WHEN seatbelts became mandatory in this province just over 40 years ago, very few would have thought they were living in a nanny state.
In 1976, the year Ontario’s seatbelt law came into effect, the government of the day was led by a long-time Conservative, Bill Davis. Davis was sometimes referred to as a Red Tory, but not a meddling nanny.
Still, when the law was passed there was no shortage of motorists who considered the requirement to buckle up an infringement on their personal right to choose.
Today, we might view that as a right to choose to put oneself in harm’s way; but, to be fair to our parents and grandparents, the link between seatbelts and the ability to survive a serious crash had yet to be ingrained in the collective consciousness.
Today, bucket seats, which are available even in stodgy minivans, are designed with seatbelts in mind. Buckling up has never been easier. It’s not like trying to stretch a but-gusting lap belt across the front bench seat of your grandfather’s Buick.
The modern shoulder belts are also more effective in the event of an accident. One needn’t be a rocket scientist to understand that the chances of survival are much greater if you have not been ejected onto a busy roadway, or straight into a rock cut. Even astronauts are buckled in.
The common-sense aspect is very clear, and yet the Ontario Provincial Police last week noted that over the last 10 years, an astonishing 25 per cent of those who died in crashes on provincial roads were not wearing seatbelts.
The high figure is especially surprising given the amount of time, and education, that has gone into promoting seatbelts. The requirement to wear them, which affects both drivers and passengers, has been the law for 43 years.
And yet the unnecessary carnage continues. According to the OPP, 10 people have died so far this year in fatal crashes in which a failure to wear seatbelts was a factor. Every Easter weekend, police take the opportunity to highlight the importance of buckling up, but the message is plainly not getting through to many.
For the record, here is part of what OPP commissioner Thomas Carrique said last week: “During a collision, unrestrained vehicle occupants may become human projectiles and pose an additional threat to other people in the vehicle, even those who are wearing a seatbelt.”
He couldn’t be clearer. No sane person would choose to be a projectile.
As police constantly remind us, another major factor in fatal crashes is excessive speed. There is no excuse to exceed 100 km/h on the Trans-Canada Highway. By keeping your speedometer under that mark, and remembering that you’re not driving a gas-guzzling V-8 like your grandfather did, you’ll stay in control while emitting a lot less carbon.
Today is Earth Day. Have a safe trip home.
(Originally published April 22, 2019)