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The Western Star - - EDITORIAL -

Nils Bohlin would not be im­pressed. The Swedish in­ven­tor gave the world a life-sav­ing gift and we are sense­lessly squan­der­ing his in­no­va­tion. His name might not ring a bell, but it should be sound­ing a per­sis­tent alarm — you know, the kind your ve­hi­cle emits when you drive off with­out a seat­belt on.

Bohlin cre­ated the three-point au­to­mo­bile seat­belt for Volvo in 1959 and knew it had the ca­pac­ity to save lives. Volvo saw its worth and of­fered the de­sign to other car-mak­ers to make their ve­hi­cles safer.

“At the time of Bohlin’s death in Septem­ber 2002,” His­tory.com notes, “Volvo es­ti­mated that the seat­belt had saved more than one mil­lion lives in the four decades since it was in­tro­duced.”

And no one has re­ally been able to im­prove on Bohlin’s de­sign, which he cre­ated specif­i­cally to be con­ve­nient — some­thing you can put on with one hand.

And yet in this province the RCMP has re­ported that in the last five years, about one third of all fa­tal col­li­sions it has re­sponded to in­volved deaths where vic­tims likely would still be alive if they had just put on their seat­belt. Do we value life so lit­tle?

Seat­belt use has been manda­tory in New­found­land and Labrador since 1982. In the early years of the rule’s im­ple­men­ta­tion and un­til 1996, we were paragons of ve­hic­u­lar safety, with a seat­belt us­age rate that was the high­est in the coun­try — at 94.3 per cent — and a ve­hi­cle-oc­cu­pant fa­tal­ity rate that was the low­est, at 8.536 per 100,000 li­censed driv­ers — ac­cord­ing to a pa­per on the ef­fect of seat­belt use on traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties pre­sented in Cana­dian Pub­lic Pol­icy jour­nal in 2007.

Since then we have be­come com­pla­cent — reck­less, even.

Is it be­cause we’re in too much of a hurry and can’t be both­ered to click on the har­ness? Or be­cause we’re not driv­ing far enough for it to be an is­sue?

Both are fool­hardy rea­sons. Any one of us could be T-boned pulling out of our drive­way and there’s nowhere any­one needs to be so ur­gently that it’s worth risk­ing death en route.

Is it be­cause we have be­come re­liant on airbags to save us?

Also faulty logic.

Airbags don’t pre­vent driv­ers or pas­sen­gers from mov­ing around on im­pact. They do not guar­an­tee that you won’t be­come air­borne in a col­li­sion. Seat­belts are your best chance at stay­ing in your seat.

You can find any num­ber of graphic YouTube videos de­pict­ing ex­actly what hap­pens in a crash to oc­cu­pants of a ve­hi­cle who aren’t wear­ing seat­belts. Back­seat pas­sen­gers are pro­pelled for­ward, vi­o­lently slam­ming into the seats of the pas­sen­gers in front. Driv­ers can wind up like hu­man bat­ter­ing rams, smash­ing through wind­shields.

But these are care­fully con­trolled col­li­sions us­ing crash test dummies.

You can’t see the blood, or hear the screams of ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain, or feel the grief of loved ones left be­hind to grap­ple with such sense­less loss.

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