Matters of Moment, October 1974
As soon as the Election is over the busy-bodies will resume the campaign for compulsory seat belts. After all, the Civil Service treats drivers and motor-vehicle owners much the same whatever Government is in power. We wish they would all belt-up—the A.A., Lord Montagu, the DOE many so-called motoring journalists and the rest who are advocating compulsory wearing of seat-belts. Let us make it quite clear that Motor Sport is NOT persuading anyone from putting on a safety-harness, if he or she wishes to wear one, even though it has yet to be proved that all seat belts are safe in themselves, or that everyone involved, the disabled, etc., are better served by using them. But we are dead against compulsion. It may or it may not be simple common sense to use seat belts in everyday, ordinary motoring. It is still a matter of opinion, a very open one. The Editor, who dislikes being strapped to anything, even a motor car, is a non-belt man, but his wife wears a seat belt, whether in Fiat 126 or BMW, or any other road test car, while motoring with him. Whether or not one belts-up, it should be left to personal choice.
Those, like the writer, who have been thrown from an overturning car (an Allard, in a pre-war speed hill-climb), the cockpit of which was crushed, and who have seen cars catch fire, have sound reasons for being against compulsion. Others feel vulnerable unless they belt-up. Compulsion is wrong—your life is your own and how you safeguard it should be your affair. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink! Compulsion seldom brings happy results. We have been compelled to fit seat belts to our more modern cars (and pay the p.t. on them). Motorcyclists are compelled to wear crash hats (and pay p.t. on these). If we permit more compulsion, motorcyclists may find themselves banned, on the grounds that riders gain no safety from being strapped to two-wheelers. We could find speed limits forever unrescinded, in spite of ever safer cars and better, very expensive roads.
Are the police soon to be busy checking for unbuckled belts? If so, endorsements for forgetfulness, or for deliberately ignoring a fresh compulsion, will cause further resentment between police and motorists and will further overload the Courts. What of tradesmen and doctors, making frequent exits from their vehicles? What of vintage cars to which seat belts cannot be fitted? Will compulsion kill off the entire old-car hobby? Will bus passengers and firemen have to strap themselves to their vehicles? Let’s leave it to their discretion. It might be said that those who don’t belt-up are either drivers well able to look after themselves or are so foolish they are unlikely to remember the clunk-click thing, anyway. So why press for unwelcome compulsion?
If we go on like this, fussing about whether it is better to be flung through a laminated or a toughened screen, we had better give up motoring and risky sports altogether, indeed anything that involves the smallest possible chance of accidents—safety belts, crash hats, more speed limits, more Armco from the do-gooders and, of course, the over-60s must be compelled to put on water wings in the bath, in case of involuntary drowning.
We shall now be bombarded with arguments about the cost of crashes to the Health Service, to which most of us contribute, whether we wish to or not. This is no reason for inflicting compulsion on one section of the community. Anyway, the service may not be there when it is most wanted, if the modern Florence Nightingales have their way, striking for more pay; once lost, never regained. So—by all means put on your seat belts but—NO COMPULSION. Indeed, after the ridiculously vast sums of the Nation’s money which have been spent on persuading motorists to do up their belts, which has probably done a great deal of good but could have been better spent on accident prevention instead of precaution, how can this expenditure be justified if compulsion is, after all, introduced?
It seems that we are soon to have another General Election inflicted on us by Harold Wilson. It is not for a motor journal to predict whether this will result in a continuation of Socialism in Britain, a return to Conservative rule, or whether, whatever the outcome, the Communist-influenced Trade Unions will eventually take control.
The political scene is now so complicated that many voters would see a motorists’ charter as the most important aspect of an Election. They would back the party that promises to reduce the iniquities inflicted on drivers, by the Laws and Court procedure, to ban the costly business of Big Brother in a helicopter (which we hope doesn’t itself break any low-flying regulations) searching for motoring offenders, use the triple endorsement punishment only for serious offences and stop this silly use of expensive radar equipment for apprehending those who go a few m.p.h. over the equally absurd 70-limit on our million-pounds-a-mile fine new motorways.
Let us not overlook the fact that Germany is the only country which has no speed limit on its autobahns leading to dangerous traffic-bunching and frustration, and that this came about because of a strong Parliamentary motoring lobby. And that a healthy Motor Industry offers full employment to a great many people.
After reading two letters in your September issue about seat belts I felt encouraged to write in support about this sensitive subject.
The value of seat belts cannot be denied but I certainly think that the publicity given to these devices has taken the subject completely out of proportion. Such statements as “If I had worn my seat belt this would not have happened to me” are totally misleading. One could certainly say that it may not have happened but the only way of avoiding injury completely is to avoid the accident. Let us just wonder how far the belt will go:
1. It can only assist when worn and if fitted properly.
2. It can only assist occupants of the vehicle.
3. It can only be applied to certain types of vehicle to be of value. (i.e. motorcycles cannot be adapted.)
This difference between avoiding the accident and avoiding the injury is highlighted by looking at commercial vehicles and cars. Commercial vehicle safety has concentrated on raising design and performance standards and controlling the operation of such vehicles in the form of operator and drivers licences. The whole accent is on avoiding the accident which I suggest is a far more worthwhile pursuit. The emotional element in the passenger car world has gone the other way by accepting the accident situation and trying to avoid injury. Introduction of collapsible steering columns, seat belts, collapsible frames and so on, none of which help the poor old pedestrian. They completely ignore spurious swing axle suspensions, low geared wheel twiddling steering systems, and a terribly low driving standard and virtually no owner appreciation of the vehicle.
On the question of compulsion for the wearing of seat belts I do feel we sometimes lose sight of the reality of life. Frankly, statistics can be made to prove anything as we all know, and I am certainly sceptical about those produced for the seat belt case. If we are to accept that 70% of all injuries are saved by wearing belts, and then argue that making the wearing of them a legal requirement is a must, I have a further even more powerful suggestion. Accepting the accident saves 100% of all injury, so let’s make accident avoidance a legal requirement as the end result is much better.
The latter suggestion must be a ridiculous piece of logic, just as the former one is, so please, let us get everything in perspective and avoid emotion.
W. I. Mahany
That Mystery Car
That mystery car on page 946 of the September issue of Motor Sport wasn’t such a mystery to readers of a certain weekly IPC magazine, that featured it by story and pictures, a fact that some of our readers rapidly found out. However, they can have been unaware that the beast captured by our reader’s camera at Silverstone was at large on British soil, for its more natural habitat is the Australian outback, even though it is of British Leyland lineage. This is British Leyland’s Force 7, a two-door, five-seater hatchback designed to plant the company in the sporty car market in Australia – and also to boost disappointing sales of the P76 saloon. It employs the same suspension as the P76 and in its ultimate specification is powered by a 4.4-litre, 198 b.h.p. version of Rover’s aluminium V8 (hence the disguised Solihull clue). The example at Silverstone belongs to British Leyland. The Australian body is a trifle ugly and unbalanced, but shows a step in the right direction for British Leyland thinking. With cleaner lines perhaps it could be a best seller in the UK? – C.R.