Whether required by law or as a selling point, automakers stuff all kinds of safety items into vehicles these days. They use airbags to keep us from hitting the windshield, lane departure systems to keep us from drifting out of the lane, and blind spot monitors to keep us from crashing into the cars alongside.
But the one thing they can’t do is save us from ourselves.
Driving a car is basically a dangerous situation. Make the wrong split-second decision, and you can be decelerating from 100-plus km/hr to zero in the blink of an eye. And yet many people still don’t wear their seatbelts, or pay attention to what they’re doing when they’re behind the wheel.
It angers me. I once visited an automaker’s crash-test centre, where I saw a new rollover test device that cost millions to develop and install. Rollovers are the rarest of crashes, but they’re among the deadliest. And then I was told that of the rollover fatalities on record that year, 70 percent of those killed weren’t wearing seatbelts.
I then saw a test where engineers slammed test-dummy heads into headliners, checking to see if anything hidden behind them in the roof structure would cave in an occupant’s skull. I have no idea what that kind of testing costs, but I’m guessing it started in the tens of thousands. And then they told me the kicker: they had to meet minimum safety requirements for an occupant who wasn’t belted in.
Now, cars need to be safe. They have to have brakes that can rein in their horsepower, steering and suspension that can handle emergency manoeuvres, and if they do crash, seats that stay bolted in, and controls designed so they won’t impale you.
But it’s also reasonable that we meet the automakers halfway. Our tires need sufficient tread on them, and enough air in them. We need to pay attention to driving, instead of watching the phone.
And we need to buckle our seatbelts. If you’re ejected from your vehicle in a crash, chances are very good that you will die. If you get thrown around the cabin, you’ll probably suffer serious injury. The seatbelt can’t perform miracles, but it will dramatically increase your chances of walking away in one piece.
I would love to see personal responsibility play a role in the industry. Automakers shouldn’t have to spend millions making sure they’ve covered every possible trajectory an unbelted occupant could potentially take. Insurance companies should not have to pay hundreds of thousands in damages to someone who refused to use a seatbelt.
I know it won’t happen; regulators and the legal system would never permit it. But these incidents make their way directly to the price sticker on my next car, or the invoice for my car insurance, and it makes me angry. Even if a crash isn’t your fault, your seatbelt might be the difference between walking afterwards or using a wheelchair. Use your smarts, and make the right choice.