It's no surprise, then, that mandatory wearing of seat belts is now regularly cited as a precedent by politicians - when they lack public demand - wishing to further interfere in our daily lives. It has been quoted to justify all manner of illiberal schemes including (I know my audience) the pursuit of smoking bans, minimum alcohol pricing and, increasingly, climate change measures, as skilfully illustrated by Tim Yeo here.
The Government's response also claims that public support for personal carbon trading is "limited", but that has been the case with all sorts of desirable changes that have taken place. Ten years ago, public support for banning smoking in public houses would have been limited. That does not mean that it was the wrong thing to do; it was an opportunity for leadership. Going back further, before seat belts in cars were compulsory [...] support for that measure was decidedly limited in the 1950s, just as support was fairly limited for the breathalyser. All those changes needed leadership from the Government. To run away from an idea because support for it is limited seems an unsatisfactory justification.The reason for this is that the benefits of seat belt laws are seen as indisputable. A perfect example of government being proven, by subsequent evidence, to be wiser than the public.
However, the issue of seat belt legislation is also one of the first in which incredible truth-bending and manipulation of statistics were employed to trick the public into compliance.
The truth is that there is no evidence whatsoever that seat belts have produced a net saving of lives anywhere in the world. What did happen though, is that wild claims were made before the passing of the UK Act, and wild claims were made following it, based on the same kind of flawed, or heavily-biased, studies we see in many other areas to this day. The double-counting, discarding of conflicting data, exaggeration of causality, clever couching of studies, and overt rent-seeking now endemic in statistics and epidemiology, were honed and perfected back then and are replicated every day in the modern political arena.
The Transport Act truly was a precedent. It was a textbook example for the righteous of how to lie and cheat their way to a law based on nothing but their own favoured opinions.
John Adams has been arguing expertly since the 80s against the false consensus - screamed regularly and inaccurately - that seat belts save thousands of lives a year. His evidence is not just mischief making either, it is incontrovertible. A prime reason for such strong contrary opinion being largely ignored will ring a big bell for those of us who are well aware of public health connivance in suppressing the truth.
Here, John explains the reaction of the World Health Organisation to a report they commissioned (highly recommended 4 page pdf), not long after implementation of the Transport Act, which didn't agree with their pre-determined policy.
In 1986 they had commissioned an article by me on seat belt legislation for The International Digest of Health Legislation.Indeed.
The article I submitted summarized the evidence and arguments of these earlier essays. I assumed they knew what they were commissioning.
I received a prompt reply from someone with the title “Chief, Health Legislation”: “I would like to inform you that, for editorial reasons, your review will not appear in the International Digest of Health Legislation. Even though, under the terms of the contractual agreement with you, copyright in the text is vested with the Organization, we have no objection to the review being submitted by you for publication elsewhere, subject to the proviso that no mention is made of the fact that the review was commissioned and an honorarium was paid by WHO.”
From that day to this the WHO has campaigned for seat-belt legislation. No mention should be made of evidence that casts doubt on the efficacy of such legislation – that would undermine the efficacy of its campaign for more legislation.
The WHO being complicit in misleading the public shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, but I'm sure there are a hell of a lot of people who will be ignorant of the fact that they have been lied to, not just on a massive scale and on a daily basis, but also for such a very long time.
Whither integrity, eh?