Last night at 8pm BBC Radio 4 presented a programme entitled “Where did it all go right?” celebrating the success of Britain’s seat belt law. It will be available on the Radio 4 Listen Again facility for another 6 days. It can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00mg2v6#synopsis (or if you are too late for the listen again facility a fairly accurate witten summary can be found here).
I was the lone voice permitted to doubt the success of the law. Unable to present any evidence I felt, as I said at the end of the programme, like the last Japanese soldier in the jungle still fighting a war that had been lost 25 years earlier. Yet again the figure of 60000 lives saved by the law was trotted out, this time by someone from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
This number, which amounts to 2400 lives a year over the 25 years since the law came into effect, appears on the website of PACTS (the Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Transport Safety). PACTS’ Executive Director Robert Gifford is co-author of an article “Seat belt laws: why we should keep them” (Significance, June 2008) which pointed out that in the first year of the law there were 432 fewer front seat car occupants killed, but 80 more rear seat occupants, 150 more pedestrians and 38 more cyclists killed – a net “saving” of 164 lives.
To celebrate my mastering the method of inserting graphics into blog posts I present below the statistics. They show that almost all the decrease in 1983 occurred during the drink-drive hours between 10 at night and 4 in the morning. 1983 was also the year in which evidential breath testing was introduced to the accompaniment of unprecedented numbers of breath tests. Elsewhere I note that the decrease in driver fatalities in 1983 consisted almost entirely of drivers in un-built-up areas with alcohol in their blood.
And what would a saving of 2400 per year look like? This is what the Parliamentary Advisory Committee of Transport Safety is advising Parliament was the achievement of the law that it had the wisdom to pass 25 years ago.