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March 20, 1987

The Use of Seat Belts

JAMA. 1987;257(11):1473. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03390110049018

To the Editor.—  "Studies suggest that universal seat belt use could [save] 18 000 lives each year," noted Goldbaum et al,1 yet "seat belt use costs nothing [and] requires little time." To be consistent, proponents of any public policy should compare its benefits and costs commensurately. If deaths caused by failure to use seat belts are expressed in aggregate (18 000 each year, if numbers from Goldbaum et al are taken at face value), then time expended fastening seat belts should also be expressed in aggregate. Let us make the crudest, round estimate: If the average driver takes three trips each day, and if buckling and unbuckling consume 10 s each, on the average, then that driver would spend about one minute each day, or six hours each year, fastening and unfastening. If there are about 180 million drivers in the United States, then about a billion hours each