I picked up the documentary “An Unreasonable Man” about Ralph Nader and watched it. Nader asks at one point in the film, are they going to pull air bags and seat-belts out of automobiles? He meant the question to be rhetorical, like such a possibility in the future is absurd. Although, I find it not to be as absurd as Nader might suppose.
After congress discontinued tying highway funding to states having motorcycle helmet laws, many states simply repealed them, causing a 50% drop in their usage in some states. The same ideology is behind motorcycle helmet laws as the seatbelt laws. Invariably, people shout: freedom. Although, they seldom realize the dastardly consequences of their actions. From the article:
NHTSA found that motorcycle helmet use in Florida fell by about 50 percent after the state legislature repealed the requirement for riders 21 and older. Fatalities per 10,000 registered motorcycles in 2001 and 2002, the two years after the new law took effect, were 21 percent higher than in 1998 and 1999, the two years before the change.
People throw around terms like Nanny state or “wuss”-ification of America. In the big picture, it becomes less about personal freedom, and more about corporate freedom to kill, injure, or exploit people for a profit. A safety-package, that is a band-aid to a inherently unsafe design. In economic terms, it is about making corporations internalize costs that they usually would pass off to society. Although, it is also a definition we should hold to individuals.
Which brings us to the Nut-Bag driver fallacy, because it gives some historical context. The motor companies claimed that if you died in an accident or maimed, it was because you were a bad driver. It had nothing to do with the overall safety of the vehicle, but solely rested on the personal responsibility of the driver. It was proven by Ralph Nader, that there were some inherent design flaws that made vehicles unsafe at any speed. It wasn’t about people being “Nut-Bags” but rather, if you made mistake, would it end up costing your life, or possibly another person’s.
Everybody makes mistakes. Although one oddity when it comes to drive, as Dave Berry pointed out, is that everyone believes that he/she is an above average driver. However, as a society, we know that accidents will occur. Sometimes, one party in the accident is at fault, or there is mutual blame. But, when such an accident occurs, we know that statistically, a person is more likely to live in the case of the accident if they wear a seat-belt. In fact, estimates conclude that 140,000 people are alive today as a direct result of seat-belt laws.
Rationally, people want to enter a potentially catastrophic event with the best chance of surviving. However, when it comes down to the individual choices required to ensure that scenario, people sometimes balk.
The consensus used to be, force auto-manufacturers to put seat-belts in their vehicles, which eventually became fine people if they don’t wear their seat-belts. Encourage people to do the right thing now, they may thank you later when it saves their life. Although, it should be noted with uniform fines, it becomes freedom for the rich, requirement for the poor.
As a society, what responsibility do we have for our neighbors? The answer has increasingly become none, in every aspect of this society. From the soldiers dying half way around the world for a lie, to the millions of uninsured Americans domestically. What has made us so isolated and indifferent, fear?
I can’t imagine being Ralph Nader, and watching some of the ideals that I fought for for the 20 years of my life be abandoned and destroyed in the next 20. Nader fights for what he believes is a better tomorrow. The current public policies put an incredible mortgage on the future. The nation has regressed, when will it end?