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About Choice in Personal Safety
You can find here information on the only organisation which has the courage to oppose seatbelt compulsion. We do this from years of objective research.
We are not a wild outfit, but a sober research organisation which has been in existence for more than 30 years. We are on the Department for Transport list of consulting bodies. We have co-operated with other bodies which have the same core philosophy of individual freedom: the Association of British Drivers is one example. Motoring is a great example of the nanny state in full cry.
In recent years this organisation has suffered several serious losses in terms of personnel. Our President, Lord Monson, died in 2011, and the two most active members, Dr Barry Bracewell-Milnes and Don Furness, died in 2012. New volunteers to help maintain the organisation are needed. Please let us know if you are interested.
Aims And Viewpoints
You want to know what we are, how we are relevant to you, and what we stand for. So read on and you'll find out!
WHAT IS C.I.P.S.?
We are a voluntary organisation owing allegiance to no-one. We are funded entirely by donations and subscriptions. So, we don't have to toe the line to anyone in order to keep going. We research laws made in the name of public safety, primarily seatbelt use. We test proposals logically and unemotionally against standards. If they pass we support them. If they fail we oppose them. We believe that a lot of current safety laws don't in reality improve safety. Their motivation may be good but their practical effects are minimal.
WHAT DOES C.I.P.S. THINK SHOULD HAPPEN?
We hold that laws which go against human nature can never work. Human nature doesn't like piles of restrictions from those who claim to know what's best for us. We all know what trouble the local busybody can create, and a lot of current safety laws come from the same sort of mentality. We are not anti-safety, but say that present ideas on the subject are not the best. It's strange, but most new safety laws only have temporary effect.
We claim that most folk are sensible, irrespective of age or anything else. Yes, you always get some idiots, so you have to have rules and laws to check them. But those laws should be no more than absolutely necessary. Most folk will behave sensibly if given the chance.
Constant media scare stories and government warnings don't do anything but produce a worried and frightened population who see all sorts of dangers where as often as not they don't exist in any significant form. We think that wrong. Take road deaths as an example. They are less than one percent of all deaths. Accidental deaths in the home are about the same number but you never get stories about that.
Whatever you do in life contains a risk. It always has, and always will. Sensible folk know that and act accordingly because no-one wants to be a casualty. We say that people should know the real risk probability in such things as driving, so that they can make their own choices as to how best to handle the situation. Seatbelts are the prime example. Compulsory by law, they can kill and injure as well as save; it depends on the circumstances of the crash. We hold it morally wrong to have a law forcing the use of something which can do harm. People should be free to choose.
HAS ALL THIS A PHILOSOPHICAL ANGLE?
Yes, but that's not the whole story. Engineering, statistics, and medicine all come into it as well as philosophy. From the philosophical angle, no-one wants a society run like an ant-heap, except those who see themselves as the controlling ants. Ant-heaps lead to tyranny, which always ends in disaster. Freedom never all goes at one swoop; it disappears gradually. One law after another is made in the "interests of public protection" until you wake up one morning to find you no longer live in a free country. No-one notices until it's too late.
We say that most folk will behave sensibly from personal choice, but only if they see that they have the right to exercise that choice. Treat folk as if they were all potential offenders and that's just the behaviour you'll get. A funny thing is that the more a country is regulated by laws the more criminals they get.
SO HOW DOES SOCIETY TREAT THE MOTORIST AT THE MOMENT?
In essence, badly. It sees him or her as a potential criminal who has to be regulated down to the last detail. No other section of society gets that treatment. It used to be a principle in law that no person should be in danger from the law unless his actions caused actual harm to a definable person or persons. Not so with motoring law today!
On top of that, there are things a motorist can get into court for which are offences he doesn't know he has committed. Over the breath test limit is one like that. You may honestly believe that you are on the right side of the law but find otherwise at a roadside test. Is that really a fair law? Don't get us wrong; we don't uphold either speeding or drunken driving, but there are limits in controlling such things. We think those limits have been exceeded to an unacceptable degree.
WHAT ABOUT THE WELL-KNOWN CAUSES OF ACCIDENTS?
You probably don't know that the Department for Transport keep no statistics on accident causes or adverse seatbelt effects because they say that they are too open to question. So much for "well-known causes". The fact is that almost every accident has multiple causes, some more significant than others. It can be rightly said that the vast majority of crashes are caused by perfectly sober drivers doing silly things; but that avoids the question as to why they did them. Momentary inattention maybe. Fooled by an unlikely road situation maybe. And a lot of other possibilities. The usual approach is to try and pinpoint the major factor in the usual multiple ones; that's not easy, but some do stand out. Not all of them are the ones beloved of road safety officials and the Department for Transport.
There's a thing in human psychology called risk compensation behaviour. It was first brought out by Professor Gerry Wilde of Queens University in Canada. Broadly, it says that we all have an acceptable level of risk in our make-up and that we subconsciously try to keep it constant in whatever we do. It makes sense; you'll do things two rungs up a ladder that you won't do near the top! But it also works the other way round. Make a person, to their perception, safer in an activity by something like a safety law and they behave more dangerously so as to keep their level of risk constant. The funny thing about this is that while the Department for Transport have been very reluctant to accept it as a factor in driver behaviour, the Home Office (who run the police) do accept it in their Research Report 124.
We hold risk compensation to be a major factor in driver behaviour. Ever noticed how things like anti-lock brakes are used as performance increasers? They're supposed to be there for safety! Seatbelts are a prime example of how risk compensation works. Obvious at all times, they give the driver a false sense that he's invulnerable and almost crashproof. He reacts accordingly even though he doesn't realise it.
WHAT FEW SIMPLE THINGS DOES C.I.P.S. THINK WILL HELP?
The real key to road safety is responsible and sensible driver behaviour. That doesn't mean we want every driver to behave like a timid rabbit; people like that often cause accidents which they are not involved in themselves. It means things like being alert, taking a pride in driving skill, "expecting the unexpected", and not placing infinite trust in safety devices such as belts and anti-lock brakes. It means remembering that no safety device ever prevented an accident. All such things can do is to hope to let you crash in greater comfort. The crash shouldn't have happened in the first place.
That's the driver's side of it. The government side is that it must stop treating motorists as potential criminals. Encourage folk to behave from a sense of personal responsibility and they will act accordingly. Treat them as idiots and they also react accordingly; that's what happens at the moment. That means no more laws which regard motorists as idiots. It can also mean getting some existing laws of this kind repealed.
Seatbelt compulsion is the prime example of a law which should be repealed. The fact is that belts can kill and injure in some circumstances. So, they are a mixed blessing. There is a risk without them but there is also a risk with them. People should have the freedom to choose which of those two risks they regard as the smaller one and act accordingly.
Other pages here, compiled by our late Chairman, Gordon Read, give some of the evidence.
Much more extensive evidence is presented by Professor John Adams. There are links below to his site and to others.
Choice in Personal Safety (C.I.P.S.) is affiliated to the Society for Individual Freedom (S.I.F.). Basic membership costs £7.50 a year, while membership with S.I.F. affiliation costs £15.00 a year. To join, please send a cheque in pounds sterling, with your name and address (written clearly, please). For the time being, please write to: Society for Individual Freedom, PO Box 744, Bromley BR1 4WG
Until we have a new Secretary, please write by post to:
The following pages are included for their relevance. Inclusion here does not necessarily indicate endorsement.
Professor John Adams has an excellent site on the scientific evidence regarding the effects of seatbelt wearing.
Safety Choice Coalition is an American organisation with very similar aims to Choice in Personal Safety but with much more material on its site.
The Hidden Danger of Seat Belts - a short article in "Time", Nov. 30, 2006.
Seat Belt Laws: Why You Should Be Worried is a brief but useful summary with references, produced by Galway Cycling Campaign, November 2000.
Hawaii's 'Successful' Seat Belt Law can be downloaded from this page as a PDF file, or direct: http://www.heartland.org/pdf/81051e.pdf.
Review of Seatbelt Case Law by Hughes Walker Solicitors Ltd, deals with the law and personal injury compensation.
Seat belt legislation - an article, with references and a list of further reading, in the Internet encyclopaedia, "Wikipedia".
Help Restore Liberty: Repeal Seat Belt Laws is an article, with many references, by (the late) William J. Holdorf.
Facts About State Mandatory Seat Belt Harness Laws is a long article by (the late) William J. Holdorf.
Mandatory seatbelt wearing - a section in chapter 8 of "Target Risk: Dealing with the danger of death, disease and damage in everyday decisions", by Gerald J.S. Wilde.
Seat Belt Usage is an article from the [American] Encyclopedia of Everyday Law. Is It Safe? - produced by the Road Danger Reduction Forum, a grouping of road safety professionals committed to promoting a new agenda for road safety.
Seat Belt Laws: A Clumsy Perspective, by John Adams is a PDF file (size: 368k).
Review Of Seat Belts. Effectiveness - a short article with some references.
The Society for Individual Freedom has a site with interesting material on other aspects of personal freedom.
Risk and Uncertainty
Cars, Cholera, and Cows: The Management of Risk and Uncertainty, by John Adams can be downloaded from this page as a PDF file, or direct: http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa335.pdf.
As with seatbelts, there is a similarly bad case being made by those trying to make the wearing of helmets by cyclists compulsory in the U.K., as it is in some countries. The following websites deal with this matter.
Mandatory bicycle helmet law in Western Australia - the home page for a site with information from several countries.
Mandatory bicycle helmet laws in England - in Britain, actually, and such a law is proposed but has not been enacted.
Cycle helmets briefing paper - Cycle helmets should not be made compulsory now or at any time. This is a PDF file.
Bicycle helmet research web links - we can't do better than refer those who want more information to this page.
Cycle helmets: A summary of research by John Franklin.
Risk Compensation & Helmet Wearing. June 2001 - Published in 'Injury Prevention', June 2001 An exchange on risk compensation & helmet wearing between Diane C. Thompson, Robert S. Thompson, Frederick P. Rivara, and Mayer Hillman & John Adams.
To point out links that are out of date, links not listed but worth including, and the like, please write to cips at againstseatbeltcompulsion dot org (amended as necessary). Thank you.
Original date of this page (then at a different URL): 1 July 1997.