To Robert Gifford
Executive Director, The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety
This claim made over a year ago is still on the PACTS website:
“On the 31st January 2008, the 25th anniversary of the law change which made front seatbelt wearing compulsory was celebrated. PACTS itself was set up by Barry Sheerman MP as part of the fight to get mandatory seatbelt wearing turned into legislation. Eight years later it became compulsory for all backseat passengers to use seatbelts and it is estimated that since the introduction of the first law change in 1983, seatbelts have prevented 60,000 deaths and over 670,000 serious injuries.”
I have demonstrated the claim to be nonsense: click here and here. A while ago I invited you to post a comment on this demonstration of nonsense on my website. You have declined to do so, so I now issue a more public invitation.
Borrowing from Churchill – the lie has got all way round the world before truth has got its pants on. If you Google the claim you get thousands of hits. Legislators like to believe their laws make a difference. If the BBC, the DfT, PACTS, RoSPA and Google all tell them their seat belt law has saved 60000 lives they will be inclined to believe it.
Why does it matter? The Association of Paediatric Emergency Medicine and the College of Emergency Medicine are now lobbying vigorously for a law that would make cycle helmets compulsory for children, and ultimately for all cyclists . Campaigners for cycle helmet laws routinely cite the “success” of the seat belt law. Their argument is seductively simple: seat belts and helmets reduce injuries in crashes; seat belt laws have saved lives and so would a helmet law.
The PACTS website is one of the ways in which your advisory council conveys advice to parliament. On this issue it has misled parliament. If parliamentarians are misled about the “success” of their seat belt law they are in danger of making the same mistake with a helmet law. I suggest that if you cannot refute my demonstration that the claim that the seat belt law saved 60000 lives is false, you should not just quietly remove it from your website, but retract it in a highly public manner.
The PACTS 2004 Parliamentary Briefing on cycle helmet use and effectiveness presents the case against compulsion in a clear, balanced and convincing way. It would be a great pity if it were to be undermined by pro-compulsion campaigners citing other PACTS “evidence” for the efficacy of the seat belt law.
I know it is difficult to admit to a clanger. But if you had devoted a moment’s thought to it you would have noticed that the DfT’s claim that the seat belt law had saved 60000 lives was preposterous. If you and RoSPA persist in endorsing the DfT’s claim you will assist in the promotion of a further nonsense that will inhibit efforts to increase cycling.