Jimmy Saville - legendary British DJ - promoting seatbelt sense.
Up until 1983, wearing seatbelts in cars had simply been advisable in the UK but in that year it became mandatory. I passed my driving test without the protection of a seatbelt and began driving cars regularly in the late seventies. My first car didn't even have seatbelts and the next couple of cars were temperamental starters so I was often lifting the bonnet (hood) first thing on wet or wintry mornings - I needed to be in and out of those blasted cars and a seatbelt would have been a painful hindrance so I never bothered.
I watched the famous Jimmy Saville ads of the early eighties - "Clunk! Click! Every trip!" but when 1983 came I was an entrenched non-wearer. Subconsciously, I think I always set off still expecting my car to stall and to have to get out and fiddle under the bonnet. Obviously and logically, the wearing of seatbelts is eminently sensible. So many lives have been saved since the law became more insistent about them. However, non-wearing had become part of my psyche and most days I would set off having failed to clunk and click. First Shirley and then our kids would remind me to get my seatbelt on and I tried, really tried but I just couldn't establish the habit.
Then one bright August morning in 1999, when I was travelling into school to undertake yet more hours of unpaid and unrecognised holiday work, the law finally caught up with me. A police motorcyclist spotted me in the Crookesmoor suburb of Sheffield and chased after me. He himself was of course not wearing a seatbelt. I believe I was given a fixed penalty fine of £30. You would have thought that this would have taught me a lesson and for a while I really did try harder to remember my seatbelt but it was not until we bought our Vauxhall Astra in 2006 that my seatbelt donning became quite habitual. And this is simply because the car whines at me and flashes a red signal on the dashboard whenever I forget. I am like one of Pavlov's dogs.
On Saturday, Shirley and I were thundering up the East Coast railway line to Doncaster at speeds well over 120mph. Neither of us were wearing seatbelts and nor were any of our fellow passengers. Recently, I jumped in a taxi at Hunter's Bar roundabout. The driver wasn't wearing a seatbelt and I didn't have to wear one in the rear of the cab - a strange legal exemption. Police, fire brigade and ambulance personnel don't have to wear them nor do delivery drivers. Riding on buses to and from the city centre you don't have to wear seatbelts - there aren't even any fitted. Cyclists and motorcyclists don't wear seatbelts. Car drivers are legally obliged to stop themselves from flying through windscreens like action heroes but it is okay for motorcyclists to head butt trees or slide on their leathers to untimely deaths at lamp-posts.
Here are some interesting facts. For every 100 million vehicle kilometres travelled in the UK there will be 121 deaths or serious injuries to motorcyclists compared with 2.6 deaths or serious injuries to car users. In 2004, 4008 motorcyclists died on roads in the USA. Such statistics suggest that motorcycles should simply be outlawed. Even though I struggled to become an instinctive seatbelt user, I know that wearing them makes complete sense. But if governments are going to use laws to protect us from ourselves then they should be more consistent - ban motorbikes, ban hang-gliding, ban cigarettes and ensure that seatbelts are fitted on all trains and buses. And that's just for starters.