02 January 2012

Father(land) knows best

Here in California, a slew of new laws went into effect yesterday, and many of them seem to have to do with children. New laws add additional regulations to what children can eat (child care centers, which serve up to 1.2 million children, can provide only unflavored nonfat or low-fat milk and beverages that lack added sweeteners), where they can spend their money (people under the age of 18 cannot use ultraviolet tanning devices (even with parents' permission)), and how they can travel:
Many young car passengers, meanwhile, will have to get back in the booster seat Sunday under legislation signed in October.  
The law requires kids to be in booster seats until they are at least 8 years old or 4 feet, 9 inches or taller. Since 2002, children have had to ride in booster seats until they are 6 years old or 60 pounds.
Note the first sentence... "will have to get back into the booster seat". Yes, that's right, a 6 or 7 year old who graduated from the nanny state's previous overbearing protection, who has safely ridden with a regular seat belt for possibly a year or more, has suddenly found him/herself in grave danger. Overnight, without warning, and by state decree, the world has once again become unsafe. What was legal (and safe) yesterday is illegal (and unsafe) today. Funny how that works, isn't it?

What's even more interesting is that SB 929 was signed by the same man who, only three months earlier, vetoed SB 105, saying, "Not every human problem deserves a law." For those unaware, SB 105 would have criminalized the act of skiing or snowboarding by a minor without a helmet. Given the intellectual inconsistency between the passage of SB 929 and the veto of SB 105, one might be given to believe that companies like Bell and Giro simply missed their opportunity to "grease the palm" of government. Fortunately, companies like Graco and Britax can rest easy knowing that the state is coercing consumers via the force of law into buying their products for at least two more years.

It's amazing to me that people will cry out when forced to purchase health insurance at the end of a government gun but see no trouble with imposing the purchase of car seats in the same manner. It's for the children, though! I mean, isn't it? Maybe not. For 7 years, at least, the data have been staring everyone in the face:
The answer can be found in a trove of government data called the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which compiles police reports on all fatal crashes in the U.S. since 1975. These data include every imaginable variable in a crash, including whether the occupants were restrained and how. 
Even a quick look at the FARS data reveals a striking result: among children 2 and older, the death rate is no lower for those traveling in any kind of car seat than for those wearing seat belts. There are many reasons, of course, that this raw data might be misleading. Perhaps kids in car seats are, on average, in worse wrecks. Or maybe their parents drive smaller cars, which might provide less protection. 
But no matter what you control for in the FARS data, the results don't change. In recent crashes and old ones, in big vehicles and small, in one-car crashes and multiple-vehicle crashes, there is no evidence that car seats do a better job than seat belts in saving the lives of children older than 2. (In certain kinds of crashes -- rear-enders, for instance -- car seats actually perform worse.)
If you're still not convinced that these laws serve no useful purpose except to enrich the companies that make the products that consumers are compelled to buy, then you need look no further than an earlier excerpt from the same article:
Perhaps the single most compelling statistic about car seats in the NHTSA manual was this one: ''They are 54 percent effective in reducing deaths for children ages 1 to 4 in passenger cars.'' 
But 54 percent effective compared with what? The answer, it turns out, is this: Compared with a child's riding completely unrestrained.
You read that right; in order to scare you into compliance, the government compares the effectiveness of child car seats, not against the effectiveness of seat belts, but against that of riding in a car completely unrestrained! The data show that car seats are no more effective than seat belts for children over 2 and in some cases can actually be worse. Why then is the government pushing car seats onto the populace for another 6 years?! Whether totalitarianism or corporatism, I'll leave for you to decide. One thing is for certain, however; it is not for your benefit.

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