Friday, April 30, 2010

Seatbelt Laws

I heard on the radio that they recently passed a seatbelt law in my state that would require children in the backseat to be buckled up. Normally I don't pay much attention to idiocy like this because if you don't wear a seatbelt in a moving vehicle you are stupid (and as a parent if you don't require your kids to wear seatbelts regardless of where they are seated you are stupid and a bad parent to boot). That being said, when they came up with some statistic, my interest was piqued!

"According to Emergency Room doctors who see this stuff all the time, the leading cause of death for 13-19 year olds is automobile accidents." OK, there is something I can look at (I paraphrased what they said on the radio, it isn't word for word). Deaths from auto accidents is rather easy to determine, and the age range 13-19 is a definite.

My first problem with this is why quote a statistic of 13-19 year olds when the bill is about children wearing seat belts? Most likely because the bill defines anyone under the age of 18 or 21 or like Obamacare, 26 as a child. It helps the numbers more that way. But they are still pretty pathetic.

Over at the CDC is the WISQARS database. If you have read my blogs before, you know that I love it. Pure, unadulterated (for the most part) raw data for years on end. So I pulled up the leading cause of death for the year 2006. Suprisingly, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for people aged 13-19. Actually, they are the leading cause of death for people aged 1 to 34. Naturally, most people cringe at calling a 34 year old a child, so I can understand why they didn't include that end of it, but why not include the 1-12 year olds when quoting your statistic?

Because the numbers look better. Up to and including age 14 (which is below the legal driving age for almost everyplace in the US) there are around 1700 traffic fatalities a year. For 15-19 year olds there are about 4800. 20-34 year olds account for 14,000 traffic deaths, but the law thinks they are more responsible (sometimes), so we don't want to require them to wear seat belts.

Oh drats, I realized something, I was looking at the nation as a whole. Let me look at just Iowa. Turns out, motor vehicle accidents are the primary cause of death in 13-19 year olds (actually 15-19 year olds, but the numbers for 13 an 14 year olds are so small, that you can add them in and not change the numbers). That being said, from the ages of 0-19 there are about 55 traffic deaths (45 of which are in the 15-19 year bracket) each year in Iowa. I know that the death of a child is horrible, but is it worth having another unenforceable law?

Except it gets worse. WISQARS also breaks it out by cause (motorcycle, driver, passenger, pedestrian, etc.) Looking at these numbers of the 55 traffic deaths, only 14 are classified as car/truck passengers. Of course if we took out the deaths where a car was involved in a collision with a bus/truck (much larger vehicle), then the number decreases down to 8. Unfortunately, WISQARS doesn't say whether they were wearing their seatbelts or not, but I'll assume that 25% were.

So we have a law that is trying to pinpoint 6 deaths. Five of those deaths involve parents who are too stupid to buckle their kids up already, one is probably from a teenager riding with his friends and trying to show he is cool by not wearing a seatbelt. And a law is suppose to solve this? I doubt it.

The National Traffic Safety Board does an annual survey on seatbelt use. Iowa is at 91%. New Hampshire (which has no seatbelt enforcement laws) is at 69%. Comparing non-enforcement states to enforcement states as a whole, and you find that about 75-80% of people are not stupid (i.e. wear their seatbelts regardless of the law). In a nutshell, you shouldn't have to be told to wear a seatbelt. Of course, if you decide not to (or consequently decide not to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle) then don't come to me for money when your brain is plastered over the road.

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