As cars take over more duties, drivers are getting lazy and assume they’ll be protected
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) recently concluded a seatbelt blitz; they do it every fall. Between September 21st and October 7th they laid 4,252 charges. According to OPP spokesperson Sergeant Kerry Schmidt, that was down from last year by 1,243 charges. Fatalities to date are at 45, down slightly from 49 last year at this time. The same trend is holding true in Alberta, where Staff Sergeant Paul Stacey reports a 20 per cent drop in charges from last year in that province.
The true mind boggle is why they are still laying any charges at all. How stupid are people?
Schmidt says there is a consistent representation of who refuses to buckle up: overwhelmingly (three-quarters) male, between the ages of 24–35.
“The seatbelt law went into effect 40 years ago. This is not a generation who has ever known anything else,” he says. While Alberta has a more rural component to take into consideration, Stacey echoes the overrepresentation of males in the mix, both urban and rural.
“Of greater concern right now is the rising rates of fatalities due to distraction,” says Stacey. “We’re seeing increases in the U.S. and the U.K. and we’re trying to stop it, but it’s a tough battle. One of our members was hit while on a motorcycle; the motorist’s response? ‘But my lane departure light didn’t go off.’ We’re seeing a decrease in things like shoulder checking.”
Both officers make note of distracted driving as being a huge, and growing, concern, with the cocoon-like comfort of our cars, and the levels of distraction and entertainment too often removing the focus from the task at hand: driving. And as cars take over more and more of a driver’s duties, prepare for that skillset to fade, and for people to assume that the car will take care of things.
We’re at that time of year when we start to notice people who cruise around with only their daytime running lights on at night. I do fault manufacturers for not rectifying this deadly situation (DRLs in front, no lighting in the back; please pull on your full lighting harness if you’re not set in auto), but add things like lane departure warning systems that are falsely allowing drivers to think they no longer have to shoulder check. And it’s going to get worse. Backup cameras are great, but you still have to check behind you; front collision avoidance is handy, but you still can’t text. If drivers think their cars can do more and more, then drivers are going to do less and less. Fatalities and injuries are falling because cars are becoming so much safer, not because drivers are acquiring more skill.
Seatbelts are part of those technological advancements that are making some drivers take their safety for granted. Seatbelts aren’t just straps that bolt you in; ongoing research has made them engineering marvels that work in conjunction with your airbags to minimize injury to the occupants. The belt holds you a very precise and predictable position throughout the crash so the airbag can be effective without being deadly while the crumple zone absorbs the hit. Remove that restraint, and risk being flung clear of all those safety features that would otherwise greatly reduce injury and probably safe your life.
In Ontario, there are times when it is legal not to buckle up. If you have a medical certificate saying you can’t; your work means you’re getting in and out of the vehicle at frequent intervals, route not going over 40 km/h; rural Canada Posties; ambulance and firefighters while responding or working; cab drivers with a passenger, though they have to wear it when alone in the car (this differentiation makes no sense to me); someone in police custody, as well as the officers transporting them; and, when you’re going in reverse.
Those are your workable excuses. Schmidt has heard everything, including the classic, “My friend only escaped a fiery death because they were not buckled in and could crawl to safety.” I’ve been hearing that my whole life, one more urban legend that seems to have endless legs.
“There’s nothing worse than being a first responder and finding someone has been ejected,” continues Schmidt. “The safety cage is intact, the car did its job, all those safety features someone probably bought that car for, fatally negated.”
I’ve seen people slip the shoulder harness behind them. Please don’t do this. If you’re too big or too small for the factory installed belt, you can purchase extenders and resizers that will safely augment it to protect you. Some manufacturers will even let you order them when you buy the car.
Another journo related to me once that the 2015 Ford F-150 manual tells you how to disconnect the seatbelt chime. If you don’t have this Ford, don’t worry. The internet is teeming with workarounds to get rid of that annoying lifesaving chime in almost any vehicle.
Darwin for the win.