Seatbelts Cause More Pedestrian And Cyclist Deaths

While listening to a lecture on economics by Robert P. Murphy, he made note that economists actually found that seatbelt laws INCREASED fatalities among the general population.

I found this claim to be fairly incredible so I had to investigate for myself.

Of course, the information was buried amid a torrent of statist agitation, but I managed to find studies that backed up Murphy’s claim.

What happens is seatbelt laws cause drivers to drive more aggressively.  Because drivers feel safer with quick acceleration and breaking while wearing seatbelts, accident rates actually increase.

All of the statist agitprop that calls for mandatory seatbelt laws only looks at deaths saved by calculating the accident rate compared to the fatality rate of vehicle occupants.  This gives the misconception that seatbelts actually save lives, when indeed the exact opposite is true.

While it is true that you are much more likely to survive a car accident while wearing a seatbelt, the additional risk drivers take increases accident rates which wipes out any gains made by saving lives through mandatory seatbelt laws.  In addition to this, it drastically increases fatalities of cyclists and pedestrians – all due to the increased risk taking of drivers.

When looking at society as a whole, seatbelts actually increase the number of fatalities involving motor vehicles.

This article in the British Medical Journal highlights the key findings:

Cyclists were the only group of road users in Britain whose death rate increased sharply during the 1990s,1 yet cycling was in decline throughout the decade.2 How could this happen, when attention on casualties was the most intense in the history of the bicycle? Perhaps a vision of the near future will be instructive . . .

It is worth pausing here to consider the meaning of “road safety.” The roads can get more dangerous, yet total deaths still fall. Compulsion to wear a seatbelt cut deaths among drivers and front seat passengers by 25% in 1983. But in the subsequent years, the long established trend of declining deaths in car accidents reversed, and by 1989 death rates among car drivers were higher than they had been in 1983. Evidently the driving population “risk compensated” away the substantial benefits of seatbelts by taking extra risks, putting others in more danger. This period saw a jump in deaths of cyclists (fig ​(fig1).1). Although temporary, the jump can be explained fully only by cyclists having adapted to a more dangerous road environment through extra caution, retreat, or giving up. Is it coincidence that the long decline in cycling began in 1983?

Between 1974 and 1982 cycling mileage in Britain increased 70%, but there was no increase in fatalities until the seatbelt law was introduced in 1983 (fig ​(fig1).1). The more cyclists there are, the more presence they have, the less individual danger there is. This truth is confirmed by experience in the Netherlands and Denmark, where cycling is far safer despite a tradition of segregation. All road users should gain. Pedestrians benefit because (skilful) cyclists are little threat to them and because a large increase in cycling should reduce traffic speeds and thus risks to all. Then there are the health benefits.

Economist John Semmens writes:

The plausibility of the aggressive driver hypothesis cries out for more research. For example, Hawaii, the state with the most rigorously enforced seat belt law and the highest compliance rate in the nation, has experienced an increase in traffic fatalities and fatality rates since its law went into effect in December 1985

A recent statistical study of states with and without seat belt laws was undertaken by Professor Christopher Garbacz of the University of Missouri-Rolla. This study seems to support the altered driver behavior hypothesis. Dr. Garbacz found that states with seat belt laws saw decreases in traffic fatalities for those covered by the laws (typically drivers and front-seat passengers), but increases in fatalities for rear-seat passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Further, the patterns of changes in total traffic fatalities among the states showed no consistent relationship with the existence of a seat belt law in the state.

Robert Murphy’s lecture where he mentions the seatbelt statistics: