Much Ado About Seat Belts

Much Ado About Seat Belts

I have had this article on my mind for a while but I just never came around to composing my thoughts until now. In checking for a quote to launch this article, I came across one attributed to Plato, which I think captures my aim for this article.

“No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding”

— Plato

The eight words quoted above buttress the salient point that without understanding why a law exists, the law itself becomes a weighed down anchor, restrictive to a choking level and only obeyed where disobedience is strictly punished. A similar point could be picked from a verse in the Bible that states, “The letter kills but the spirit gives life”—it’s all about understanding.

Taking the ubiquitous Danfo buses in Lagos, I have noticed one common practice—seat belts exist merely to avoid being extorted by road marshals. Many a driver would operate a bus where the “seat belt” is a dirty contraption permanently fixed in a contrived socket. When a road marshal is sighted or the driver (or his conductor) realises the bus has entered marshal territory, the passenger in front, next to the door, is asked to “drag” the “seat belt” over his/her chest while the driver does the same. The bus then goes past the marshals who deem it satisfactory that a seat belt is in use.

The folly of this practice is laid bare but hardly seen by the parties involved. From the viewpoint of a “typical” road marshal, if a driver and a front-seating passenger are using something that looks like a seat belt, that is bad for business as it would have been better if there were no seat belts, so some naira notes might have exchanged hands. If this were not true, the marshal would have bothered about the quality of the seat belt. From the driver’s lens, he has obeyed the dictate of the law and avoided having to pay to bail his bus. From the lens of the front-door-side passenger, he or she has “helped” the driver avoid extortion by road marshals.

None of the parties bothers that the aim of a seat belt is to mitigate the impact of a head-on crash. If such a bus were to be involved in a frontal crash, odds are high that the two persons using defective seat belts would likely be thrown out of the bus, possibly into eternity. The folly of this seat belt deception is even more apparent in that no one bothers about the front-seating passenger sitting between the driver and the door-side passenger. This person is left totally to the mercies of luck were the bus to have a head-on crash or roll on its side. If seat belts were being used because of safety, one would have expected all parties involved to worry about this unstrapped passenger.

Plato’s admonition comes to mind here. If we understood why seat belts exist in vehicles, would we need laws to enforce their use? Of course, some persons with high risk appetite would still have ignored using seat belts but at least, a substantial part of the society would have been using seat belts properly. The same way seat belts are taken contrivedly is the same way some drivers treat headrests and headlamps. These safety features exist to preserve life; not just to be ticked off a list or barely provided to avoid both legal and illegal consequences.

I feel it is time for the Federal Road Safety Commission, if they are truly bothered about road safety, to get drivers and passengers aware of the value of proper seat belts. Beyond the road marshals, we need to reach a point where passengers in public buses begin to reject the use of dirty, useless flat ropes tagged as seat belts. Until we understand why we need good seat belts, whatever law exists would remain codified deception. As Myles Munroe said, “When purpose is not known, abuse is inevitable”.

Image Credit: TechCabal

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