Fri, Nov 24, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Buckle up, knuckleheads

The tragic injury of a prominent politician's wife has given lawmakers another chance to demonstrate their brazen opportunism and incompetence.

That these people might attempt to capitalize on the sorrows of one of their colleagues would come as no surprise. What is remarkable, however, is the lack of common sense, regard for public safety or concern for constituents displayed in the process of improving so-called road safety rules.

On Monday, the legislature's Transportation Committee passed a draft amendment to Article 31 of the Road Traffic Management and Punishment Law (道路交通管理處罰條例) in a whirlwind session. The amendment would require occupants of a passenger car other than those in the front seat traveling on freeways and expressways to buckle their seat belts.

The motivation behind this was an accident involving Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) and his wife, Shaw Hsiao-ling (邵曉鈴). Shaw, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the vehicle and suffered serious injuries.

According to Ministry of the Interior statistics released on July 13, most fatal or injurious accidents occur not on freeways and expressways but on city streets during the morning and evening rush hours. So what reasoning did lawmakers use when deciding to amend the law? It went something like this:

1. Shaw was injured on a freeway.

2. Shaw is Jason Hu's wife.

3. Jason Hu is important, therefore:

4. Freeways are the most dangerous roads.

Lawmakers have shown that they don't care two cents for the 1,271 people who were killed, or the 66,574 people who were injured, in car accidents in the first five months of this year. That multitude consisted of ordinary people, and therefore did not merit any consideration in tightening regulations.

But let one of the elite in the political inner circle suffer, and all hell breaks loose. The Legislative Yuan suddenly turns into Efficiency Inc.

It may sound cold-hearted, but there is a real problem here. People obviously care much more about events that directly affect their lives than about distant happenings involving strangers. That's fine for most people. But it isn't fine for the people who are supposed to be leading this country.

Legislators are supposed to be the representatives of the people. They have a duty to look at the bigger picture.

Seat belts save lives. Decades of data from around the world prove that fact. Only an idiot gets into a vehicle and doesn't use his or her seat belt -- assuming the vehicle has one.

Countless hours of engineering and years of blood, sweat and tears have resulted in automobiles that are designed to protect occupants in the event of a collision. The key to all of this design and engineering work is the seat belt. It isn't open to interpretation; it is a fact, incontrovertible and simple. Seat belts save lives.

So why didn't our legislators, in the heat of their passionate lawmaking, not simply make seat belt use mandatory in all vehicles, at all times, regardless of the location of the occupant?

People devise any number of idiotic excuses to justify not wearing their seat belts, ranging from devil-may-care machismo ("I'm too cool for safety") to vanity ("It will ruin my hair"). If some wish to treat life as a crap shoot that they can't lose, then that is their choice.

But society still must foot the bill for their recklessness -- in terms of damaged property, medical expenses, loss of productivity and wasted resources. Sometimes people need an incentive, and the threat of a hefty fine is a good incentive to buckle up.

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