Over the past 46 years the federal government has spent billions of dollars to persuade, and force, the American people to wear seatbelts in automobiles. It has done this without any research, without any basis in fact, without any evidence that wearing a seatbelt improves a person’s chance of survival in an automobile accident. Indeed, research has shown that the opposite is true.

The first seatbelt law was passed in the United States in 1963. This merely required that new cars made after l964 be equipped with seat belts. There was no requirement that people actually use them. When it was first suggested to Henry Ford II that he put seatbelts in new Ford cars, his response was, “That’s the craziest thing I ever heard”. During the hearings held both before and after the passage of these laws, experts from the automobile industry repeatedly warned the members of congress that putting seatbelts in cars was not a good idea. The congress chose to ignore these warnings.

In l966, congress established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In it’s entire 45 year long history, NHTSA has never had a director who knew anything about highway safety. Successive congresses and administrations, both democratic and republican, have used NHTSA to carry out whatever schemes and conclusions they decided upon, and NHTSA’s job has been to promote whatever congress and the administration ordered them to promote, regardless of whatever merit, or lack of merit, it might have had. One of NHTSA’s chief functions, over the years, has been to funnel billions of dollars of federal money to states under various pretexts.

The closest NHTSA ever came to a revolt against congress was during the administration of Raymond K. Peck in the period l980-1982. This is one of the more bizarre stories of history. When Ronald Reagan became president, he asked the leaders of the automobile industry what he could do to help them. They replied, “Get congress to repeal the air bag and seatbelt requirements”. President Reagan then appointed one Raymond K. Peck to be head of NHTSA. Now it so happened that at that time there was a distinguished expert on highway safety by the name of Raymond C. Peck. However, the man Mr. Reagan appointed was not Raymond C. Peck, but Raymond K. Peck, a lawyer for the coal industry. Be that as it may, Mr. Peck went to work to try to persuade congress to repeal the seatbelt and air bag requirement. Unfortunately, he was not successful. Moreover, his efforts led to a lot resentment, bitterness and hard feelings. After two years, Mr. Peck resigned. Some say he was forced out, some say he quit in disgust. Whatever the reason, it was the last time any administration made an effort to get the seatbelt and air bag laws repealed.

After seatbelts were first installed in automobiles, but before laws were passed requiring people to actually use them, a survey done by the automobile industry showed that only 11% of vehicle occupants were actually using these devices. The congress responded, not by recognizing that people did not want these devices and repealing the seatbelt laws, but by passing legislation offering states millions of dollars to pass laws requiring people to use these devices, and ordering NHTSA to use all its powers to lobby states to pass these laws and to engage in propaganda campaigns to persuade the public that seatbelts were a good idea. To help it to carry out these instructions, congress gave NHTSA hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 1984, New York became the first state to pass a law requiring automobile occupants to wear seatbelts. Thereafter, other states, responding to intense pressure from NHTSA, offers of millions of dollars in federal grants if they complied, and threats of losing millions of dollars in federal grants if they refused, caved in one by one until, by the end of l996, all states except New Hampshire had some sort of mandatory seatbelt laws.

Because surveys showed that between 70% and 80% of the public were opposed to laws forcing people to wear seatbelts, most states passed so-called “secondary” seatbelt laws. These laws stated that police could not stop a motorist merely for not wearing a seatbelt but that if the motorist were stopped for some other offense, he could be fined for not wearing a seatbelt. Because some members of congress insisted that motorists be forced to wear seatbelts, NHTSA adopted a policy which they call “gradualism”. This means that they would settle for whatever a state legislature was willing to give them and then come back every year and ask for more. Thus, they have been successful, over the years, in getting more than half the states to change their seatbelt laws from secondary to primary, meaning that the police can stop a motorist merely for not wearing a seatbelt in those states.

In order to carry out the wishes of congress, NHTSA has built up a huge, nationwide lobbying organization. This consists not merely of the employees of NHTSA, but of numerous organizations controlled, and even created, by NHTSA to lobby states to pass ever more draconian seatbelt laws and to spread seatbelt propaganda. Among these are MADD (formerly known as Mothers Against Drunk Driving), “Buckle-Up America”, the so-called “Seatbelt and Air Bag Campaign of the National Safety Council”, and many others. In addition, NHTSA has effectively taken control of nearly all of the automobile safety organizations in this country by the simple expedient of subsidizing their budgets. In a particularly clever ploy, in accordance with the wishes of congress, NHTSA has seen to it that most of the seatbelt grant money goes to police departments, highway  departments, and public health departments, thus giving these departments a vested interest in promoting seatbelt use and seatbelt laws.

    In 23 USC 153 we read:

(a) Authority To Make Grants. - The Secretary may make grants to

a State in a fiscal year in accordance with this section if the

State has in effect in such fiscal year -

(1) a law which makes unlawful throughout the State the

operation of a motorcycle if any individual on the motorcycle is

not wearing a motorcycle helmet; and

(2) a law which makes unlawful throughout the State the

operation of a passenger vehicle whenever an individual in a

front seat of the vehicle (other than a child who is secured in a

child restraint system) does not have a safety belt properly

fastened about the individual's body.

(b) Use of Grants. - A grant made to a State under this section

shall be used to adopt and implement a traffic safety program to

carry out the following purposes:

(1) Education. - To educate the public about motorcycle and

passenger vehicle safety and motorcycle helmet, safety belt, and

child restraint system use and to involve public health education

agencies and other related agencies in these efforts.

(2) Training. - To train law enforcement officers in the

enforcement of State laws described in subsection (a).

(3) Monitoring. - To monitor the rate of compliance with State

laws described in subsection (a).

(4) Enforcement. - To enforce State laws described in

subsection (a).

Notice that these politicians, who didn’t have the vaguest idea what they were talking about, and were under all kinds of misapprehensions, had the arrogance to speak of “educating the public”, offering huge bribes of taxpayer money to states to impose their mistaken ideas on the public by propaganda and coercion.

Under 23 USC 406, which has now been repealed, NHTSA got $124.5 million dollars a year to give to states which achieve an 85% seatbelt use rate or pass a primary seatbelt law. Police departments, in particular, stood to lose millions of dollars if their state failed to achieve these goals. In addition, states can qualify for hundreds of millions of additional federal dollars under 23 USC 402 and 405 by, among other things, promoting seatbelt use (over $200 million a year under section 402 and $25 million a year under section 405).

In order to justify the expenditure of these funds, congress has enshrined into federal law the most absurd falsehoods. Thus, in 23 USC 402 we read, “Each state shall have a highway safety program…designed to reduce traffic accidents and deaths, injuries and property damage resulting therefrom. Such programs shall include programs to…encourage the use of occupant protection devices (including the use of safety belts and child restraint systems) by occupants of motor vehicles and to increase public awareness of the benefit of motor vehicles equipped with air bags”. Congress was repeatedly warned by experts from the automobile industry, over a period of twenty years, (from 1962 to 1982), that seatbelts and air bags were dangerous, impractical devices which would do more harm than good. After air bags were installed in automobiles, in accordance with the mandate of congress, so many people were killed by them that, in 2005, congress deleted the words “to increase public awareness of the benefits of motor vehicles equipped with air bags” from 23 USC 402. In addition, in what is now starting to resemble a play by Harold Pinter, NHTSA revised FMVSS 208 (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208) to require that a notice be posted on all cars equipped with airbags, warning occupants of the dangers of these devices, which are there because congress ordered them to be put there in the first place!

In 23 USC 405 we read, “..the Secretary (of Transportation) shall make grants…to states that adopt and implement effective programs to reduce highway deaths and injuries resulting from individuals riding unrestrained or improperly restrained in motor vehicles”. As experts from the automobile industry warned, and as research has shown, restraints (seatbelts) increase, not decrease, the chance of an individual being killed or severely injured in an automobile accident. The implicit assumption contained in the statement, that highway deaths and injuries result from people not wearing seatbelts, is totally and demonstrably false. Yet that is the law of the land.

In 23 USC 157 we read: “…(6) Savings to the federal government. The term “savings to the federal government” means the amount of Federal budget savings relating to federal medical costs (including savings under the medicare and medicaid programs under titles XIII and XIX of the Social Security Act (42 US 1395 et seq.), as determined by the secretary”. This pseudolegalistic nonsense was supposed to convince you that that forcing seatbelts on the public was going to save the Social Security System money! Apparently congress thought better of it, because they took this paragraph out in subsequent versions of the law.

The case for seatbelts in automobiles was based on five false assumptions, something congress could easily have discovered before passing this legislation if they had bothered to ask the experts or, indeed, if they had merely listened to the experts, for the experts did try to tell them. They not only did not ask, they turned a deaf ear when they were told. As a result, thousands have died.

The five false assumptions were these:

1. Most people who are killed in automobile accidents are killed in head-on collisions. In fact, according to the government’s own data, fewer than two percent of all collisions are head-on collisions and fewer than 14% of all fatal collisions are head-on collisions.

2. People are killed in head-on collisions by being thrown through the windshield. In fact, according to the latest available government data, of the 36,281 vehicle occupants who were killed in 2001 (the last year for which the government listed head-on collisions as a separate category) only 145 were “thrown through the windshield”.

3. Vehicle occupants would be saved if they were prevented from being thrown through the windshield by wearing a seatbelt. In fact, if the force on the occupant is sufficiently great to throw him through the windshield, the injury inflicted on the wearer by the seatbelt itself would be enough to kill him.

4. The passenger compartment is never stove in in fatal collisions. In fact, the overwhelming majority of motorists who are killed in fatal collisions are killed by being crushed to death when the passenger compartment is stove in. The seatbelt acts like an anvil, holding the occupant in place as he is being crushed to death.

5. The seatbelt itself will not injure the wearer. In fact, in a head-on collision as low as 30 miles per hour with one foot of crush, the seatbelt will exert a force on the wearer of 30 times his body weight, i.e., enough to kill him. The fact that the seatbelt itself might injure the wearer never occurred to them. The seatbelt proponents had never heard of Newton's second law of motion!

The key question, what is the effect of seatbelts on people in other types of accidents, was not considered.

After motorists were first required to use seatbelts, reports began to come in from emergency rooms that people were being killed by seatbelts. Instead of heeding these reports and repealing the seatbelt laws, congress put forward the theory that it was merely a mistake in seatbelt design, and ordered the addition of shoulder belts to seatbelts. This resulted in an increase in seatbelt fatalities, as motorists were now being killed by their shoulder belts as well as by their lap belts.

When it became clear that seatbelts were not effective in preventing fatalities in head-on collisions, NHTSA, in line with its continuing mandate to promote seatbelts, put forward the theory that they would prevent people from being killed in roll-overs. Quite apart from the fact that most people couldn’t roll their cars over if they tried, it turned out that most people who were killed in roll-overs were killed by being crushed when the roof caved in. The best chance of survival in such a case is to duck down, jump clear or be thrown clear, all of which are prevented by a seatbelt. The effect of seatbelts in roll-overs was thus to increase, not decrease, the number of fatalities.

NHTSA then put forward the theory that seatbelts would save people from being killed by preventing them from being ejected. For a person to be ejected from a vehicle in an accident requires an unusual collision or roll-over of extreme violence, in which case the vehicle is usually so badly crushed that anyone trapped in the vehicle by a seatbelt would be almost sure to be killed. We know from actual accident reports that a person has a better chance of surviving such an accident if he is ejected than if he is trapped in the vehicle. There is nothing new or mysterious about this. Anyone who has seen an old western movie has probably seen the scene where two locomotives are about to collide. The engineer and the fireman do not fasten their seatbelts in such a case; they jump clear to save their lives. Yet locomotives are far more resistant to crush than automobiles.

In line with the mandate of congress, NHTSA continues to lobby states to pass primary seatbelt laws. One of the ways they do this is to stage what we call “The Show” for state legislative committees considering seatbelt bills. How many of the cast show up at a particular hearing tends to vary from state to state and year to year. The cast  usually consists of the head of the state police department, the head of the state department of transportation, the head of the public health department (or their subordinates), the local representative of MADD (a wholly owned subsidiary of NHTSA) a lady variously described as a “mother” or “home maker”, someone claiming to be the relative of an accident victim, and possibly one or two other people, variously described as a “child advocate” or “safety advocate”, all reading from a script supplied to them by NHTSA. The testimony is a clever mixture of false, misleading, emotional and irrelevant statements. Someone usually tells a tearful story about how a relative got killed in an automobile accident and therefore the legislature should force people to wear seatbelts. The hope is that this non-sequitur will not be questioned. You are supposed to jump to the conclusion that the relative would have been saved if he had been wearing a seatbelt, even though there is not a single verified case of a person's life ever being saved by a seatbelt in an automobile accident.