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Seatbelts are a good intuition pump.


See Paternalism. In Killjoys, the author notes

Seat belt laws are mentioned a great deal by advocates of paternalism. Along with motorcycle helmet laws, they represent a widely accepted precedent (in Britain, at least) for legislation against victimless crimes. This was always the fear of liberals. […] They did not oppose the legislation because they doubted it would ‘cut the number of deaths'. They opposed it because it was a minor infringement of liberty that would probably lead to major infringements

Seat-belts are a very pure case, since there is very little harm to the driver (putting on the seat-belt is no big deal) and it can literally save your life. It is hard to reject seat-belt laws on utilitarian grounds therefore. This allows us to get right to value differences (utilitarian ethics and care/harm vs intuitive value of freedom, any long term loss of utility from complacency caused by paternalism, and long term loss of utility from the slippery slope into authoritarianism, etc.), without getting bogged down in detail.

There are some small externalities from not wearing seat-belts, for example you might slide out of place in the chair and therefore lose control of the car. This does seem to prove too much though (should everyone be expected to install bucket seats and anti-slip seat material? Are choosing to buy a car with leather seats an act of violence?). Again, it raises interesting questions.


See Regulation

Seatbelts were a private invention, but it has been argued (by whom? where did I see this Check This) that without legislation, car companies would never had added them to their vehicles.

Looking at modern safety features however (including Benz' pre-safe tech that plays loud pink-noise before crashes to protect your eardrums by triggering the ear's safety reflex), there has been huge advancement by private companies. It seems that drivers are willing to pay more for safety, and do (of course) care about safety features.

In the extreme, we can imagine a fully government run car industry. Would they have come up with pre-safe, with lane following, with crash avoidance? I would expect the likelihood would be lower.

Again, seatbelts are a useful intuition pump: should we force car companies to install them. What about pre-safe? What level of safety should be enforced ("highest possible" will just make cars unaffordable for most people)? Will the market provide safety in the absence of that regulation? etc.

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Last modified 2019-08-16 Fri 16:20. Contact