandering around the seaside area, trying to find that street. Finally, I gave up and went to a taxi and asked to be taken to "Calle San Juan." The taxi driver gave me a strange look, pointed to a street about two blocks away (which I'd been wandering up and down), and said, "But it's right over there!"

Sure enough, in very small letters at the bottom of the street sign, it said: "Antigua Calle San Jose" ("old street San Jose"). But by then the consulate was closed for the day....

#608 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 07:18 PM:

albatross @ 590

People who think they're safer than they are screw up a lot and get hurt--as with teenagers who think bad things can't happen to them and new 4WD drivers on a snowy day.

This is undoubtedly true. My problem with the whole risk compensation argument is that it assumes that the people doing the compensating are able to evaluate both the amount of risk abatement and the level of risk resulting from new behavior accurately enough that the two balance out closely. This seems unlikely given how bad people are at accurately estimating risk in general.

#609 ::: ambika ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 07:30 PM:

I work for a cardiac surgeon. They blame to a huge degree the lower mortality in car accidents on the fewer transplants they do in the region. That'll make you wear your seatbelt if nothing else will.

#610 ::: D'Glenn ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:01 PM:

TomB @ 135: "This is very similar to why people drive SUVs. Being higher up makes our monkey brains feel safer."

Argh! I've read this a bunch of places, and given that it's cited by market research folks who ought to know, I'll believe it, but I don't quite understand it. I was in two rental cars recently, a Ford Fusion and a Dodge Caliber, and in both cars I felt disconcertingly too high. I'm fine being that high in a minivan or a pickup, and I'm fine being even higher in a truck-truck (the largest U-Haul I can legally drive without a CDL), but being that high in a "compact" sedan or 5-door Felt Wrong.

Both vehicles also felt unstable, the Fusion more so. At 70MPH on a straightish stretch of I95, the 2007 Fusion felt barely more stable than the 1990 Accord considered too badly damaged to drive safely (three busted tie rods, one front wheel rattled when a mechanic put it on a lift, etc.) that was the reason the insurance company got me a rental. (Hit and run accident while parked, in case you're curious.) The Caliber felt okay in normal highway conditions, but the first time I hit a downward sloping off-ramp, it felt like it was trying to go six different directions at once.

The only way "taller cars make people feel safer" makes any sense to me is if most of the population has inner ear damage affecting their sense of balance. Yeah, I like being able to see farther ... but when it comes to Feeling Safe, having my car feel stable and responsive matters a hell of a lot more.

And don't even get me started on the "people feel safer when they can see more cupholders" thing! Or Dodge's decision to play "maximize the blind spot".


Oh, and as for the stories of folks driving around railroad crossing gates mentioned earlier, the concept is so alien to me that I'm having difficulty even picturing it. I can remember waiting at a grade crossing where the freight train I could see appeared to be stopped, and still appeared so after ten minutes, and I still couldn't bring myself to drive around the gates and cross the tracks. I backtracked and looked for route with a bridge instead.

#611 ::: Anonymous for One Comment ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:08 PM:

Late to the thrown-clear party, but my father is one of those people who thinks that seatbelts are dangerous, never wears his, and also believes his life was saved by not wearing one.

Posting anonymously this one time (I'm an intermittent poster here) because I don't think he'd appreciate me telling this particular story.

So, he was driving down a country road in his BMW 735, lost control and went off the edge of a steep hillside, started rolling, he was THROWN CLEAR (yay!) and then the car rolled OVER him. Both legs & pelvis broken, broken ribs, maybe broken arms, I can't remember. In hospital for quite some time.

He's convinced that not wearing a seatbelt saved his life there. Let's just say: I'm not.

I won't move the car unless everyone has their seatbelt on, just like I wouldn't move the car with any of the doors open. Duh.

#612 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:17 PM:

Or try Repulse Bay Road in Hong Kong, where the houses are numbered not in order from one end to the other, but in their order of construction. God knows how the postmen manage. The taxis don't even bother.

#613 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:18 PM:

I'm no more aware of my seatbelt than I am of the belt in my pants. I'm also unaware of my shirt, unless I'm consciously thinking of it for some reason. It's possible that the fact I wear a shirt (thus lowering my risk of hypothermia) causes me to eat french fries (raising my risk of heart disease) but I don't think so. If someone made that claim he'd have to present compelling evidence. Something more compelling than showing that most people wear shirts and heart disease rates have risen, at any rate.

ABS brakes feel far different from other brakes (just as power brakes feel different from non-power brakes). The car I have right now is the first one I ever had with ABS. Incidentally, snow/ice/rain is common nine months out of the year where I live. I'm expecting snow through Thursday. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will be partly cloudy.

If wearing seatbelts causes an increase in other injuries to balance the decrease in injuries to occupants of automobiles, it is immaterial as to why the person fastened his seatbelt. Whether compelled by law or impelled by childhood habit or rationally convinced by evidence -- no matter. The effect of risk displacement should hold.

I reject Adams' arguments because they are not supported by evidence. And I do not care to discuss them further because they are irrelevant.

#614 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:19 PM:

Jim Macdonald @574: The advent of public-access defibrillators in the U.S. coincides with the recent shocking rise in obesity rates. Cause and effect, clearly.

Come to think of it, I myself have gained a few pounds in the year since they put one next to the candy machine in the company lunchroom. Bastards!

#615 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:57 PM:

Here I am with an utterly pointless post, just to mention that #613 (first paragraph) and #614 (second paragraph) both cracked me up.

#616 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 10:13 PM:

This sounds like the Pastafarian link between global warming and the decline of Pirates.

#617 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 11:50 PM:

JESR - #568 and later

The real traffic problem in West Seattle is that if they shut down the Alaskan Way viaduct or the Spokane Stree Viaduct no one in West Seattle will ever be heard from again.

It is almost impossible to get out of or into West Seattle in a reasonable amount of time on a weekday if you can't take the high bridge or the low bridge. My husband and I ran into this for the couple of days after the Nisqually quake; it was two hours to get into downtown Seattle instead of ten to fifteen minutes, and at that we had to go down to South Park and Boeing Field.

I have to admit I don't think the little ravines in West Seattle are any worse than the other little ravines all over Seattle. Most of them end up as parks - good use in my opinion.

#618 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 12:41 AM:

Larry Brennan:

Hmmm. Perhaps Seattle is an exception, then. Our road network is a study in false promises. It's mostly a grid, until it hits a hill or a lake or some other obstacle, and then some random street gets called into service to bridge the gap while all the others simply disappear only to resume on the other side.

Oh, boy! I get to use my History major!

Three of the major players in early Seattle History were Doc Maynard, and the Denny Brothers. Maynard was bright and well regarded, but an alcoholic. The Denny brothers made John Calvin look like the street pimp of your choice.

Came time to lay out the streets of Seattle. The Denny Brothers wanted to use (as I remember) the points of the compass. Maynard had started surveying already, had decided to lay the streets out to match the shoreline, and was plastered to the gills--as one book I have put it, "not only was he master of all he surveyed, he was master of all that the Dennys had surveyed as well." Take a look at a street map of Seattle: it's very obvious where the two layouts meet, especially if you're stuck in traffic there...

#619 ::: D'Glenn ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 01:22 AM:

P J Evans @ 190 wrote:

I've heard that one of the problems drivers of SUVs (and probably also jacked-up trucks) have is that, sitting up high, they have trouble judging their speed against their view of the ground. (They apparently see themselves as moving slower than they actually are.)
I think that the effect you describe varies a lot from vehicle to vehicle within a class. In a truck, roughly the same distance from the road as the driver of an 18-wheeler, 70MPH felt fast. In an Accord, 80MPH (on an Interstate[*]) did not feel fast at all. In minivans, I've had perceptions of the same speed vary greatly from one minivan to another. In the one pickup truck I spent time driving, it felt like I was going faster than I was. (I don't have enough experience with SUVs to really say much about them directly.)

But I suspect I may be judging as much by the sensations in the skin of my ass and in my inner ear as by vision -- or more so -- and I have no idea whether that's typical or unusual. If that makes me different, then my observations here may not be relevant ...

Interestingly, when I started bitching about the too-tall (for their overall size) 2007 "compact" rental cars I drove recently, one person who'd driven similar vehicles jumped in ahead of me to voice one of my complaints in very nearly the same words I'd been about to use: that the effect was as though the windows were television/movie screens, and were were somehow more distant from the road, from everything else we were seeing, and detached from the act and experience of driving. We both considered this a very bad thing.

Driving a minivan -- the same height (yes, the "compact" Dodge Caliber is about as tall as my mother's minivan -- does not give me the same feeling.

[*] On a residential or mixed-use city or suburb surface street, 35MPH felt Too Fast in the Accord; my eyes must be involved in the perception of speed at some level, since context matters a lot.

#620 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 02:16 AM:

#596: Yes peoples' assessment can be indirect, but it still needs to be accurate for the risk compensation hypothesis to allow complete compensation. Consider drunk drivers - while the "really careful" drunk driver is a stereotype, in general drunks don't drive in a way that balances their impairment, because risk assessment is screwed up by being drunk.
As for "and through the media" compare the coverage of road accidents with the much higher profile of rail and air accidents that kill far fewer people overall (per passenger mile), but in larger more newsworthy accidents.

#621 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 02:29 AM:

But for extra fun and confusion, most of the streets have two names. There are the "new," official names, which were introduced decades ago and are used on the maps and on the street signs. And then there are the old names, which all the locals use instead of the new names but which can only be found in very small letters on the street signs, and not at all on the maps.

I can remember when only the major thoroughfares in Kodiak (that is, paved, usually patched, and sometimes with three lanes!) had signs. To call a taxi, you had to explain that you were out on Spruce Cape at the bottom of the road that used to be the Merrimans' driveway before they subdivided and to look for the remains of the Merriman kids' treehouse in the big spruce on the corner. Somebody decided that this was a bad way to summon a fire truck, so all of the streets got signs and the lakes and beaches got signs along with them. The names are official, but we don't use them unless we have to. The names we made up are perfectly good, thank you, and usually better descriptions. White Sands Beach is really End-of-the-Road Beach because that's where it is and you can't see the white sand except at low tide on a calm day. Rezanof Drive West is the Base-Town Road because that's where it goes. And so on.

Then there's the disappearing reappearing street that makes census takers cry. The fringe of the town washes up the slopes of a mountain shaped something like a baguette. The highest street is a long, straight run called Hillside. If you start at one end of Hillside and go to the other, you had better bring a machete, because it looks like this:

__ __ __ ___ _____________________

The gaps are alder hells, spruce groves, and thickets of thorny salmonberry bushes.

Hillside was already signed, numbered, and officially plotted when the mountainside a few blocks away decided to slide into the sea, obliterating a long stretch of the main (only) highway. The Planning and Zoning Commission sensibly decided that trying to finish Hillside was Not a Good Idea. So when you call for pizza delivery on Hillside, you have to specify which street to take to get there.

On the up side, at this time of year the lots that can never be developed are aswarm with birds. After shopping downtown, I walk up the hill into a waterfall of birdsong.

#622 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 02:46 AM:

Teresa, way above you said that in a sandstorm one should pull off and turn off one's lights. Why? Why wouldn't you put on your hazards/flashers?


#497 Laertes: When you're using words as objects as in the use of "minuscule" and "weird" in this and the previous sentences, should they be italicized, underlined, enclosed in quotation marks, or in any other way set apart?

Extra bonus question: Is there a better way to express the concept that I'm fumbling toward with the phrase "using words as objects?" I bet there is, and I bet this is the place to find people who know it.

As a couple of people said upthread, the concept you want is "use vs. mention". You were mentioning those words, rather than using them. In academic philosophy and logic, in the US anyway, the convention is that you put words you are mentioning in single quotes -- for example:

The word 'delightful' is delightful.

#623 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 03:21 AM:

> I'm no more aware of my seatbelt than I am of the belt in my pants.

Me too - I have pairs of trousers which do stay up without a belt, but slip down just enough to be annoying. So while I never stop and consciously think "I have a belt on", it does make a slight constant difference to the way I feel, just like a seatbelt.


> ABS brakes feel far different from other brakes (just as power brakes feel different from non-power brakes).

Maybe the ABS brakes in the car you have now feel different from your previous car, but my previous car had both an "ABS off" switch and an ABS system failure at one time. The ABS felt different the time I deliberately tried it braking sharply in an empty icy car park, but in normal use it made no difference whatsoever (I knew it had failed only because the little "ABS" light on the dashboard didn't light up (well, once I'd tried changing the bulb to prove it wsn't just the light not working)).

This is exactly why people are recommended to try their ABS out by braking sharply on an icy driveway or car park or other safe place - so they aren't taken by surprise by the unexpected pedal feel the first time it cuts in in an emergency stop.

Brakes without power-assist is a completely different situation (or certainly brakes which are designed for power assist but which don't have it at the moment - as anyone who has ever been towed will know).


> Whether compelled by law or impelled by childhood habit or rationally convinced by evidence -- no matter. The effect of risk displacement should hold.

Of course. Has anyone argued otherwise? See #410.

#624 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 03:26 AM:

On balance, it seems that the hypothesis that funky street layout = crazy drivers is proven false.

JESR @ 495

when I dreamed of dragons as a child,they looked exactly like logging trucks.

Being a denizen of the unfashionable bits of the nation I've never encountered logging trucks, but that's kind of the way I imagine them, too. Blame it on a few Jim McManus short stories I read when I was a teen.

Janet Brennan Croft @ 544

Lovely, a real Mike Ford moment!

Inspired by, yes. As good as, not by a parsec.

I started reading Making Light when I heard that Mike Ford - a friend of friends, who I'd always intended to meet some day - had died. Before I started reading his archived occasional posts I knew that he was good. After reading them, I wept because I realized that he was great. If there is cosmic justice, in the future he will be revered as one of the great late 20th/early 21st century American poets.

Joel Polowin @ 553

Malthus @ 549

IIRC Niven had a couple of variations of "impact armour", stasis fields, and force fields which became rigid or otherwise activated on impact.

Slightly relevant, but the ballistic armor worn by police officers appears to help prevent chest injuries in an accident. (e.g., http://policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=186&issue_id=12004)

567 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 01:50 PM:

kate @ 514

This is Texas, and for at least four months of the year, you can't even *think* without the air conditioner on.

Would at least four of those months be around election time? That would explain a lot of things about Texas gummint.

Luthe @ 570

the differences in street plan come down to the ease of gridiron planning, the lack of American imagination in planning (Circleville, OH excluded), and, in the case of San Francisco, existing Spanish missionary planning.

That's not quite fair. When designing a city from scratch on reasonably level ground some sort of grid seems to be the preferred design the world over from antiquity on. (At least it holds for the Romans, medieval English and, IIRC, Chinese and Aztecs.)

(Unlike surveying most of the open West, where they forgot to take the drift caused by lines of latitude into account.)

Here's also the issue of relative lack of reference points on the high praries and imperfect knowledge of magnetic deviation by the surveyors. That plus the fact that the only liquid fit to drink was whiskey and being scalped by hostile natives or trampled by stampeding buffalo were real occupational hazards. I've heard that some of the township lines in North Dakota are "interesting" due to these problems.

Bruce Cohen @587

As far as Boston is concerned, I've heard that the downtown area (the Commons and Beacon Hill) was laid out by cows.

Not cows, but Indians and Pre-Columbian animals. Many of the old roads were game paths turned into Indian trading routes turned into wagon roads. U.S. 40, which crosses much of the Old Northwest Ordinance territories, is one of them.

#625 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 06:56 AM:

Another thing missing from the discussion - what is the benefit the individual is meant to derive from risk? I would think that, rather than assume some a priori risk level, you'd be better off assuming that risk is a price, not a good, something which people pay in exchange for something else - convenience, for example. Without some intermediate analysis, it's too much like handwaving for my taste.

To be mildly snarky, why don't we ban hardhats and harnesses for construction workers? Clearly, they must motivate them to take more risks. Unfortunately, this isn't actually snark - there are people who argue that essentially all workplace injuries are caused by workers being naughty..

Getting off-topic, Ajay @ 612: I'll raise you the entire city of Venice, where addresses are the name of the district and an arbitrary four-digit number.

624: Not only did Indians and precolumbian beasts lead to interstates, they also led to OC-192 fibreoptic links. There's a lovely map somewhere around showing how a lot of Internet infrastructure follows the interstates, which roughly follow the railroads, which roughly follow the cattle trails...the reason being, of course, that the cattle, Indians, beasts, etc follow the water. That defined where there would be a market for the railroad to serve. And steam locomotives love water.

When the roads were built, they were built between the towns, obviously enough. Towns are where your customers are, and also, laying fibre next to the highway means you only have to deal with one right-of-way holder (i.e. the feds).

Sprint-Nextel got started as a division of the Southern Pacific Railroad - they'd built a microwave network for their own purposes, and realised they could sell space on it. Qwest originated when Phil Anschutz sold the Southern Pacific Railroad, but kept the rights-of-way next to the tracks.

#626 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 07:59 AM:

> what is the benefit the individual is meant to derive from risk?

In the context of motor travel, shorter journey times typically - behaviours such as driving a little bit faster, crossing an amber light a fraction of a second closer to red, pulling out into a fractionally smaller gap.
At an extreme level if we still required a man with a red flag to walk in front of cars they would be almost totally safe and almost totally useless.
Most motor vehicle accidents aren't the result of people taking outrageous risks, but of taking small risks again and again and again. Which kills thousands of people a year.
Risk compensation isn't about people suddenly and consiously taking huge risks because they think they are invincible, it's about small shifts in risk for small gains.

In the case of say, bungie jumping, or skydiving, or downhill skiing, it's being able to do something at all that you couldn't do at all without taking the risk. And for at least some people, the risk itself, or the knowledge of having survived it, seems to be a reward ("thrill seeking"). What's the benefit for elevator surfing?

In evolutionary terms trading off the risk of being eaten by a sabretooth cat while hunting compared to the risk of starving in a cave while not hunting are probably more relevent, but there is no totally risk-free strategy for actually having a life.

#627 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 08:27 AM:

#623 ::: Alan Braggins

> Whether compelled by law or impelled by childhood habit or rationally convinced by evidence -- no matter. The effect of risk displacement should hold.
Of course. Has anyone argued otherwise? See #410.

Then you are saying that, by making this post, I am increasing the overall number of accidents. Which I reject on its face.

No evidence -- none -- has been adduced which shows that wearing seatbelts displaces injuries from one part of the population to another. Despite the wishful tninking of some. I am arguing otherwise, and have been for some time in case you didn't notice.

I don't believe that UFOs are alien spacecraft either.

#628 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 08:53 AM:

> Then you are saying that, by making this post, I am increasing the overall number of accidents.

Well no, I'm saying if you persuade more people to wear seatbelts without changing their feelings about what an acceptable level of risk is, and if Adams is right about risk compensation, then the overall expected number of accidents will be increased (by an absolutely tiny statistically insignificant amount that will be lost in the noise, given the relative numbers of readers changing their mind and total drivers).

I don't consider either of those steps to be proven, but the fact that you don't like the possible conclusion if they are doesn't change anything.


> I don't believe that UFOs are alien spacecraft either.

Nor do I.

#629 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 09:13 AM:

Did you even notice that the Levitt piece you yourself linked to utterly demolishes Adams' wishful thinking?

#630 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 09:13 AM:

by an absolutely tiny statistically insignificant amount that will be lost in the noise

So why bother us with it in the first place, expect for pure smartassery? The problem with this sort of thing is that the people who advocate it are usually trying to block some sort of public policy action that is directed to, well, something significant.

#631 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 09:28 AM:

> persuade more people to wear seatbelts without changing their feelings about what an acceptable level of risk is

To expand on this, if, for example, you show people video of nasty car accidents and they react by thinking "driving is more dangerous than I previously felt", then risk compensation predicts they will take some measure to reduce their risk. Such as wearing seatbelts. And they will then be safer.

#632 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 09:37 AM:

> So why bother us with it in the first place

It wasn't me who brought it up in the first place, and I believe informed debate is a good thing in general.

The chances of any of Jim's readers having their lives saved by his post is equally insignificant compared to the total number of drivers, but you don't see me accusing him of smartassery because of that.

(In the case of cycle helmets, because I might well be one of the victims of well-meaning but ill informed public policy. Not in the sense that I will be statistically significant, but in the sense that it's one of the major risks to my life that I have any control over at all.)

#633 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 09:44 AM:

#622 -- I can answer why you don't have flashers/lights (or brake lights) on during a dust or sand storm. It's because nimwits try to drive in them, and the visibility is so low that all they can see is the lights. Said nimwits then try to "follow" those tail lights and run right into you. The correct thing to do is pull as far off the road as you can (onto the dirt shoulder, if possible), park, shut the engine off, take your foot off the brake, and then call everyone you know on your cell phone and complain about being stuck in the dust storm. Profanity is allowed.

If you turn your lights on, the nimwits who are driving in the storm may veer off the road and hit you.

To put into perspective just HOW little visibility there can be during a dust storm, I was parked on the shoulder waiting one out on Maricopa Road south of Phoenix a few years ago. Had been sitting there minding my own business for about half an hour before the dust temporarily cleared. I looked across three lanes -- the emergency lane and two traffic lanes -- to see a propane truck parked in the median. I couldn't see it until the dust lifted. It was not a small truck.

I've seen propane go blooey before.

After a moment's risk assessment, I joined the nimwits on the road and trundled a half mile further up before parking again.

(Maricopa Road, incidently, is another one of those roads which are locally called by a different name than what is on the map. Good ol' Governer Symington named the brand new and improved parkway "John Wayne Parkway" back in the early 90's. The road crosses a sizable chunk of the Gila reservation. John Wayne is not exactly the most popular figure with Native Americans. -- The end result is that the locals still call it Maricopa Road.)

#634 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 10:51 AM:

Thomas @ 624

I read an article in a surveying magazine (a couple of years ago) about some of those township surveys. The authors decided, after some fieldwork and research, that the surveyors were doing minimum-effort jobs, where they'd actually run only two or three sides of each section, so the sides they didn't run were never properly checked. Of course, the surveyors got paid the same as if they'd done the job properly.

#635 ::: KNS ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 11:35 AM:

#381, you were going 70 in the canyon?! I'm incredibly glad you're all right, of course, but *honestly*, dude. For anyone who's never been there, yes, 70 is way too fast, and yes, when a car goes over the edge it's usually end of story. Amazing anecdotal pro-seatbelt evidence.

I live here now but I lived in the Boston area for years and the drivers were indeed as ghastly as everyone reported. I believe that the statistics showed at one time that, while the vehicle fatality rate was not "high", the number of non-fatal accidents was way above average. Boston roads tend to be extremly clogged and slow-moving, and Boston drivers always think the next lane will move faster, so they are continually changing lanes. The presence or absence of a car in that spot they want is considered irrelevant. My mother commuted to Cambridge for twenty years and wound up going native. When I'd ride to Boston with her on the weekends she'd merge right without looking and basically use my side of the car -- the normally empty passenger side -- to block with. I'm now not only paranoid about seat belt usage but I'm almost neurotic about checking six times before I change lanes.

#636 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 11:57 AM:

The topic of discontinuous road names is yet another fun thing about navigating in Boston. Washington Street used to have multiple names (different stretches included Cornhill, Marlborough Street[*], Newbury Street[*], and Orange Street), but was renamed to be one long street in honor of George Washington.

To compensate for this illogical attempt to make direction-finding easier, all the streets that cross Washington Street were then given different names on each side of it.

Some of the juxtapositions are amusing, as where Winter turns into Summer.

In other cases, though, with the number of different cities and former cities making up the inner urban area you find the same street name used for completely different and non-aligned streets, while other streets change name each time they cross a town/city border. Beacon Street in Boston has no connection with Beacon Street in Somerville; the latter, upon reaching the Cambridge line, becomes Hampshire St.

It makes me miss navigating in Salt Lake City. "Okay, the address is 405 East 200 North? I'll be right there."

[*] These names got reused later when the Back Bay was filled in; the streets are now parallel, as that is one of the few areas of Boston that actually uses a grid layout.

#637 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 11:58 AM:

Thomas #624: [quoting me]This is Texas, and for at least four months of the year, you can't even *think* without the air conditioner on.

Would at least four of those months be around election time? That would explain a lot of things about Texas gummint.

There's an overlap, but I was talking air temperature. Mid-May through mid-September. Car interiors turn into blast furnaces.

#638 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 12:04 PM:

Alex #625: Getting off-topic, Ajay @ 612: I'll raise you the entire city of Venice, where addresses are the name of the district and an arbitrary four-digit number.

Not so arbitrary. I lived there for a semester, and got interested. So I got out my map, and my landlady's trusty _Anagraphica_, which is a listing of all runs of house numbers, and the streets (if you dare call them that) to which they correspond. And I found that they really do have a cunning plan which, appropriately enough for a place usually characterized as a maze (multicursal division), is "follow the left wall." Note that this was intended to be all logical and only came into play after Napoleon took over.

#639 ::: D'Glenn ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 01:48 PM:

Kathryn @ 276:

So, if you're on a long boring empty stretch of road, put something dreadful onto the radio so that you keep arguing with it/ yourself.
I know a lot of people react very negatively to the very idea of talking on the phone while driving, but there have been times when I've rung up a friend and said, "I'm sleepy and I'm twenty minutes from home. Keep me awake." It's helped.

(And as for the potential for distractions from a phone conversation, I personally find it no worse than a conversation with a passenger and less distracting than some radio programmes. When talking directly to another person, I never forget that I can, at any time, say, "I'm sorry, I had to pay attention to something that happened in traffic and I just missed the last few sentences. Do you mind repeating them?", and there's not a soul I'd be talking to who won't say, "Oh, that's okay, driving is obviously more important -- what I said was ...". On the other hand, if a discussion on NPR is a little too interesting, I'm aware that I have no 'rewind' button on the radio, and, in my less focussed moments, have caught myself giving the radio a greater percentage of my attention than I should (which always frightens me thirty seconds later when I realize it). For me, a cell phone conversation is safer than talk radio.

Yes, I am aware that this is not true for everyone. As a passenger in a truck, I recall looking to my right and seeing a sedan coming up a ramp to merge, with the driver holding a phone to his ear, and his eyes looking up-and-to-the-right as though trying to remember something, not looking ahead nor -- crucially -- to his left or at his mirrors. He continued that way for as long as he was within my sight. I wondered whether he was going to drift into our lane and hit us and never know where we'd come from. (Knowing that this sort of eye movement is usually unconscious, I wondered whether I did that too. I've checked. When driving, I don't. Driving means keeping my eyes moving around to the various spots I need to keep monitoring. That part of the training, along with maintaining a safe following distance, stuck.)

But I'll certainly agree that hands-free phone use is important. And if I need to take notes, we wait until I can get off the road or I arrange to call back once I reach my destination.

#640 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 02:47 PM:

#633 - thanks for the explanation!

Two other questions about car safety:

Jim says that part of the damage in an accident comes from internal organs getting sloshed and yanked around inside you. Does the seatbelt help with this aspect just by stopping your forward movement over a few inches, as opposed to stopping it over a few millimeters?

Also: I often sit in the front passenger seat (buckled) with my legs folded "indian-style" in front of me, rather than straight under the dash. Anyone know if this is a recipe for more-than-usual disaster in an accident?

#641 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 03:12 PM:

Joann @ 638 - What about Berlin, where some of the streets have an odd-even on opposite sides numbering system that runs sequentially, others have the same system, but with set increments every block, and yet others (Liepziger Straße comes to mind) have numbers that start at 1, continue sequentially up one side of the street to the end, and then turn around and continue to ascend along the opposite side until they return to the point of origin.

#642 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 03:51 PM:

Larry #641:

Sorry, can't help you, never been in Berlin. (And all my German excursions were conducted before I was old enough to remember them.)

I'd probably start by wondering whether all the stuff of one system is relatively contiguous, or whether different systems are interspersed. If contiguous, I'd further wonder whether the contiguous aeas were built up at relatively the same period. I'd also wonder whether different numbering schemes were put in place during the Russian Zone. Failing those two, was any particular kind of numbering associated with anything analogous to the Haussmanization of Paris, or similar forms of urban renewal or production of new streets?

#643 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 03:52 PM:

A friend of my wife and I used to live in Boston; she totaled two cars while she lived there, walked away from both of them. She'd agree that drivers there were the worst in the nation.

As for the road names, she's also said they are named that way to discourage tourists from using them. After all, the natives know where they are going...

RE: distractions and cellphones. I've seen a perception study conducted on how cellphone conversations affect a driver's perception and reaction time. It is very startling; the test measured how wide an angle the driver scanned ahead of him. Normally a driver scans a wide angle; when using the cellphone, however, his attention focuses into a cone that is almost exclusively directly in front of him.

The test also measured reaction time. Drivers thinking they were being tested for something else had an obstacle roll down in front of them from a hidden driveway (I think it was a large beachball) while they travelled at a slow speed. Non cellphone users had no trouble reacting to the ball in time; cellphone users on average took a second or longer to react to the approaching obstacle than the non-cellphone users.

#644 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 04:17 PM:

Leva Cygnet @ 633

If you turn your lights on, the nimwits who are driving in the storm may veer off the road and hit you.

That suggests a nimwit-defeating strategy. If you live in duststorm-prone places, carry a couple of battery-powered red lights on collapsible tripods. When the storm hits, pull off the road and set up the lights a few feet away from your car*. Then the nimwits will run into the lights. For added entertainment, add a high-intensity strobe light that triggers when something hits the tripod. Even if you don't hear the car approaching, you'll hear the scream when the strobe goes off.

* Tie a rope to the door handle and around your waist if visibility is too low to walk away from the car.

#645 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 05:10 PM:

Bruce @ #608: That's exactly what I was trying to say somewhere way upthread. Doesn't look like anybody really thought about your saying it either.

The "risk avoidance" theory has one sound part, that people will and do take more risks based on the risks they perceive themselves as avoiding. There are some pretty reasonable examples of such.

The conclusion that safety changes have no net effect, however, is extraordinarily illogical. It is based on a measurably incorrect secondary premise - that people correctly perceive and assess risks and risk mitigation. Many psychology experiments have shown the opposite - people are extraordinarily bad at assessing and estimating risk.

#646 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 06:03 PM:

James, let me put the habitual wearing thing another way: You claim to be unaware that you're wearing a seat belt, because it is a part of being in a car to you. Doesn't this mean that you *would* notice if you weren't wearing a belt? And that if you had to drive somewhere without a belt you would be aware of the fact & might drive more carefully as a result?

If so, then you've just demonstrated that when wearing a seat belt, you engage in risk compensatory behaviour...

You can only claim to be unaware of the seat belt if you're not aware whether you're wearing it or not...which seems very unlikely, as you'll be habituated to one state or the other, but not both!

#647 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 06:06 PM:

About cellphones and distraction: a couple of weeks ago, my son and I were coming back from a trip to home depot, waiting at the light in the left turn lane; of the drivers who were making left turns into the vente sized strip mall (Home Depot, Costco, Big Lots, and Sportsman's Warehouse) six in a row were on hand-held cell phones, and the seventh was licking a drip off the bottom of her ice-cream cone, obscuring most of her field of view. (All were driving SUVs, but that's the averages in my neighborhood).

Some days I wonder than anyone at all gets through the day without one of these wackaloons running into them.

#648 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 06:29 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 645

Doesn't look like anybody really thought about your saying it either.

No, doesn't look much like it, which is why I'm not bothering to respond any more. Besides, thinking up fiendish ways of thinning the nimwits is more fun.

#649 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 06:34 PM:

D'Glen @639

I know a lot of people react very negatively to the very idea of talking on the phone while driving

I see two significantly different non-sleepy situations:

1. Where "talking on the phone" is one of many "things that require decisions." Since you're already making decisions, and decisions keep you from going on autopilot, you don't need the phone (radio): it won't make you safer.

2. Where there's almost nothing on the road that requires decisions. Here, you're most likely to go on autopilot. Anything that forces you to make decisions "How much longer can I stand this before have to switch stations" keeps you conscious. As consciousness is good for driving, adding a phonecall (radio) will make you safer.

There's the interesting questions of what people are capable of while on sentient-but-not-conscious autopilot. I assume for a new driver almost nothing is automatic. For an experienced driver, quite a bit is. So the experienced driver could be more likely to go onto autopilot, but their reflexes might still be faster than a fully engaged inexperienced driver.

But that's all about autopilot mode. Driving sleepy is an entirely different issue.

#650 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 06:37 PM:

Clifton @ 645

Like people thinking that they're in more danger from airplane hijackers than from driving across country?

#651 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 06:37 PM:

Clifton @ 645

Like people thinking that they're in more danger from airplane hijackers than from driving across country?

#652 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 06:52 PM:

Street Names:

I'm convinced that somewhere in an obscure sub-paragraph deep in the Maine constitution is a requirement that rural roads change name when crossing the township line *without notice*. There's also a requirement somewhere that every town use as many of the following road names as possible: Bog, Ridge, Pond, Back, Middle, River, and Something-or-other Hill Road (as well as at least three roads named for other towns or villages adjacent or lying in more or less that general direction; towns that are or ever were over 100 residents also get Church, Mill, School, Main, Front, High and Water Streets to choose from.

AND NONE OF THESE MAY CONNECT TO THE ROUTE WITH THE SAME NAME IN THE NEXT TOWN OVER.

(There's also the little problem of roads which are still on maps but aren't there any more. I've learned to check locally for anything that isn't indicated with a highway number - and some of those are questionable this time of year.)

#653 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 07:09 PM:

650: Precisely. Or thinking that the way to prevent their kids from being molested is to keep them away from all strangers. Or thinking that they are at more risk of being murdered than of committing suicide. (If I remember my stats right, even in the absolute worst, deadliest neighborhoods in the US, more people kill themselves than are killed by others.)

#654 ::: Sylvia Sotomayor ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 07:12 PM:

#649: "There's the interesting questions of what people are capable of while on sentient-but-not-conscious autopilot. I assume for a new driver almost nothing is automatic. For an experienced driver, quite a bit is. So the experienced driver could be more likely to go onto autopilot, but their reflexes might still be faster than a fully engaged inexperienced driver."

Here is an anecdote for you:

When I was in college (20 years ago), my family lived in Vacaville, CA. The I-80 curves around part of Vacaville and my destination was equidistant from any of the 5 exits. It was raining, I was tired, I said to myself I would take the first exit and go home that way. Next thing I knew I was at the last exit. Scared the hell out of me. So, even my unconscious inexperienced self could navigate through several miles of curving freeway and stay in the same lane.

These days, much more experienced, I keep myself awake in the car. I don't ever want to have to rely on my autopilot again.

Oh, and I always wear my seatbelt.

#655 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 12:02 AM:

#628 ::: Alan Braggins

I don't consider either of those steps to be proven, but the fact that you don't like the possible conclusion if they are doesn't change anything.

"Unproven" is perhaps the kindest thing that could be said about those wild guesses. My liking or not liking them isn't the reason I reject them utterly. The fact that the arguments supporting them are bogus, and based on flawed or false data (did you notice how the Isle Report noted that some of the countries in Adams' "law countries" group in fact had no seatbelt laws, and how some countries in his "no law" group in fact did have seatbelt laws?), is why I reject them.

#631 ::: Alan Braggins

To expand on this, if, for example, you show people video of nasty car accidents and they react by thinking "driving is more dangerous than I previously felt", then risk compensation predicts they will take some measure to reduce their risk. Such as wearing seatbelts. And they will then be safer.

If the "risk compensation" wild-ass guess as proposed by Adams is correct, shouldn't someone else then start playing with Lawn Darts in order to keep the population's over-all risk the same?

#632 ::: Alan Braggins

(In the case of cycle helmets, because I might well be one of the victims of well-meaning but ill informed public policy. Not in the sense that I will be statistically significant, but in the sense that it's one of the major risks to my life that I have any control over at all.)

Is this your dog in this hunt? You're worried that the UK will pass a law requiring that bicyclists must wear helmets?

#640 ::: Anne

Jim says that part of the damage in an accident comes from internal organs getting sloshed and yanked around inside you. Does the seatbelt help with this aspect just by stopping your forward movement over a few inches, as opposed to stopping it over a few millimeters?

The stopping distance for your body with seatbelts is more like a few feet than a few inches -- the front of the car crumples and you slow as it does so -- plus a small amount for the elastic nature of the nylon webbing itself.

#646 ::: Phil Armstrong

You claim to be unaware that you're wearing a seat belt, because it is a part of being in a car to you. Doesn't this mean that you *would* notice if you weren't wearing a belt? And that if you had to drive somewhere without a belt you would be aware of the fact & might drive more carefully as a result?

I can't imagine a circumstance under which I would drive or ride in a car without a seatbelt. But as long as we're doing hypotheticals, let's imagine that I put a new leather cover on the steering wheel in your car. Would the unfamiliar feel make you more aware of your driving and make you drive more carefully as a result?

And, since you'd driven more carefully, would you go out in-line skating in order to bring your total risk back up?

#656 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 01:49 AM:

#655 Jim - Thanks for the answer; I should probably have guessed that.

#657 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 02:06 AM:

Jim, I try to minimize my driving risk (as well as others) as much as is safely possible.

Here this means watching out for folks talking on their cellphones without regard to the fact they are FARKING DRIVING! i got behind someone today who was in the Left Lane Must Turn Left to the middle two lanes, to the Right Turn only lane to the lefthand of the normal traffic. And at the next light, she took the left turn.

I don't know if Johnson Country drivers are stupider than anywhere else. I just know my own personal S!!!!thead/C!!T level of swearing is often very high because they appear to be driving without a single wit in their head.

Driving defensively is an exercise in skill and patience, and I try to instill a zen-like calm into my driving. But sometimes I still get somewhat aggrivated. And if my windows are open, I hope they don't hear me....

#658 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 03:16 AM:

> My liking or not liking them isn't the reason I reject them utterly.

Then I have no idea why you wrote "Which I reject on its face" about a conclusion, not about the basis for it. But since I disagreed with your "Then you are saying" anyway, I suppose it doesn't really matter.


> You're worried that the UK will pass a law requiring that bicyclists must wear helmets?

Since you ask, that is a real danger at the moment.
http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/No-cycle-helmets
(And http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/roads4bikes/ semi-related.)

But that argument doesn't depend on risk compensation, as noted in #410. Do a helmet post and I'll go into more detail, but here's the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation link again.

#659 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 04:09 AM:

> someone else then start playing with Lawn Darts

Is this hypothetical someone else a passenger in the car who is now being made to wear a seatbelt by the newly enlightened driver or something?
Or are we back to confusing "individuals balancing perceived risk" with "actual risk as a magically conserved quantity"? Something we already said was both silly and not Adams' argument? If you really still don't see the difference, I suggest we take it to email.

Anyway, I'm off to work now. I shan't be wearing my seatbelt, because I'm cycling.

#660 ::: Spherical Time ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 04:21 AM:

Yeah, I'm late to the party, I know.

Six months ago I was in a car accident. If I hadn't been wearing my seatbelt I would have been killed. As it stands, I only broke my neck in two places and spent six months recovering.

I think I will fully recover though, which is hard to do if you're dead.

Please wear your seatbelt.

#661 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 05:46 AM:

I can't imagine a circumstance under which I would drive or ride in a car without a seatbelt.

So you do engage in risk compensation then; seat belts allow you to engage in an activity which you believe would be too dangerous to partake in without them.

But as long as we're doing hypotheticals, let's imagine that I put a new leather cover on the steering wheel in your car. Would the unfamiliar feel make you more aware of your driving and make you drive more carefully as a result?

An interesting question. Any change in the environment tends to make people pay more attention. (One of the most famous examples of this in the accident prevention world is when one of the Scandanavian countries switched from driving on the left to driving on the right {or possibly the other way round, I forget}: for a few weeks the accident rate dropped dramatically because people were driving much more carefully in the unfamiliar environment. Once they'd got used to it, the accident rate returned to it's previous level again). So from a purely theoretical standpoint, a change in the car interior might change my driving behaviour. But I don't think it would make me feel any safer or less safe, so it would be unlikely to alter my perception of the risk I was taking driving that vehicle.

And, since you'd driven more carefully, would you go out in-line skating in order to bring your total risk back up?

I'm going to answer this honestly, rather than assume you're just being facetious. No, and this isn't how risk compensation hypothesis works: people aren't trying to subconciously achieve some lifetime risk level averaged over all their activities by taking more risks in one area to make up for lower risks elsewhere. Rather they have a given appetite for risk (or aversion to it) which is informed by their genetics, upbringing and other environmental factors (peer group pressure for instance) which informs the choices they make in all parts of their life.

#662 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 07:14 AM:

[..] they have a given appetite for risk [..] which informs the choices they make in all parts of their life.

Well, I am currently in the American Health Care system (i.e., no health insurance unless you can afford to pay for it), so I avoid sports such as skiing or bicycling down ravines. Of course, there are a lot of 'sports' I can't avoid (such as bicycling to the grocery store during a snow storm*; fortunately, the season for that 'sport' has passed...)

* Yes, I am wearing a helmet.

#663 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 08:39 AM:

#659 ::: Alan Braggins

Something we already said was both silly and not Adams' argument?

Yes, it is silly. Yes, it is (one of) Adams' (sometimes mutually contradictory) argument(s) (based on false or non-existent data). Please try reading that supremely silly chapter of his and look at what he actually wrote, not what you want to see.

#661 ::: Phil Armstrong

But I don't think it would make me feel any safer or less safe, so it would be unlikely to alter my perception of the risk I was taking driving that vehicle.

Precisely, which rather invalidates your position.

Now I'm done with both of you gents -- do or don't do as you please, believe anything that you want to believe. And I really, truly am done with Adams and his distilled moonbeams.

#664 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 10:16 AM:

James, I'm delighted that you feel so free to dismiss Adam's research without actually reading the original papers. You might like to know that the report on seat belt legislation effectiveness from which the graphs you complain about come was published in SAE transactions in 1982 (and was therefore at least subject to peer review, although lots of crap gets published that has of course been peer reviewed, so that's not exactly a high bar. I have no idea whether SEA transactions was regarded as being particularly reliable in the field or not). You can download a pdf copy of the original report at http://john-adams.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2006/SAE%20seatbelts.pdf

The footnotes contain the useful information that you were complaining was lacking from the review chapter that was linked to earlier: specifically which countries made up the 'law' and 'no-law' countries in his graphs. The paper also contains graphs of the death rates in each individual country over the period in question, plus an appendix on the effects of the oil crisis.

I note in passing that your arguments against Adam's data appear to boil down to the introduction of other life saving measures in the USA precisely matching the protective effects of seat belts in other countries. An appeal to co-incidence is not very convincing, although it is of course a possible explanation, even if not a very plausible one.

#665 ::: Stewart Dean ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 10:48 AM:

A somewhat OT hint about deluge situation (TomB #6, et al)...Really massive water will distort vision through the windshield, no matter the wiper speed
Get silicone rubber windshield wiper blades. They will deposit a thin film of silicone on the windshield, and rain will NOT film on the windshield, but bead ferociously, and you'll be about to see (though not through the described waterfall ahead of your car). At night, you won't even need to turn on the wipers. Like Rain-X, but you won't have to apply it.

#666 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 11:42 AM:

Jim and I were comparing notes in chat this morning. In the course of this thread, we've both become thoroughly acquainted with the arguments and facts used by the anti-seatbelt-laws crowd. The result:

Jim: I formerly had no opinion about seatbelt laws. Having now seen what is presumably the best argument against them, I've come to think that perhaps seatbelt laws are a good idea.

TNH: I was already in favor of them. Now I'm much more strongly in favor of them.

I doubt we're the only people in this thread who've had that reaction.

#667 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 11:53 AM:

As I said several times upthread, I wear a seat belt religiously. But these days, I can't honestly say that I know it makes me safer.

I guess this thread is pretty much mined out. It's been interesting to watch the arguments in play though: th pwr f th ncdt t swy pnn s vry strng! spclly whn vryn hs thr wn prsnl sty t dd.

#668 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 01:19 PM:

Since the Adams paper, in addition to its other failings, is over twenty years old, it might be interesting to see what's been happening since then.[*] So I went googling...


This article from 2006, by Cummings et al., is an analysis of causes of death in traffic accidents in the US from 1982 through 2001. They specifically look at the separate effects of alcohol use, seat belt use, and air bags (as well as helmets for motorcyclists and bicycle riders). Things worth noting:

Deaths include all people in vehicles, on motorcylces or bicycles, and pedestrians who died in accidents with motor vehicles.

The total death rate in traffic accidents has gone down over the period 1982-2001.

The biggest factors -- roughly equal in effect -- in reducing traffic deaths have been decreased drunk driving and increased seat belt use; they estimate that about 153,000 lives were saved due to the former and about 129,000 lives due to the latter.

From their Conclusions: "Decreased alcohol use and increased use of seat belts were associated with substantial reductions in crash mortality from 1982 through 2001. Increased presence of air bags, motorcycle helmets, and bicycle helmets were associated with smaller reductions."

As for the idea that lower deaths among automobile drivers and passengers due to seat belt usage must somehow be compensated by higher accident rates among motorcyclists and bicyle riders: they note that during the same period "overall motorcycle death rates declined 63%" and "all bicycle death rates decreased 35%." So I really don't think there's a way to claim that increased seat belt use somehow leads to increased deaths elsewhere.


[*] Endlessly appealing to outdated papers without consulting more recent research is, I'm going to suggest, a possible warning sign of incipient crackpottery. It's something creationists do, so beware.

#669 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 01:41 PM:

I think this argument has been run into the ground, however, a couple of points: 1) Adams has published a 2006 paper which essentially reiterates the same views. I linked to the 1982(?) one because it contained information that James had specifically commented on its omission from the summary articles that had previously been posted. I resent the implication of crackpottery! (Indeed, I've just downloaded some interesting critiques of Smeed's law, both for and against which I'm trying to get my head round.)

2) I *know* that crash mortality has dropped over the past decades. *Nobody* (as far as I know) is denying this: the risk homeostatis claim would be however that the overall death rate in the population will remain unchanged: iow, that drivers will exchange the increased safety of their vehicle for the ability to drive further / faster / whatever benefit they prefer for the same overall risk level (averaged out over many drivers). Comparisons with the death rate per passenger mile or per crash miss the point.

#670 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 02:10 PM:

> overall death rate in the population will remain unchanged

Yes, at one death per person.

> Comparisons with the death rate per passenger mile or per crash miss the point.

You're now arguing in favour of Jim's "inline skating" suggestion. But Adams' papers compare rates of road death rates before and after changes in seatbelt wearing, not overall population deaths. Arguing that that misses the point and if it doesn't show up on the road then the effect happens at some overall wider level is pure speculation and completely untestable.

#671 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 02:24 PM:

Alan @ 670:

It's still a twenty year old paper, and laws have changed and cars have changed since then. Newer papers on this would be more relevant to your argument.

Death is always one per person. Your point is?
[/snark]

#672 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 02:52 PM:

Phil @669: I wasn't meaning to imply that you were a crackpot, only that the discussion seemed to be obsessively focused on a single, 25-year-old paper when it was not that difficult to find more recent analyses (and anlyses by other authors, which is just as important). Sorry if that wasn't clear.

But Alan Braggins is right: either you are claiming that the death rate (e.g., per 100,000 population per year, which is what that study I linked to used) due to traffic accidents has to stay constant due to some mysterious "conservation of driving risk" -- which is clearly ruled out by the data[*] -- or else you end up saying that the overall death rate from all causes has to balance the reduced death rate in traffic accidents.

Which requires some kind of actuarial fairies who zip around and whisper "Why don't you try lawn darts?" in people's ears in order to keep the death rates balanced.


[*] Look at the latest report [PDF file] from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the Department of Transportation. It has totals and rates for fatalities in traffic accidents going back to the 1970s (and for injuries going back to the late 1980s). No matter how you slice it -- motorist or non-motorist, total numbers, rates per 100,000 population, per number of licensed drivers, per number of licensed vehicles, per 100 million driven miles -- fatalities (and injuries) in traffic accidents have been going down. They are not constant.

Really, this "risk homeostasis in traffic deaths" idea has passed on. It is no more. It has run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. It is an ex-theory.

#673 ::: Stewart Dean ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 03:18 PM:

Re: William@212:
"I'm rich and powerful. Therefore I can ignore the laws."
In Finland, the traffic violation fines are indexed not only to how bad your bad, but also to your income....
a Nokia veep was fined for $100,000. for doing 46MPH in a 31MPH zone. Gotta Love Socialism.

#674 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 03:22 PM:

OK. Let's get the first bit out of the way: No lawn darts!

It *is* clearly the case that overall death rate due to traffic accidents has been dropping for decades. The problem for the proponents of vehicle safety features is that it was dropping before the safety features were introduced and it continued to drop after at much the same rate. Meanwhile, traffic density has gone up. The root cause of the drop in the accident rate may in fact be down to the increase in traffic density (Smeed's Law) rather than anything intrinsic to the vehicles or drivers themselves.

However: full disclosure, there's a paper by Andreasson which I'm currently in the process of reading (plus a response by Adams) which pokes statistical holes in Smeed's Law. Actually, Andreasson claims to completely invalidate Smeed's Law altogether & says that it's a statistical sampling artifact. Which is a pretty strong claim, so I'm trying to understand what's going on before making a judgement (and dredging up my statistical training...)

#675 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 05:32 PM:

> Newer papers on this would be more relevent

And I'd love to see some. As Phil said, Adams later work doesn't add a great deal to his first paper. (Though again, #410 explains why you can't get the numbers you really want at any time, only a law produces a marked step change in belt wearing rates independent of other factors).

Has anyone read the 2001 edition of Target Risk and care to comment on what's changed since the 1994 online version?


> Death is always one per person. Your point is?

Just that. "overall death rate in the population" is meaningless without further qualification.


> some kind of actuarial fairies

Well no, it requires people who are feeling more bored because they have less risk elsewhere in their lives to be more likely to take up lawn darts. It's completely unprovable, but not totally impossible. But there was no reason for Jim to make it up.

And of course things have moved on over the years.
Drink driving used to be much more socially acceptable than it is now, for example, and Adams is in favour of anti-drink driving laws.
Car ownership has increased, bicycle use has declined.
Cars have pedestrian safety features, and advertise them, increasing awareness of danger to pedestrians.
And so on, and so on.
The point of, say these graphs is not that there isn't a clear overall downward trend - of course there is - but that the one major upward blip matches the introduction of a UK seat belt law and the only sharp increase in seatbelt wearing by drivers. But that's not an experiment you can reproduce later (unless Adams has is way and the law is repealed, hardly likely), so maybe it's just co-incidence.

#676 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 05:46 PM:

Peter Erwin (672), I'm going to call that one decisive.

Phil, if this discussion has been run into the ground, stop posting to it.

Alan, I'm sorry, but your argument is indefensible. It's clear that you're very attached to it, but it's an unrequited love. If you keep trying, all you're going to do is convince more readers that you don't understand statistics and aren't being a very good listener. Why give yourself the grief? Do something else instead. The web is full of marvellous possibilities.

I'm not kicking you out of Making Light. You're doing just fine in other comment threads. However, I am calling an end to this argument. It's time to quit now.

Terminus est.

#677 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 11:10 PM:

Ok, then - back to the 'surveying' sub-sub-thread at 570, 624, 634, etc.

I've heard that some of the township lines in North Dakota are "interesting" due to these problems.

...so the sides they didn't run were never properly checked.

To be fair, ONE of the reasons that the Northwest Ordinance townships are 'imperfectly' surveyed is that they're required to be 6 miles by 6 miles -
except they were plotted on a 3-d sphere, not on a 2-d plane. So adjacent towns on the north or south CAN'T line up exactly....

#678 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2007, 11:16 PM:

Bobb, there's also the matter of trying to run a straight transect through inhospitable terraine; there's a survey error around here caused by the unfortunate correspondence of the Willamette Meridian and the Salmon Springs formation, which is a field of springs and seeps with a vertical exposed face.

#679 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2007, 09:38 AM:

I'm sure no-one wants any more of this, but in one of the Adams links there's a reference to a study in which "hard-core seatbelt refusers" were asked to drive round a track, with and without seatbelts, and supposedly drove faster with them.

There's a really bad flaw here: why they refused to wear seatbelts? Because they didn't believe they were any safer. Hence, they can't be risk-compensating. QED.

#680 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2007, 11:17 AM:

Bob @ 677

Tracked it down: Professional Surveyor magazine, October and November 2001 (archives are online, you can probably access it: www.profsurv.com ).

#681 ::: Stewart Dean ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2007, 01:14 PM:

Teresa, your #676 is one of the most lucid, compassionate let-downs I've ever heard; I can only wonder if a man could write something so clean and fair and patient.
And you use Latin. Alas, I'm already pretty happily married.
Also, your piece on the home page about having a gun and actually having the stuff to use it properly is dead-on. I once took a week-long class in Armed Citizen Self-Defense, taught by LFI's Massad Ayoob and Colin Chapman, that went over all that ground (quickly) and made it quite clear that armed self-defense can only be an absolutely last resort with enormous consequences, that the best thing to do is get away and leave it to the professionals.

#682 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2007, 04:55 PM:

Stewart@681: Personally I thought it was somewhat patronising. But that's Teresa's privilege: it's her site.

#683 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2007, 02:13 AM:

Alan, #670, some people die more than once.

#684 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2007, 04:29 AM:

> some people die more than once

Assuming you aren't talking about reincarnation: some people get declared dead more than once. But by the usual definitions, if it isn't permanent, it isn't death.

"There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do."
"What's that?"
"Go through his clothes and look for loose change."

#685 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2007, 04:30 PM:

No, if your heart stops and your brain stops, you're dead. Then sometimes, you can be brought back to life and die again.

#686 ::: anon ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2007, 09:00 PM:

Bicycle helmet story -
I was at a friend's house, a couple blocks from mine. Needed to go fetch something from my house, so borrowed her bike, but not her helmet since it's too small. What can happen in 2 blocks, especially if I ride extra carefully?

And nothing did happen, until I went to get off her bike. I'd forgotten it had toe clips - so the bike and I went down.

Fortunately the nearby tree was not within cranial range, so I only felt like an idiot.

#687 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2007, 07:09 AM:

Re: #686: I understand the theory of toe clips/pedal clips (you put more energy into motion if you pull on the upstroke rather than let your foot ride), but I know a couple of stories of people who have come to grief over them. One a friend, who slipped and fell on a patch of fresh asphalt make oil-slick by rain, who going down caught his arm on the curb and did serious damage to it.

I've always felt it was better to have your feet free to slam on the ground when the bike slides out from underneath you.

#688 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2007, 12:38 PM:

Also, in regard to the theory of toe clips: the knee is not meant to bear load on the upstroke in any case, and is such a kludged together piece of bioengineering that it really should be spared forces out of its design specs.

#689 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2007, 12:01 AM:

A few hours ago, the historian David Halberstam was killed in car accident near here. It looks like this was one of those horrible accidents where nothing could've saved him from the laws of physics:

"The fire chief [Harold Schappelhouman], who assisted at the scene, said the force of the crash caused a 2-foot indentation on Halberstam's side of the car, pinning his legs. As firefighters tried to free him, the car's engine began to smoke, then caught fire.

"Rescuers extricated Halberstam, who was wearing a seat belt, then tried to rescusitate him, but they could not find a pulse, Schappelhouman said."

His driver went to the hospital with a punctured lung, but his survival probably means that he was belted in too, instead of being ejected straight out of his window.

#690 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2007, 11:48 AM:

Clipless pedals (which, in a weird piece of English usage you clip into) seem to be generally regarded as better than toeclips, perhaps because they allow easier exit? Although every cyclist that uses them seems to have an 'I stopped, forgot to unclip and fell over' story.

#691 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2007, 01:32 PM:

> Clipless pedals ... better than toeclips

Yes, but they are being compared above with no clips, not toeclips, and while clipless pedals with multi-directional cleats and a loose spring tension will allow generally allow you to unclip even if you forget until you are already falling, nothing at all is easier, though less efficient.

(On the other hand, you don't actually pull up any more than when walking, the advantage is that you don't have to put weight down to keep your leg in place, so that isn't a real problem. But having their feet locked in place while pedalling does cause some people knee problems - some clipless system allow some float which reduces the problem.)

On a tadpole (two wheels forward) recumbent trike then some sort of foot retention system is heavily recommended, but then you don't fall over if you don't put a foot down on a trike.
(A friend of mine once saw a motorcyclist slowly topple over at red lights - my friend helped him up and the biker explained "I've been riding with a sidecar for years, and forgot I didn't have it today".)

#692 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2007, 03:03 PM:

I started mountain biking a couple of years ago, having never been much of a road biker, since I've always lived in urban environments. I went from regular pedals to cleated pedals to clipless (with the tension set fairly loose). I love the clipless pedals. Even though I'm a novice rider, I've never failed to get them out in time to stop a fall. And I am happy to avoid the bruises on (or in the case of the cleated pedals, hamburgerification of) my lower legs when my feet slip off the pedals.

#693 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2007, 04:15 PM:

Alan Braggins @ 691

A friend of mine has been swearing for the last 40 years that this story is true; me, I just don't think so. But what a story.

He says he was standing on a street corner and turned to watch a large biker-type on a Harley come around the corner at maybe 2-3 mph. A little kid, may 6 or so, was at the corner too. The kid caught sight of the Harley, and ran up to it just as it came around the corner. The kid kept coming, pushing against the biker, and knocked him right over. The biker didn't know what to do; if it had been anyone else, the biker would have removed a few teeth as payment, but he just couldn't blow his dignity by beating on a child. He got back on the Harley and tried to leave as much rubber and noise behind him as he could.

#694 ::: anonilli ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2007, 09:38 AM:

The Darwin Award for the most creative use of seatbelts in a traffic accident might go to a bunch of drunken Finnish teens who managed to slide off the road into a snowbank one winter a few years back. Nobody was hurt, the car was OK but they couldn't just back the car out of the snow. Need some kind of towrope or something. Hey, how about we cut off the seatbelts and tie them together? They did, and got the car back on the road. IIRC none survived the crash in the next intersection.
@95, of course it's ridiculous to waste whole minutes of your life waiting at a railroad crossing gate, especially when the train's already gone. I mean, what are the odds of another train coming from the opposite *CRUNCH*
@430, I knew a guy who got 100+ stitches to his face and some serious dental work after a fellow bicyclist ran into him on a bike lane. That was with a helmet. I'm wearing mine. Seatbelts go without saying. But I'll have to get some kind of cargo net for our minivan, all sorts of stuff in the back most of the time.

#695 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2007, 05:53 PM:

But will he wear his seatbelt from now on?


N.J. Governor Says He' Glad to Be Alive

By MEL C. EVANS, Associated Press Writer
1:30 PM PDT, April 26, 2007

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Gov. Jon S. Corzine, speaking publicly for the first time since he was seriously injured in an automobile accident two weeks ago, said Thursday that feels blessed to be alive.
[snipped]

#696 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2007, 07:38 PM:

The local NBC News tonight said that someone is suing Corzine for violating state law about seatbelts.

#698 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2007, 10:17 PM:

Well, they really should ticket him for not wearing that seatbelt.

Incidentally, I looked in the CA vehicle code - it's online, along with several other state codes - and the range of fines given for not wearing a belt is $80 to $91. Court costs presumably are extra.

#699 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2007, 11:37 PM:

Re Toe clips: Bicycle track racers often don't use clipless pedals because they will pull out that the most inopportune times, causing an accident or just losing the race. Since many starts are either from the rail or with holders, you just get on and cinch down the toe clips. One of my friends at a big race had just been bitten by popping out at a bad time, and wanted to make sure it didn't happen again. So out comes the duct tape, and presto, he's attached. Gun goes off, the riders go, and suddenly, he's coasting with a broken chain. Everyone watches for 10 seconds or so, until there's yell "He's taped in" and some people run across the infield to catch him before he topples over.

I've probably had more trouble getting out of toeclips than clipless, but the only time I actually toppled over as when I simply forgot that I had to put a foot out at a traffic light.

#700 ::: ron ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 11:00 AM:

I agree that seatbelts should always be worn. However, since the crash that involved Gov. Corzine was on his side of the car, he would have taken the full impact of the hit had he been wearing a seat belt, in effect, restrained in that position. He might have been killed because that side of the SUV was demolished. Just a thought.
Concerning people who talk on cell phones while driving and say it doesn't interfere. You must have rocks in your head! I do a lot of long distance bicycle riding and numerous times I've had close calls with people drifting on the road, not signaling, and running red lights while talking or dialing on their cell phones. Presently, in New Jersey it is unlawful to drive and talk on a cell phone ($250.00 fine) but you must be stopped for another violation before you can be ticketed for the cell phone. However, soon the Legislature (I hope) is going to make it a stoppable offense just for the cell phone.

#701 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 03:30 PM:

A related-to-driving news story:

Give tanker-trucks extra room, and give other car drivers near the tanker room too- don't dawdle near a tanker- because they're extra dangerous if they have an accident.

The tanker driver got burned, but no one else was hurt because the accident happened early in the morning.

This accident is going to cause a dreadful commute for the next few months, because it happened at one of the key intersections in the Bay Area. The melted freeway is in The Maze, right at the eastern exit from the Bay Bridge going south to 880 (kitty/cater-corner to the Ikea). "The Maze" is how you enter/exit the Bay Bridge and I-80 from highways 880, 580, or 980.

#702 ::: Dn ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 05:14 PM:

Th mst stpd sttmnts hv vr hrd r th sttmnts ppl mk bt wrng stblts. " wld hv dd f hdn't hd my stblt n" Pls xpln t m hw smn wld knw ths nlss y hd ctlly bn n th sm ccdnt bfr nd ddn't hv yr st blt n nd y dd d? Whn y mk sttmnts lk tht y r ssmng smthng tht s nt ctl FCTS.

FCT: Ppl D vrydy n cr ccdnts WTH Stblts n, Jst lk ppl d wtht st blts n. Fct f lf whn y drv cr r vn rd n cr y r tkng chnc wth yr lf..prd. N mttr f y hv st blt n r nt!!!

FCT: My bst frnd dd BCS f hr stblt hr cr rlld vr nd cght fr thy cldn't gt hr t bcs f th st blt S sh brnd lv. (tgh chc thr, d wnt t tk th chng f bng thrwn frm my cr r brn lv blv wll tk my chncs bng thrwn t f th cr Thnks)

FCT: drv cnvrtbl f my cr rlls vr d rlly wnt t b td nsd th cr? (Hmmm n Thnks gn wll tk my chncs bng thrwn t f my cr) (h nd BTW lrdy py mr nsrnc bcs f t bng cnvrtbl nd sprts cr)

FCT: Myb y hv dcdd pblc trnsprtn s th wy t g...s y gt n th bs nd gss wht N STBLTS.Rd th Gryhnd (Hmmm n st blts thr thr)

FCT: Y cn b chrgd fr chld bs f y dn't bckl yr chld nt st blt bt tht sm chld rds th schl bs vrydy nd gss wht gn N ST BLTS.

f dn't wr my stblt m nt hrtng nyn BT M prd... shw m n ccdnt, jst n, whr smn ws klld bcs f th thr drvr nt wrng stblt ... prsnlly d nt nd th gvrnmnt tllng m hw t lv r hw t prtct myslf th gvrnmnt nds t wrry bt thr sss f prtctn thr thn wrryng bt whthr r nt my st blt s bckld. Whn trrrst cn wlk nt r mjr rprts nd tk vr plns nd crsh thm nt mjr cts wtht bng ntcd by r gvrnmnt ntl t ws t lt thn thy r nt th ppl wh wnt tllng m hw t prtct myslf frm MY cr.

Y knw ths s jst n mr wy t cntrl y nd pt mr fnds nt yr cty fnd dprtmnt. Thr r lt mr dngrs thngs cld d bsds nt wrng my stblt
Myb thy nd t pt st blts n mtrcycls nd bts....nd tlw skng, sky dvng, rck clmbng, hkng, cmp frs, rdng rplns, ths thngs ll hv th ptntl t kll y ls....(scrsm)

dn't knw bt y gys bt m hr t njy my lf nd d th thngs tht gv m plsr...Lf s shrt nywy y lv t thr r rsk n vrythng y d frm drvng yr cr t tng tht Mcdnlds Hmbrgr. hv n ntntn f lvng my lf nsd plstc bbbl frd f wht f's nd myb's.

#703 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 05:38 PM:

Diana @702,

If I have a couple of questions about your comment, are you going to be back here to continue the discussion?

For example:
Do you always drive alone?

If you're in an accident, will that cause a backup on the freeway?
Where I live, if the coroner has to come out to an accident, that means the road gets closed for a few hours. That can affect 100,000 people.

What do you think about what Jim - the original author and an EMT- wrote about being "thrown clear"? Do you worry about where you're going to be thrown to, if you're thrown clear?

"Let’s talk briefly about being thrown clear, because it happens more often than you’d think. Unrestrained driver: side impact. Vehicle spins. Driver goes out the window. In one case I recall, the driver was half-way out his window when the vehicle rolled over on top of him. That was the second-most grotesque scene I’ve ever been to. Another scene, the driver went out the window when it spun. The vehicle went into a snow bank and was drivable from the scene. The driver went into a river and drowned."

#704 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 05:51 PM:

Kathryn...you know I love you, right? You're wasting your time on this dork-ass driveby who didn't even read the frelling thread. Or even the initial post.

From time to time idiots come by and post asinine things. When they're this stupid, just ignore them.

#705 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 05:53 PM:

Kathryn @ 701

Um, a cross between Loma Prieta and the Caldecott Tunnel tanker crash, yes? I'm surprised the tanker driver got out. (I'll be more surprised if he's still with that company in two weeks.)

There was, back in the 80s, a crash on the Ventura Freeway where a tanker swerved to avoid a small pickup, and ended up colliding with a car. There wasn't anything left of the car afterwards, either. The pavement was partly burned off, and Caltrans didn't fix it until they did that whole section of road; until they did, every time I went across it I remembered the young woman who'd been driving the car. I don't think they ever found the pickup that had caused the thing.

#706 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 06:01 PM:

Xopher @704,

I know, yes, I know, don't feed them. I was going to stop with just the polite version of "are you a troll?", and I know I oughtn't to do even that, and the chance that there's even one troll who can be converted into a participant is soooooo vanishingly small it isn't worth trying. And Tragedy of the Commons and all that.

But the asininity, it bothers.

#707 ::: Dn ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 06:08 PM:

f hv cpl f qstns bt yr cmmnt, r y gng t b bck hr t cntn th dscssn?

T nswr yr 1st qstn Sr m hr...bt m nt gng t prms m lwys hr.

Fr xmpl:
D y lwys drv ln

Smtms nd whthr my pssgr wrs st blt r nt shld b hs/hr chc nt th lw

f y'r n n ccdnt, wll tht cs bckp n th frwy?
Whr lv, f th crnr hs t cm t t n ccdnt, tht mns th rd gts clsd fr fw hrs. Tht cn ffct 100,000 ppl

ny ccdnt cs bckp n th frwy whthr t nvlvs dth r nt st blts d nt prvnt ccdnts.
nd hck whr lv Rd cnstrctn css bckps jst s bd.

Wht d y thnk bt wht Jm - th rgnl thr nd n MT- wrt bt bng "thrwn clr"? D y wrry bt whr y'r gng t b thrwn t, f y'r thrwn clr?

ctlly n d nt wrry bt whr wll b thrwn clr t..t s n f ths wht "fs" try nt t wrry bt.

"Lt’s tlk brfly bt bng thrwn clr, bcs t hppns mr ftn thn y’d thnk. nrstrnd drvr: sd mpct. Vhcl spns. Drvr gs t th wndw. n n cs rcll, th drvr ws hlf-wy t hs wndw whn th vhcl rlld vr n tp f hm. Tht ws th scnd-mst grtsq scn ’v vr bn t. nthr scn, th drvr wnt t th wndw whn t spn. Th vhcl wnt nt snw bnk nd ws drvbl frm th scn. Th drvr wnt nt rvr nd drwnd."

k ccdnt hr bt 3 wks g drvr wnt nt crk th mpct knckd hm t..th gy bhnd hm sw th ccdnt bt cldn't gt hm t f th cr bcs h ws fstn n th st blt by th tm h gt nsd th cr ngh t ct th st blt th mn hd drwn.(wld h hv lvd hd h nt hd st blt n? wh knws myb h wld hv myb h wldn't) s sd bfr drvng s chnc y tk whthr y dcd t wr st blt r nt. Bt t shld b th chc fr m t mk nt th lw.
sw n ccdnt bck lst smmr n Nshvll yng grl ws drvng Frd trck nd sh ht nthr cr whn sh rn rd lght hr trck ws lghtly dmgd sh hd hr st blt n t lk t th trck sh ws drvng y wld hv thght t ws wht w cll fndr bndr bt sh dd. S y nvr rlly knw d y?

#708 ::: Dn ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 06:20 PM:

Jst s y knw m nt trll...nr m stpd by ny mns..nd d nt pprct bng clld sch.nd hv rd ths ntr thrd.. Jst bcs smn ds nt blv th sm thngs y d y tmtclly lbl thm s trll r stpd..y mst b Rpblcn Bsh Fn.

#709 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 06:44 PM:

Diana @707,

Diana, you posted your comment as if you hadn't read either Jim's initial essay or any followup comments.

Have you? Why did you write about buses, then, as if that is an argument? (They're irrelevant. see below).

Statistics and the Laws of Physics show you're far, far less likely to die in a car accident if you wear a seatbelt. You have a friend who lived? Do you know the statistics about how many people die without a seatbelt?

Trolling-- well, 99% of the time, when a person writes as if they haven't read the essay, they are just trolling, they're just making a really provocative comment without reading or knowing anything about the author or the commenters. It's great that you came back: 99% of the time, a comment like that is just a drive-by.

Oh, but now you're calling people here "Bush fans"? Why would you say that unless you're 1. trying to troll or 2. never read any essays here?

no I do not worry about where i will be thrown clear to..it is one of those what "ifs" I try not to worry about

How about this: do you worry about what happens if you're "thrown" away from your steering wheel? That is, how can you continue to guide and steer your car if you're no longer holding onto the steering wheel? Do you think that the belt makes no difference in keeping you next to the steering wheel, so that you can choose where to steer to?

My dad was a forensics engineer- like CSI, except he investigated how fires and accidents happened. I worked for him when I was younger. Many, many accidents happen in two or more parts. There's an initial hit, and then the hit car itself hits someone else. Accidents get a lot worse, more people get hit, if a car is completely out of control.

When you mention buses-- do you know what the death rate is of school buses versus cars? Did you know that it's about 20 a year for school buses, and 43,000 a year for cars? (2000 times higher) Did you know buses are build differently- that they use compartmentalization for safety, and that because so few kids die, seatbelts wouldn't make a difference?

#710 ::: Dn ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 06:59 PM:

sd th Bsh rfrnc n jst..s rltd t fllws blndly nn thnkng shp.
n rdr fr m t b thrwn frm my cr, my cr s gng t hv t trn vr r ht smthng t vry frcbl mpct nd n thr cs strng th cr wld b th lst f th prblm whthr hd st blt n r nt nd my rbg wld b t mkng strng mpssbl nywy vn f hd st blt n.
knw th Sttstcs f bs ccdnts...hrs Sttstc fr y hv bn drvng fr 20 yrs nvr hd mjr ccdnt..nvr dd..nvr klld nyn bt yt stll hv t wr st blt by lw.

#711 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 07:24 PM:

First, about the tanker trucks and such: My beloved wife and I have a little game we play on the highway. Spot a truck with a Hazmat sign. Then look up the code number in the hazmat book. The person who spots the vehicle with the largest evacuation area wins!

Hi, Diana! It doesn't make any difference to me if you wear a seatbelt or not. Really. Just do me a favor, okay? Sign an organ donor card, and make out a Living Will so folks will know what your health-care choices are if you aren't capable of answering questions. A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care would be another choice. Lots of people put that sort of thing off, and they shouldn't.

#712 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 07:28 PM:

What do you know, she's back. Surprising, but not unheard of.

Unrestrained passengers kill the other passengers, as we've shown again and again and provided references...and Jim posted his too-gruesome-for-me-to-watch video of the unrestrained passenger in a rollover.

Whether you're a passenger or a driver, you don't have a right to kill the others in the car, no matter what you may think about your personal freedom. One person's right to swing fists ends where another person's chin begins.

If you had read the entire thread (and I must say I'm irresistibly inclined to doubt you on that), you wouldn't have made arguments that have already been refuted without trying to make SOME argument that refutes the refutations (as an example, it's been adequately explained why buses have no seatbelts and need none). Unless you're a troll or an idiot, which you deny.

Airbag technology assumes you're wearing a seatbelt. If your airbag deploys when you aren't, the airbag itself may kill you, depending on the exact dynamics of the accident. And the airbag may not deploy in a spinout that could throw you out the window of the car—when you might have corrected for the spin had you been able to stay at the wheel.

You say you've never died or killed anyone in 20 years of driving. Good luck with that (seriously, I hope you never do). You know, lots of people die in accidents who've been driving more than 20 years. Guess what? None of them died in their first 20 years of driving either.

Also...part of the culture here is that making your first post a contemptuous rant that ignores everything that went before is a) troll-sign, and b) a license for the rest of us to deride you mercilessly. If you don't want to be treated like a troll, not acting like one is really a good first step.

#713 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 07:31 PM:

Oh, did y'all see the news story Driver rescued from pond 2 days after SUV crash?

Police told Bova's family she suffered bleeding in the brain, a broken femur, and multiple fractures to her pelvis, arm and face.

I'll give you any odds you want that the driver wasn't wearing her seatbelt.

#714 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 07:36 PM:

Jim @ 711

I know that 1203 is unleaded gasoline. (They aren't always marked any other way.)

What surprised me was that hay has a hazmat number. I found that out when a friend got a copy of the booklet that lists them.

I'd add that I treat liquified-gas tankers with great care, because many of those are seriously refrigerated/pressurized. (Spend time in an area with electronics plants, and you see lots of these. LOX and LH2 are only two of the possibilities.) Also watch out for anhydrous ammonia tankers, especially in farming areas, where you'll see a lot of smaller trailers, with high centers of gravity, being towed to farms.

#715 ::: Dn ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 07:55 PM:

h srry ddn't rlz nly Trlls hv brns nd th blty t hv thr wn pnns. Myb thrs tht y hv cm n cntct wth wrn't trlls thr myb thy jst ddn't shr yr vws? nd fgrd y wrn't wrth rgng wth.

nd f hd nthng ls t d bt srf th ntrnt m sr thr r plnty f grsm vds f cr ccdnts wth ppl ctlly wrng stblts.

d knw ffhnd f vd nvlvng schl chldrn n schl bs whch ws tkn frm th bs vd cmr.
nd th RL rsn bss d nt hv st blts s th cst..bcs t nly mks sns thr wldn't b s mny ccdnts wth bss s thr r crs bcs thr r bt 20 tms mr crs n th rd thn thr r bss DH

nd Jm n dsrspct t y r yr rtcl nd m ll fr y wrng yr st blt f tht s wht y wsh t d..
hv Lvng Wll (nt fr fr f cr ccdnt thgh) bt whthr wr st blt r nt wll nt sgn n rgn dnr crd, Srry (rlgn thng) t s n f th fw chcs d hv lft n th wrld.

http://www.ytb.cm/wtch?v=0w5sJ_rJSg

http://www.ytb.cm/wtch?v=_0-v5nK08

nd wtch ths n yp cn s why schl bss hv n st blts..

http://www.ytb.cm/wtch?v=fFD-XxTJ_rk

#716 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 08:01 PM:

"You're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts."

And no, I'm not worth arguing with. After all, I think YOU aren't.

#717 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 08:06 PM:

Xopher, I admire your ability to write that rebuttal without attacking Diana's punctuation. You are obviously a superior being.

#718 ::: Dn ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 08:24 PM:

h s srry..ddn't rlz ths ws n nglsh clss..

#719 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 08:56 PM:

Diana, may I suggest you learn something about local custom and manners before posting, in any forum? Actually reading the conversation you're joining and knowing what you're talking about helps tremendously, as well. This is basic etiquette. You are not being some cool nonconformist rebel by ignoring it; you are simply being rude.

#720 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 08:59 PM:

JESR 717: No, I just had higher-value targets.

#721 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:01 PM:

JESR--now ACONITE is a superior being.

#722 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:11 PM:

It ain't an English class, it's life-after-classes, where you have the wonderful opportunity use what you learned in school. What is it for, otherwise?

And I don't want to feed anything, but the illogic of the initial argument in #702 won't leave me alone. Diana, first you say that no one can know what would have happened in an accident had seatbelts not been fastened. Then you tell an anecdote about an accident where someone would have survived had she not been wearing a seatbelt. This makes no sense. Either you know or you don't know; you can't have it both ways.

#723 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:12 PM:

Xopher @ 721: All, that explains this new ability to shoot lightning from my nostrils*.

*Everybody expects it from the eyes. It's nice to be less predictable.

#724 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:14 PM:

Er, that was supposed to be "Ah," not "All." Funny how two Ls look like an H through flame.

#725 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:15 PM:

Aconite 723: Unfortunately the phrase 'electric snot' keeps running around in my brain...

#726 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:23 PM:

Xopher @ 725: Ooh! That gives me an idea! Quick--grab a Fyarl demon and meet me in somebody else's bathtub.

#727 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:38 PM:

Kathryn (#701) actually, the bits I noticed (not being a local, nor a driver on freeways) were:
"Engineers said the green steel frame of the I-580 overpass and the bolts holding the frame together began to melt and bend in the intense heat -- and that movement pulled the roadbed off its supports."
and
"Heat exceeded 2,750 degrees and caused the steel beams holding up the interchange from eastbound I-80 to eastbound Interstate 580 above to buckle and bolts holding the structure together to melt, leading to the collapse, California Department of Transportation director Will Kempton said." According to the story the crashed tanker contained 8,600 (US) gallons of petrol.

Wasn't there a big talking point about how much fire would be needed to soften & bend a steel frame in the September 11 World Trade Centre building collapses? Does this shed some light on the issue?

BTW, I know a lot of Australians get twitchy watching in-car scenes in US films & TV shows, because so few people are shown wearing seatbelts. It's just nerve-wracking & jarring. And a worry because a bad example, too.

There were even some comments & questions to the director of a Canadian documentary (5 Days in Sep) I saw at the Sydney Film Festival. It was about classical music & musicians, and I enjoyed it, but that lack of seatbelts in the many in-car scenes nagged at quite a few of us.

#728 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 10:22 PM:

Oh, the traffic -- the horror, the horror. It's going to be just awful around here tomorrow, and every day after until people figure out alternate routes -- and even after that, until they get the road repaired.

The driver was speeding. At 3:45 in the morning. (Well, yes, that is one of the few times of day or night that one can speed at that point on the freeway.) According to the news report I saw, the truck whammed into a support pylon. The fuel went up in flame and the damn road melted. I can't quite get over that. I saw what Loma Prieta did to the Cypress Structure; this appears similar on the pictures anyway.

I am so glad I no longer commute between Berkeley and East Oakland, as I did in 1989.

#729 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 10:43 PM:

Aconite @ 723

Well I'm certainly not going to tell any jokes that might make you snort!

#730 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 12:52 AM:

Diana @710,

I know the Statistics of bus accidents... No, you seem to have missed something. If there are 20x cars than buses, but 2000x the death rate, then buses are still safer. School bus death rates per passenger mile are a fraction of cars' rates.

heres a Statistic for you I have been driving for 20 years never had a major accident..never died..never killed anyone but yet I still have to wear a seat belt by law.

So? That isn't a statistic, that's an anecdote. Let me guess, you got ticketed and are still angry. (There are people driving on bald tires who've never been in an accident either.)

I've been driving for over 20 years, and I've never had a major accident, nor a minor accident ("never died" oy, Xopher, I know, but knowing isn't enough), and I always wear a seatbelt. Our anecdotes cancel out. Our anecdotes don't matter.

Take a thousand great drivers who always wear a seatbelt. Take a thousand drivers who are like you- never wearing a seatbelt. Wait 10 years. Statistically, my group will have less injuries and less deaths less killing other people from accidents that yours. Yes, you can die with a belt and live without one. But statistics, not anecdotes, are reality.

What I do makes me less likely to hit someone else in an accident, and what you don't do makes it more likely you'll hit someone.

You're making the extraordinary claim that you're no less likely to lose control of the car than a belted driver. Prove it.

You keep on talking about the worst case type accident. I say you'll be a more dangerous driver in any ordinary accident, because that's what accident statistics says. If my car gets spun around, at the end of the spin I'll still be behind the wheel. In the exact same situation, you'll be on the other side of the car. Or would you argue otherwise?

Do you know how little force it takes to move a person away from their seat? Not to get them to fly out of the car, just to move a few feet? Do you think that force doesn't apply to you? Do you think you're strong enough to keep a grip on the steering wheel if forces are pushing you sideways?

When you finally get into your statistical accident, you're more likely to cause Jim to have to come out. As I said upthread:
"You die, and it isn't just the first responders and the few hundred drivers who drove by before the road was closed who have to see your brains on the windshield (thank goodness they often don't recognize what they're seeing). It's also the investigators and expert witnesses and 12 jurors for the civil case (even if there isn't a criminal case). You don't want to wear a seatbelt, so some poor guy has to be on jury duty for a few weeks. Nice of you, Diana."

#731 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 02:04 AM:

Diana @ 702: show me one accident, just one, where someone was killed because of the other driver not wearing a seatbelt...

Luckily(?), most unrestrained-driver fatalities only involve their own vehicle, but don't their own passengers count?

There's an abstract (or whatever the equivalent legal-brief term is) of an ongoing litigation case here, which coincidentally involves the lack of passenger seatbelts on schoolbuses. The key lines are as follows:

"The school bus was equipped with a seat belt for the driver, but not for the students. The school bus driver was not wearing his seat belt when contact was made with the other vehicle and that contributed to his losing control of the bus. The driver was ejected from the bus before it left the highway after hitting a 32” high ramp wall. Four students were killed in the crash and several others injured."

(In this case, "left the highway" means that it plunged off an overpass about 30 feet head-down onto another street. The accident took place last fall, and there are multiple news stories about it still online. The ejected driver survived, but with a broken back. Yay?)

#732 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 02:52 AM:

Statistics from Quebec, from a study on seatbelt use and reduction of death in accidents:

"In Québec, the rate of seat belt use has been relatively high since the start of the 1990s (over 90%), and the road safety record has improved, with the number of deaths decreasing by 57% between 1979 and 1999. During that same period, the use of seat belts increased from 42.6% to 94.6%. Several factors have contributed to these improvements, but the importance of seat belt use as a contributing factor has not been quantified. It is important to do so because close to 30% of drivers who die in an accident do not wear a seat belt."

Emphasis mine. 5% of drivers aren't wearing seatbelts, but 30% of the dead weren't wearing seatbelts.

"...The statistical analyses show that an an increase of 1% in the rate of seat belt use is associated with an average annual decrease of 8.5% in the mortality rate. The last analysis shows that not wearing a seat belt increases the fatality risk by a factor of 4.8. When the analysis considers only recent fatalities (1994-1999), this risk factor goes up to 6.4."

And one anecdote from Snopes:
anti-seat belt law advocate is killed in automobile accident. True.

"...the tragic mishap that claimed his life was the very type of accident in which seat belts have proved so effective in saving lives by preventing passengers from being ejected from vehicles..."

#733 ::: jsh fsh ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:12 AM:

whn m dprsd wrp th st blt rnd my nck nd drv lk, tht nkd. wnt t g t th wy cm n.

#734 ::: jsh fsh ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:13 AM:

whn m dprsd wrp th st blt rnd my nck nd drv lk, tht nkd. wnt t g t th wy cm n.

#735 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:38 AM:

Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to fireproof highway structures from the kind of fire that a gasoline tanker truck can generate when it explodes. Whether the bridge uses steel beams or concrete, neither can take that kind of heat over a long period of time without losing its ability to support a lot of weight. Even if the firefighters get there quickly, they won't put out such a fire fast enough to prevent the damage to the supports above it.

The comments yesterday in the news kind of riled me, though. There were officials saying this kind of crash was unique, and it really isn't. I can think of half a dozen situations where fires from big trucks caused highway structures to collapse or weaken so much they had to be replaced.

Here in NC several years ago, we had a major rural interstate closed for over a week when a fuel truck hit the center column and burned directly under a bridge. The heat weakened the steel beams and the whole bridge fell right on top of the interstate, just like what happened in California this weekend.

#736 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:45 AM:

Wow, josh. Your brilliant wit just astounds me. No, really.

Kathryn from Sunnyvale @ 730: I suspect our visitor is one of those people who are convinced rules that apply to other human beings don't apply to them. Their reflexes aren't slowed after a few drinks, they would never be thrown away from the steering wheel, they would keep a cool head and do the one right thing if a crazed gunman were to storm the room. And unexpected, uncontrollable things--like hitting a patch of black ice--never, ever happen to them. Even though every blasted study done shows that people are better off wearing seatbelts, these people know they're the exception, because the odds don't apply to them if they don't want them to.

#737 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:44 AM:

I was seriously impressed by the photo of the freeway remains that was on the front page of the LA Tiems this morning. I don't think I've ever seen draped roadway before.

#738 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:49 AM:

This is the picture they put on the front page.

#739 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 12:41 PM:

I've long wondered if bangsticks on the steering wheel would save lives?

#740 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 01:29 PM:

Aconite @ 736: I suspect our visitor is one of those people who are convinced rules that apply to other human beings don't apply to them.

To engage in the limbo dance of giving benefit of the doubt, I wonder whether the statement "If I don't wear my seatbelt I am not hurting anyone BUT Me period" in Diana's initial post masks various underlying Issues of depression and despair-- "my actions can't possibly affect anyone else", "my life isn't as valuable to society as other people's", "once I'm dead, hardly anyone will care or even notice", etc.

Of course, I could be reading too much into that single statement, but years ago when I was commuting by train and routinely had fleeting thoughts about jumping in front of one, I was immensely dissuaded by a letter to Dear Abby or Ann Landers by a distraught train engineer (or family member thereof) about how traumatized they were about rail suicides they'd been unable to prevent. It had been bad enough that I'd been feeling miserable; I didn't want to make some poor complete stranger miserable as well, even if I didn't expect anyone I actually knew to miss me.

Meanwhile, I can't recall whether these cites have been previously posted, but here's an abstract from the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine for a statistical study, "Influence of the Unbelted Rear-seat Passenger on Driver Mortality: 'The Backseat Bullet'"--

excerpt: "The odds of death for a belted driver seated directly in front of an unrestrained passenger in a serious head-on crash was 2.27 times higher (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.94 to 2.66) than if seated in front of a restrained passenger. In contrast, a belted driver seated in front of an unrestrained passenger in a driver-side lateral-impact crash had no increase in mortality over a driver with a restrained rear-seat passenger (odds ratio, 0.8; 95% CI = 0.6 to 1.06).

--i.e., if you're driving around with an unrestrained passenger seated behind you and your car is T-boned, there's no statistical difference to your survival compared to driving alone (although your passenger is probably hurled out the window), but if your car is in a head-in collision instead, you're slightly more likely to die from your passenger getting hurled straight into you than from injuries caused by the accident by itself.

#741 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 02:44 PM:

John @ 735

There were officials saying this kind of crash was unique,

For that matter, the Caldecott Tunnel fire in 1982 was only a few miles away from this recent fire. A gasoline tanker was involved in a multi-vehicle accident, started leaking, and caught fire. The configuration of the tunnel caused a constant draft, resulting in a firestorm that killed a number of people and melted or burned most everything in the tunnel. IIRC, repairs took months.

I wasn't even living in the Bay when that happened; I'd moved out about 5 years before. But I remember hearing about the tunnel fire; it was almost as shocking as the aftermath of St. Helens' eruption, which I got to see firsthand. So I can't understand how they can call this fire "unique".

#742 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 03:29 PM:

Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers @ 741: So I can't understand how they can call this fire "unique".

It's so not-unique that another tanker truck crashed and went up in flames at exactly the same point back in 1995! You could see the scorch marks on the overpass for a couple of years, as I recall, before they painted over them.

#743 ::: Dn ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 04:24 PM:

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Lf cms wth n Grnts, n nstrctn bks, n wrrnty bt t ds cm wth btfl vw nd th prms f dth. m frm blvr f Prdstntn. vryn wh s brn hs prdstntn t dth. wll d whn my tm cms, thr s n scpng t...bt s shll y. nd sdly nt vn yr st blt wll sv y

Wsh y ll th vry bst lf hs t ffr " rlly d" Jst dn't pt t mch fth n blt tht ts y t cr mvng t 70mph ky?

#744 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 04:57 PM:

Diana @ 743

You don't know what predestination is, do you? It isn't about death, it's about what happens afterward.

#745 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:11 PM:

Being flung from a car moving at 70mph sounds so much better than being "tied" inside it. OMG, LOL, DUH, etc.

#746 ::: Diana ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:18 PM:

Predestination (also linked with foreordination) is a religious concept, which involves the relationship between the beginning of things and its destiny. Predestination in its religious nature, distinguishes it from other ideas concerning determinism, free will, and related concepts. In particular, predestination concerns God's decision to determine ahead of time what the destiny of groups and/or individuals will be and also includes all of Creation.

The word predestinate (Gk. prooridzo) means “to mark out beforehand” (Eph. 1:5, 11; Rom. 8:29; Acts 4:28; 1 Cor. 2:7).

#747 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:23 PM:

Diana: I'm not going to address most of your claims/arguments.

But as to the "control/thrown clear" issue.

The staged/phase structure of most accidents means that keeping control can prevent secondary flipping/impact.

I was cut off on a wet road, and forced into a transistion lane, for which I was drivig too fast.

Because the road was wet I started to skid, had I lost my seat (and I fetched up against the seat belt) I would have had zero control of the car when the tires once again had traction.

I would, in fact, have not been able to steer out of the slide.

Had that happened I would, almost certainly, have left the road, hit grassy dirt (and a change of slope).

Rolling the car would have been more than just a possibility (40+ MPH, vehicle side-on to dirt, as it left concrete). Had that happened the flipping of the car, and my likely ejection (whole or partial) would not merely have happened because I wasn't wearing a seat-belt, but because of it.

The same is true of people who end up out of control, and stopped by a tree, wall, or other vehicle.

Seatbelts are a safety multiplier, if you choose to not think about the consequences, I can't stop you. But I can think you foolish, and be certain that your action are endangering the lives of others.

On the last I am most certainly correct.

#748 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:26 PM:

Oh dear. Yet another effect of universally asuming the needlessness of good works in the presence of sufficient faith.

#749 ::: Dn ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:26 PM:

Bng flng frm cr mvng t 70mph snds s mch bttr thn bng "td" nsd t. MG, LL, DH, tc.

Hmmm ys gvn th chc f rllng vr nd vr td t Mt cnvrtbl r bng tssd t ...bng flng t f th cr snds mch bttr t m...DH

#750 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:36 PM:

Diana @ 749

Just out of curiosity, what kind of flowers do you want at your funeral? Have you even made the necessary arrangements?

Because it sounds to me like you'll be needing them sooner rather than later.

#751 ::: Diana ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:39 PM:

oh well Nobody lives forever, do they?

#752 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:40 PM:

Since I'm preordained to believe in free will, I believe this is just another example of the quality of argument on the no-seatbelt position.

What I find frustrating is that when God predestined Diane to post to this thread to people who were predestined to use facts and logic instead of appealing to predestination, he failed to preordain she realize the pointlessness of trying to change the behavior of people who were predestined.

#753 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:48 PM:

Some fairly random Miata accident reports online, though I regret the callousness of using them as mere bullet points:

Well yes, it is *possible* that being flung out of a convertible may sometimes be preferable to being belted in, esp. if it has no roll bar; this article has the item "Also on Friday, a Nicasio woman driving a Mazda Miata lost control of her car near the intersection of Nicasio Valley and Lucas Valley roads. The convertible rolled over three times, throwing her out of the vehicle. For once, the fact that a driver was not wearing a seatbelt may have saved her life. The woman was airlifted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital with head injuries."

But on the other hand, there's also this: "The eight-year old fatality also occurred on a local road. The child was riding in a 1990 Mazda Miata convertible in the right front seat. Restraint use was unknown. The vehicle lost control while negotiating a curve and hit a utility pole at an estimated speed of 74 miles per hour. The vehicle hit the pole at approximately the four-o’clock position (right rear side)."

and this: "Tigard police suspect alcohol may have been a factor in the death of a 19-year-old woman driving a convertible in Tigard early Sunday morning. Jamie Marie Cope, 19, of Aloha was identified as the driver of a 1992 Mazda Miata convertible that was involved in an accident with a 1998 Acura sedan at southwest 135th Avenue and Walnut Street in Tigard. A passenger in the Miata was also injured. Police say neither Cope or her passenger were wearing seatbelts, and both were ejected from the car during the collision. Police say the driver of the Acura, Fransisco Sauceda, 21, suffered minor injuries and was taken to St. Vincent's hospital."

This article further notes, "The 2004 Miata has a five-star rollover rating, meaning it has less than a 10 percent chance of rolling over in a single-vehicle crash."

#754 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 06:11 PM:

Diana at 746: you speak of God's decision to determine ahead of time

I just want to remind you; time is a human concept. We experience events linearly -- past, present, future. The Eternal, Blessed be He, does not exist within the limitations of time, save by his own choice to limit his own actions. The concept of "predestination" is our (not entirely successful) human attempt to comprehend God's omnipresence and omniscience, and to reconcile our belief in God's grace with our belief that he has given his human creatures free will.

#755 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 06:16 PM:

Diana #749: I've come to admire your stand, so much so that I'd like to become your heir. Would you be so kind as to make me the beneficiary of your life insurance policies?

#756 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 06:17 PM:

Diana, you have so consistantly ignored this point every time someone else has brought it up that you must be deliberately ignoring it:

Your not wearing a seatbelt puts other people in danger. You may have the right to risk your own life, but you do not have the right to endanger others.

If you'd bothered to read this thread at all, you'd understand why you put others at risk with your behavior. Not only do you stand an excellent chance of losing control of your car when thrown away from the wheel, but you also become a projectile that can smash up your passengers, quite possibly fatally, and your body or body parts "thrown clear" become road hazards for other drivers.

The argument you're using--"I'm the only one affected by my not wearing a seat belt, so it shouldn't be a law"--is exactly like saying you're the only one affected by your driving drunk, so there shouldn't be a law about that, either.

Go ahead and keep misinterpreting and misrepresenting what other people are telling you, if it makes you feel better. Go ahead and run off on tangents when you can't answer their points in any meaningful way. Just don't think nobody's noticed that you can't back up your assertions, that your logic doesn't hold up, and that you haven't read a damned thing in this thread that wasn't addressed directly to you (or half the things that were). It's become very clear that you don't know what you're talking about, but do keep digging yourself in deeper, if that's your kink. It's providing a first-hand education in willful ignorance for some newbie out there, whose life may be saved thereby.

#757 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 06:47 PM:

"LOL You People...lol OMG"

Does anyone else doubt Diana's assertion that she's been driving (or even living) for 20 years?

She clearly believes that her rightness is an intrinsic property of hers (no doubt foreordained), rather than drawn from knowledge, reflection, or deduction. In my experience, people who are absolutely, positively, 100% certain are almost always wrong. This is because doubt is a better path to rightness than certainty.

But I digress.

My friends, nothing we can possibly say can convince her. Her opinion is immutable. If she hadn't tried to insult me by calling me a Republican earlier I'd now be convinced she must be one. (The fact that she doesn't give a flying fck if she kills someone else is more evidence that points to GOPness.)

We all, every single other person in this thread, know that she is absolutely wrong. She "knows" she's right and will not be convinced no matter what we say or do, no matter what statistics we present, no matter what links we show her, no matter what ethical arguments we bring to bear, because she's not listening.

Unless you're really enjoying this as a piñata party, it's a complete waste of time.

#758 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 06:59 PM:

Xopher, you're right. Resistance is futile.

#759 ::: Dn ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 07:21 PM:

cnt
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m ld ngh hv 14 yr ld chld, s f tht's rlly ny f yr bsnss

#760 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 07:55 PM:

Diana #759: I am old enough I have a 14 year old child, as if that's really any of your business

And do you allow him/her to wear a seatbelt, or is that none of his/her business?

#761 ::: diana ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 08:02 PM:

No she wears a seat belt she don't like it but it is the law.

#762 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 08:09 PM:

P J Evans 738: That's a great picture, one I hadn't seen before. Thanks! I was 180 degrees away from there yesterday, where the view wasn't as good because there was a cop keeping us away... Got a better view driving to work today. Whole thing is less than two miles from where I live and less than a half mile from where I work.

I'm pissed at the highway engineers who made that flyover. As Lexica pointed out in 742, a gasoline tanker hit that same pylon in 1995... And the guy at the waste treatment plant who was quoted as a witness said he saw cars slam into that pylon all the time. The entire interchange is improperly canted and just plain idiotically designed. And now we're in for a world of suck because of it.

#763 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 08:14 PM:

Does anyone else doubt Diana's assertion that she's been driving (or even living) for 20 years?

About the only thing I'm certain of about the person in question is that he or she is of the sort who would turn to stone if exposed to sunlight. Beyond that, it's one big crock of hooey.

#764 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 08:32 PM:

No she wears a seat belt she don't like it but it is the law.

Thank gods! May you be spared the nightmare scenario of being in an accident where you survive and she doesn't, or where she survives with crippling injuries. May you never have to be told that your child, being unrestrained in someone else's car, was responsible for the deaths of the other (belted) passengers.

And while we're at it, may she never become the tragic anomalous case of a person who would have lived without a seatbelt, but was wearing one, either.

#765 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:03 PM:

Re: 759 : And yet again, complete lack of reading comprehension skills strikes.

Ladies and gentlemen, not only does Xopher have the right of it when he says that our visitor is so convinced of the unshakable truth of what she wants to be true that nothing will ever convince her otherwise, but it's become perfectly clear that she quite simply lacks the level of skill of comprehension, deduction, logical reasoning, and communication in general to participate in this discussion, even if that were her goal.

There's no chance that any wandering soul is going to be taken in by her arguments (if you can call them that). We can in good conscience let her prattle without response.

I like to see the willfully ignorant and deliberately rude be whapped until the candy falls out as much as anyone, but really, there comes a point where your opponant is simply so pathetic that the only course of honor is to shake your head and walk away.

So, will someone sit on my hands during moments of great temptation, please?

#766 ::: Tye ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:08 PM:

Diana @ 759

I was kind of enjoying all of your comments until you got to the bit about the 14 year old child. Not wearing a seatbelt is one thing, not protecting a child is something else entirely. Sure, there are lots of other dangerous activities, and each of them demands that precautions be taken. Our kids wear helmets when they bike, roller blade, ski or snowboard. They always have money, a cell phone with emergency numbers, and a credit card in case of emergency. We paid a lot of money for defensive driving courses and made sure they had an emergency survival kit in the car. We talked to them about alcohol and other dangerous drugs. When they were babies we made sure they were inoculated against disease, that their cribs and car seats met or exceeded safety standards, and that there were smoke detectors in their rooms. We practiced fire drills. They spent a lot of time on beaches and on boats and fishing in a river very close to our house. They learned water safety, how to swim - up to and including lifesaving certification, and to always wear a life jacket. These are just the things that immediately come to mind. It is true that you can't protect against an unforeseen event, but if a disastrous outcome is foreseeable and you don't take steps to prevent it or to minimize the damage, it isn't an accident in my mind, it is a consequence of willful negligence.

A few years ago, a friend was sleeping soundly in his bed when he was awakened by the sound of a truck hitting a large tree in front of his house. There had been three students in the vehicle, two passengers were thrown clear, the driver was pinned in the truck, dead. My friend tried to make sure the woman didn't drown in her own blood and held the hand of the other passenger until he died. One consequence for him is a lifetime of remembering and agonizing over what he might have done to save the guy. Another is that the mother of the male passenger came to his house 4 or 5 times to plead with him to try to remember anything that her son might have said before he died. It is true that a seat belt would not have saved the driver, but very likely that they would have saved the other two. So would refusing to drive with a drunk.

I urge you to read and reread the original essay and the comments here. These people changed my position on handguns - I was a dyed in the wool, Canadian, anti-handgun zealot just a few short weeks ago.

As for God and religion and organ donation - as the saying goes - Don't take your organs with you. God knows you don't need them in Heaven.

One thing we do have in common - my punctuation is also a bit dodgy. There are consequences to that, but they are much less dire.

#767 ::: Tye ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:10 PM:

Sorry - should have checked before posting.

#768 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:36 PM:

If I have learned a lesson in this vale of tears and woe,
It's that a fixed opinion is just that.
No argument can move them, no statistic. There is no
Persuasion that can shift them. They stand pat.
The ignorance is obvious, the reasoning is cracked,
But their owners just repeat it, deaf and blind:
"I've got my rights, and anyway I know this for a fact,
And there's nothing, not a thing, will change my mind."
Forget it. It's a useless, futile, hopeless, thankless task,
And extravagant. It's time we cannot spare.
We shall not pass this way again, and I for one would ask
That the scenery be worthy of the fare.

#769 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:15 PM:

Diana #759: I prefer heirs with a high IQ, thanks.

#770 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:18 PM:

Dave Luckett #768: Perfect!

#771 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:27 PM:

Madeline @ 762

Well, maybe the engineers will put all the accident reports together and design it properly this time. (The Times had a full set of photos, but that was the one that showed the draping pavement best. I'm still impressed. It reminds me, oddly enough, of the computer graphics expert who said that doing a silk scarf on a wood table and getting it right would be great, but he wanted to see a wood scarf on a silk table.)

#772 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:27 PM:

There are three cards in my hat. One of them is white on both sides. One is black on both sides. One is white on one side and black on the other.

I pull one of those cards out of my hat. The side that's facing you is black.

What color is the other side?

(Answer: it's 2:1 that the other side is also black.)
============

When you roll a pair of fair six-sided dice you're six times more likely to roll a seven than a two.

That doesn't mean they'll always turn up seven, or they'll never turn up two: but that's the way to bet.

============

Don't worry about the bullet with your name on it; worry about the bullet marked "To whom it may concern."

#773 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:38 PM:

Diana, and josh fish:

Please, whatever else you take away from this, do fill out that organ donor card as Jim asked.

I have. Most of us here have. And I do wear my seatbelt whenever I ride in a car. Because there are no guarantees: I can improve my chances of survival, and I can also do this to make it possible that if I am killed in a crash, something--and maybe someone I don't know--will be saved.

#774 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 11:12 PM:

If you're going to flip a miata, you've got to be doing something that's a little wild, and you know that you're doing something unsafe. The center of gravity is only 18" above the pavement, and with the geometry, you'd need a force 2-3x the weight of it to flip it. That's just not going to happen unless you tag wheel to concrete, since rubber just isn't that sticky. And to do that, you're going to need to be going sideways really quickly. (and in my experience, you don't go so much sideways as spin when things get out of hand.)

Keeping this in mind, I'm sure that it does happen in races, but that gets to the something a little wild range.

#775 ::: Terry Karney :::