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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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June 02, 2004

Seat-belt stats

“Strict seat-belt law saving lives, state says,” read the headline on a story last Monday. The story said the death rate in car accidents in Washington in 2003 was the lowest in history, and that the Washington Traffic Safety Commission credits the 2-year-old law that allows police to target and ticket a driver not wearing seat belts.

The story was accompanied by a graph that showed that the death rate from accidents has been falling for 30 years. The fall in the past two years continued that trend but did not accelerate it.

All this reminds me of the social scientist Charles Murray, who argued in his 1984 book “Losing Ground” that this was a standard government argument. There was a problem; government intervened to fix the problem; and the problem did get a little better. But it had been getting better before the government intervened.

One example, relating to traffic, was the 55-mph speed limit. When this was put into effect, fatalities dropped. Problem was, they had been dropping before it went into effect, and they continued to drop after it was repealed.

Is the seat-belt law the cause of the recent improvement? Maybe. Maybe not.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at June 2, 2004 03:32 PM



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