Rewind: Safety Belts Can Save Lives (July, 1961)

In July 1961, when this article was first written in the Official Publication American Federation of State, Country and Municipal Employees, seat belts were not mandatory in cars. 

It was not until 1970 and 1971 that Victoria and South Australia passed legislation that seat belts became widely used. This article republished in the July 1961 edition of The Civil Service Journal urges members to buy and fit their own seat belts in vehicles to prevent serious injuries and deaths. 


The automobile seat belt is the most effective device for preventing most serious injuries and deaths that has been developed in recent years, according to the labour department of the National Safety Council, and our local unions whose members operate motor vehicles for units of government should demand that they be installed.

Almost all the state highway patrols now have the safety belts as standard equipment, but they are not generally used in other State and municipal services.

Here is what the Safety Council says on the subject:

When cars crash into each other, a tree, or some other object, the driver and passengers, without seat belts to hold them, fly forward until they hit something solid. They may be thrown out when a door opens and hit the ground or the pavement; or they may stay in the car and be slammed against the windshield or dashboard. The chances of being killed are five times greater when hurled out of a car than in being thrown around in the car.

A seat belt prevents a passenger from being hurled out of the car or banged around in it. Drivers and passengers who wear safety belts are 35 to 60 per cent safer in a car than are people without seat belts.

A seat belt has a distinct advantage in case a car catches on fire or is submerged in water after an accident. Since a seat belt holds a driver or passenger in place in the car, the chances of being knocked unconscious and burned to death or drowned are greatly lessened. A belt can be instantaneously released by a conscious person with a flip of the hand.

Only belts meeting the standard of the Society of Automotive Engineers should be purchased. The installation also should be in accordance with SAE specifications.

The only sure way to get full value from automobile safety belts is to develop the habit of fastening the belt on getting into the car, even before turning on the ignition switch. They are useless unless worn whether going a few blocks or on a long trip. It’s a fact that most people are killed within 25 miles of their homes. Furthermore, belts should be worn whether driving at low or high speeds. Most fatal accidents occur at speeds under 40 miles per hour.

“I urge all union members to equip their cars with safety belts for the protection of themselves, their wives and children,” states Lloyd Utter, vice president for labour of the National Safety Council.

“Last year 5,000 men, women and children, many of them members of union families, would not have died in traffic accidents if they had been using seat belts. Furthermore, many more thousands of members of union families would not have been hurt or seriously injured.”

Under no circumstances are seat belts a substitute for knowing and observing traffic rules and regulations. Belts only reduce the possibility or a more serious injury or being killed, but do not prevent an accident.

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