Why I don’t want to wear a seat belt

Published: July 7, 2010

Does the state have the right to enforce this precaution with monetary penalties?

Should the state have the right to fine a person for not taking care of himself? Islamabad police commonly fine drivers in monetary terms for a variety of offences. I understand penalising practices that distract the driver. Talking on the phone, texting, and watching videos on LCD monitors are all activities that demand the driver’s attention and thus increase the probability of an accident.

A motorist performing stunts also runs the risk of losing control and crashing into someone. These activities are a threat to other people in the society and should thus be fined. But, what of the personal precaution of wearing seat belts?  My chances of having an accident are not increased if I do not wear my seat belt.

In fact, John Adams, risk expert and emeritus professor of geography at University College London studied data from  25 years and found that mandating the use of seat belts in 18 countries resulted in either no change or a net increase in road accident deaths. He suggests that the sense of security created by seat belts adversely affects driving behavior.

However, I should not be misunderstood as arguing against the seat belt, I realise that it is a brilliant invention that increases the chances of surviving an accident.

What I am questioning is the state’s right to enforce this precaution with monetary penalties simply because it is (popularly presumed to be) ‘good for us’. Should my relationships with myself and the intensity of my self-preservative spirit ever translate into the government’s finances?

Traffic wardens could just stop me and remind me to fasten my seat belt, after all it seems to work just fine for airline crew. The most common contention I receive on this proposition, is that the financial deterrent is necessary to make people ‘learn’.

So the essential point being made here is that our nation is too immature to know what is best for them. And that an enforcing body is required to make people conform and behave in their own best interest (as judged by the governing body). I will not attempt to argue for the maturity of our people, but I will leave you with a question. Is this not exactly the same argument that is used to justify dictatorship on our ‘immature’ people?

Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2010.


Sachal Afraz

A graduate from the Lahore University of Management Sciences currently pursuing post-graduate studies at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Farhan

    Comparing seatbelt’s with dictatorship seriously ? Why don’t you throw another argument that after you’ve had an accident you don’t want the state to help you as well?

    They enforce because they fell it’s necessary, just like helmets for bikers!

    I don’t care about rare big accidents but in all the small accidents within cities seatbelt help a lot ( I’ve got plenty of experience :P )Recommend

  • Zulfiqar

    Buckle up, man and stop complaining. Recommend

  • Actually

    Pakistanis’ aversion to any form of civilization and discipline is just legendary.

    You know the truck driver who crushes people, running amok at top speed, has pretty much the same logic. So does the transporter who overloads vehicles. So does the man who runs his motorbike into a car from a 90-degree angle on a straight road. The bottom-line is: following the rules of traffic is below me! These other minions on the road are subject to my individuality!

    You self-analyzed it right, bro: it is about a lack of maturity, where maturity is to understand how to coexist with other humans. Recommend

  • Sachal

    Disclaimer This is not my headline. Please ignore it.

    As the 4rth paragraph clarifies, the point of this piece is not about my preference.

    The article is about the freedom to choose a precaution and revisiting the state’s role in influencing that choice.Recommend

  • Sachal

    @ Actually. You realize that the violations you have mentioned directly increase chances of accidents and put other lives at risk.

    The seat belt does neither. Individuality begins and ends at the self. The people you speak off are affecting other people, and are hence wrong. Please try to understand the difference. Recommend

  • Sachal
  • Haris

    Do you think that traffic warden’s duty is to tell 10,000 car driver in a day to wear seat belts, and the next day he should be reminding the same drivers again?

    While reading this article i got this feeling that you feel forced to wear a seat belt. My friend I can assure you that you wont be wearing a seat belt if they stop fining you.

    Now for your second question why do they fine you for your own safety? If there is an accident and you are seriously injured govt would be paying for the services(though not the best) at PIMS. So they want to avoid that.

    Plus they don’t want to lose somebody who is paying tax (in any form – the tax you pay on purchase of petrol or road tax). And on top of all they don’t want another mother or father to lose a child, they don’t want to lose a person on whom a lot of people depend on.

    For your information it is not only the governments policy to ensure the use of seat belt, many companies in the world have made it a rule that their employ should be wearing a seat belt whether in his own car or a company car. I can tell you of an incident in Pakistan where all the people sitting in the car were terminated when only one guy on the rear seat was not wearing a seat belt. My question for you is why were they terminated?

    Why does every car manufacturer writes in the Owners Manual “Use seat belts while driving?”

    Please don’t call this an immature nation, it is the psyche of whole mankind, if you you are not fined you will not stop doing it. If there is a law and you break it, you will be fined, this is how simple it is.

    This whole argument is not to offend the writer whom I know since the last 15 years, but just to remove his misconceptions about the law and give my opinion about the subject.Recommend

  • http://sadaf-fayyaz.blogspot.com/ SadafFayyaz

    you must :) its for your own safety manRecommend

  • Haris

    I forgot to write that the wardens were only stopping and telling drivers to wear a seat belt for the first couple of months, when this law was introduced.Recommend

  • Sachal

    If you read the article I have linked to, you will realize that statistically, enforcing seat belts does not have as positive an effect as we tend to think.

    @Haris: As for fining me, i.e earning money off me, to make sure I do not have to be spent on in a hospital (arguable result-refer link) and wanting to save me so as to “not loose a tax-payers”. You make the government sound like a malicious money minting capitalistic tycoon. Even if that is true, it is not what a desirable govt should be like.

    If you feel that people will not adhere to just advice unless money is charged, then you basically support the notion that the “Danda” is needed on our people. The white man’s burden argument. I have no problem with your right to have that opinion, but will you at least admit that it is dictatorial in nature?Recommend

  • Sachal

    @Saddaf “You MUST, because it is good for you”

    Which in this case essentially translates to “I will MAKE you, because I feel it is good for you”

    For a nation that has become increasingly obsessed with democracy and the implied freedoms of personal choice, in many areas we still have no issue with our choices being made for us.Recommend

  • http://www.zeitgeistpolitics.com Alexander Lobov


    Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the health system in Pakistan partially funded by the government? Enforcing the use of seatbelts helps save on medical costs and prevents strain on the medical system.

    I’d say in a country with a fairly high rate of traffic accidents like Pakistan, it makes this rule even more sensible. Consider what sort of strain these accidents put on ambulance services, ICU wards and other parts of the hospital system, and the cost to public funds. If any of this can be prevented then it makes sense to have a law enforcing seatbelt use.

    I’m not sure how accurate the study you cited is but I’d presume that’d be the main reason behind the enforcement.Recommend

  • Sachal

    @ Alexander. Your assumption is that seat belts reduce accidents, and hence medical spending.

    The study cited shows that this impression does not hold statistically.

    It seems against the common first impression I know. But even purely on intuition and disregarding the data, we can at least agree that wearing a seat belt does not decrease the chances of an actual accident occurring.

    A belt around your chest does not help evade collision with cars, but Adams hypothesizes that it may result in more daring driving and hence possibly INCREASE the chance of accidents.

    If this is true, the medical spending would actually be saved by NOT enforcing seat belts.

    It seems like a far-fetched idea at first, but he backs it with empirical data. I suggest that points made against him be backed with some sort of data, something more concrete than just first impressions and seasoned-over-time assumptions.

    This will increase everyone’s knowledge and help us understand a bit more about aggressive law-makingRecommend

  • Uzair Javed

    hmmm….seems like this blog did not have the effect that Sachal was hoping for.Recommend

  • Saba

    Seat belts aren’t required because they decrease the probability of an accident. They are required because in case of an accident they can save your life. That is reason enough to wear them, as well as be fined if you aren’t.

    You are fined because the consequences of being injured, maimed or killed in an accident due to not wearing a belt extend to the state and other individuals.

    I can’t even begin to rebut your suggestion that the police check each driver’s belt and “remind them” to wear it.Recommend

  • http://www.zeitgeistpolitics.com Alexander Lobov

    Yeah, sorry I didn’t make myself clear enough in my comment but as Saba said, seatbelts may not prevent accidents but they prevent some of the injuries and death that result from accidents. Hence they save governments (and taxpayers) on medical costs.

    The study’s idea that compensating for the perceived reduction in risk that comes from wearing a seatbelt might cause more dangerous driving makes sense but I don’t think government’s are going to take policy decisions based on one tenuous-sounding study. As the article mentions, risk is complicated and the study is far from comprehensive in assessing the real merits of seatbelts.

    Far more comprehensive research would have to be conducted.

    Thus, common sense prevails in most policy-making circles (and for most sensible drivers). A seatbelt makes sense so we wear them.

    There’s also, of course, the fact that the fines are a helpful revenue raising tool for governments everywhere.Recommend

  • Bilal

    Did anyone even bother looking at the article the author linked to in his reply?

    The article, quoting the study, says: “What he found was that contrary to conventional wisdom, mandating the use of seat belts in 18 countries resulted in either no change or actually a net increase in road accident deaths.

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1564465,00.html#ixzz0t1BrNn00

    So forcing people to wear seatbelts may not necessarily decrease the money the government will have to spend on the injured. Recommend

  • europa

    of all the restrictions on personal liberties- you raise issue with the government enforcing the seat belt? i do think it should be fined as all other traffic, environment, and other civilian violations. if people had a general sense of abiding by the law they would wear the belt voluntarily but like somone noted above pakistanis lack that general sense of following the rule of law. i mean we are a nation that lacks patience to hold on to our trash for a few minutes to throw it in the nearest trash can, so wearing that most uncomfortable seat belt is probably never going to happen.Recommend

  • http://www.zeitgeistpolitics.com Alexander Lobov

    I’d like to point out that the article doesn’t state how exactly he came to the conclusion that “mandating the use of seat belts in 18 countries resulted in either no change or actually a net increase in road accident deaths.”

    “Resulted” is a pretty strong word. If he simply compared the number of road accidents in the year X when seatbelts were mandated to 2009/2010 then that would be pretty silly (even if it’s per capita or per car). A million things have changed since then that could contribute to road accident deaths. Seems like a pretty flimsy study to me, I ain’t throwing off my seatbelt any time soon!Recommend

  • http://razzita.blogspot.com Raza

    Seatbealts help save hundreds and thousands of lives every year. They may or may not help reduce accidents, but they prevent serious or life-threatening injuries to YOU. So it makes sense to wear them.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Out of everyone here, including the writer, Alexander Lobov makes the most sense.Recommend

  • Bilal

    Yes it makes sense for me to wear them, and I do. But if someone does not want to wear them, their not wearing the seat belt does not affect me at all. So if Sachal does not want to wear a seat belt the government should not be allowed to enforce its ideas on him.

    Enforcing something even as simple as seat belts is a very tricky route to go down, as Sachal mentioned in his blog.

    Where does the government stop deciding what’s right for me and let me decide for myself? Recommend

  • http://www.local.com.pk Jabran

    I must say, this is an idiotic approach to a useful thing which should be supported rather than picking out the arguments on personal choices! People are in need to be made more aware about obeying the laws and regulations which are made for their safety.Recommend

  • Saba

    Requiring belts to be used (and enforcing deterrents like fines for not doing so) is no more an infringement of personal rights than requiring individuals to follow any other safety regulations that might not hurt others but will hurt the person. They are within government authority and are part of its obligation to protect its citizens.

    As for the study, the bottomline is this: Do seatbelts take more lives than they save? And while the results suggest they might (“either no change or actually a net increase in road accident deaths”), bear in mind that establishing causality between belts and accidents is extremely hard. Some of the obvious issues are: holding other factors constant that might change the number of accidents, measuring the quantitative effect of wearing a belt (versus the intangible false sense of security, which does not always directly translate to an accident’s occurrence i.e. we do not know whether the accident was caused by the increased sense of security), finding a control group (one that doesn’t wear seat belts). The researchers probably did the best they could with the data at hand, and while I agree that there can be behavioral changes and a sense of security caused by wearing a seatbelt, it still remains true that seat belts keep you from going face-first through the windshield or into the steering wheel, and that 60-70% of people killed in accidents are not wearing seat belts. And the majority of the survivors sustain irreversible brain injuries.

    The solution to this false sense of security (and possible increase in reckless driving) is clearly not removing the law and/or fines. The solution is to better educate the public on what a seat belt can and CANNOT do for them. Recommend

  • Actually

    Dear my-death-is-only-a-literary-tragedy-not-a-statistical-one:

    The driver’s death is also an accident. Recommend

  • Actually

    The ‘state’ is not an element external to the citizen — the state is made up of citizens selected by citizens. This antagonism is only a mental illusion supported by, in my view, a rapidly-outdating political viewpoint that thrives on conflict.

    Part of accepting and internalizing responsibility is to collaborate with the other to maintain that responsibility.


  • Ayesha

    Interesting argument. This really is a unique realm of discussion. While I agree with Alex that all studies are subject to scrutiny, if there is evidence enough to argue both ways – as there seems to be in this case – picking what to do really should be our own choice.

    Those that wish to use the precaution should, and those that do not, should be allowed not to. Trying to justify enforcement in economic or emotional terms is an age-old colonial practice. Recommend

  • Asfandyar Khan


    That’s a study that argues the risk compensation factor that Adams argues for isn’t actually embedded in empiricism.

    A good but tremendously boring read.Recommend

  • Sachal

    @Uzair, actually, I was expecting heavy opposition. Few people have the patience to accept a challenge to notions that they have digested as being given truths. As Bilal pointed out, the most aggressive commentators did not even bother to read cited data before retorting. Sadly, that is just how we function now.

    @Raza: Your first line is not supported by statistics. But that is not even the point, I have clarified that my contention is not with the seat belt. What I question is the state’s role of enforcing that choice.
    Do I personally think that it is useful? Yes. But do I support enforcing this preference on others? No.

    @Alexander: Adams has the credentials of being a reliable source. Even if you are not swayed by what he says, you can at least concede that he provides enough of an argument to put doubt on the general notion of “Wearing seat belts is always the best thing to do”.
    If you doubt his instruments of study, let me also then, point out that the economic argument of medical expenditure you cite is also slightly biased. You assume that I will need treatment from a government hospital. I personally have medical insurance extended to me by the Lakhanis. Many other people would opt for private medical treatment. But yes there is still a proportion that will need state help. However, the study and the data put a question on the expenditure (as I earlier mentioned)

    Ayesha’s point about economic apologetics for infringement is also valid.Recommend

  • Sachal

    @Europa: Yes I raise this point, because in all the mainstream civil rights arguments, we already have formed/fed opinions. It would just be an easy reflex stand to take in most cases. But all governing systems are based on an ideology or a thought process. And by discussing something as unadulterated as this, we can more clearly reflect our true thoughts.

    If you feel that the ‘Pakistani’ as defined by you, does all those things, he basically fails to act in his own best interest and that of the country. Would you then, want to give this obviously ‘regressive’ Pakistani representation in influencing macro decisions? What good could come from it then?

    Is that really consistency of thought? Or is it just an adopted fashion. Save for Alexander, who has argued on economic basis, the rest of the people supporting the enforcement obviously feel that our people need to be run under the “Danda” culture. Most of our family structures still do as well so there is no surprise in this thought. But then why are we so popularly against the “Danda” governance at large? Is it really reflective of our personal/cultural preferences? Or are we just people in a transition phase, with one foot in each doctrine?Recommend

  • Ahmed

    “Adams has the credentials of being a reliable source.”

    “Reliable source” is quite naive. Studies like the one you mentioned are limited in their scope because they can only suggest a particular pattern or tendency. They do not attempt to lay down a fact, and hence the term reliable source is out of place. You cite the study that raises doubts on the benefits of seat belts, but did you attempt to research studies in its favour, to form a more informed opinion? Recommend

  • Sachal

    @Ayesha and Bilal: Thank you for being amongst the rare people who get the point.

    @Asfandyar: Thank you for finally bringing something concrete into the discussion. Angry morality imposing, neighborhood-aunty yelling was getting quite abundant. Your cited paper is a discussion paper that actually went to the trouble of analyzing the ‘compensation behavior theory’. So we agree that this is a debate in academic circles. I simply ask that in such cases, a person be given the choice as to which side of the debate he is on.

    @Jabran: Thank you for introducing a new level of maturity to this page. And for reminding me of the aforementioned judgmental aunty yelling: “He who does not agree with me is surely idiotic!”

    @Saba: For your previous contention to ‘reminding’ people, what do you think about airplanes? The reminder seems to work well there.
    And yes education is definitely required (as made glaring obvious by Jabran).

    I’d like to ask you a question though, Imagine that we succeed in educating our nation, and every one knows what a seat belt can and cannot do for them. Do you think that in this hypothetical, educated nation, there would still be a need for fines?Recommend

  • Jawad

    Professor Adams taught me Risk Management at UCL and I assure you that he is an authority on the subject.

    A experimental test trial conducted by Fredrick M. Streffa and E.Scott Geller found that drivers increased speed and recklessness when using the seat belt.

    The stated issue has been extensively researched on, and is novel only to some visitors of this website.Recommend

  • Malik Rashid

    Dear Author
    There is a discrepancy in your understanding of the law. Driving is not a right, it is a privilege allowed through a driving license. It is only after successfully passing a test that you are allowed to share roads with other motorists. Stunt-driving on private property is covered by other set of rules for insurance and liability. The study that looks at number of accidents does not compare fatal accidents when seat-belt laws were not in effect. Other discretion of speeding or risky-manoeuvrings on public roads are also covered under highway rules.
    This license of yours is renewable periodically and government must suspend or cancel license of those who fail to obey rules while sharing the road. When you reach the age where your reflexes become questionable, authorities check you every year before renewing your license. Hope my explanation does not offend you. Peace. Recommend