Seat Belts, Airbags, and the Governor

It seems Chris Moltisante of The Sopranos prefigured another New Jersey accident by suffering multiple broken ribs and punctured lungs after not wearing his seat belt on one of the last TV shows of the series.”Typical injury from airbag” someone remarked. From the looks of Chris, blood pouring out of his mouth amid gasps for breath, he probably would have died anyway, but for the sake of the story, got a suffocation assist from Uncle Tony.

On April 12 this year New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine himself almost died of 11 broken ribs, and multiple other fractures when the SUV in which he was riding swerved to avoid another vehicle on the Garden State Parkway and crashed into a guardrail. His car, headed for a meeting with Don Imus and the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, was traveling at 91 mph, but none of the other four passengers, reportedly all wearing seat belts, suffered significant injury. Corzine was on a respirator and virtual life support for over a week, but miraculously survived. It should be noted that the Governor, in one story suggested he almost never used seat belts, even though failing to do so is against the law in most states, including New Jersey, which has one of the highest rates of seat belt use.

After his recovery, Mr. Corzine made a public apology along with a plea for the use of seat belts. “I’m New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and I should be dead….I have to live with my mistake. You don’t. Buckle up.”

Let me pose a question: if you could only have one or the other, would you go for the seat belt or the air bag? The answer is easy. Don’t depend on air bags. Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics, and Jack Porter, a professor at Wisconsin, wrote an article six years ago that compares the effectiveness of seat belts and air bags for adults. They found that “…wearing a seat belt reduced the chance of death by 60-70 percent across all crashes. We estimated that air bags reduce the death rate by 15 percent in frontal crashes, but did not help in partial frontal, side, or rear crashes. ” Previous research studies found benefits for adults even higher with seat belts, and lower than air bags! No one but a fool, who knows the data would prefer an airbag to a seat belt if it was an either/or choice. By their estimates to save a life with a seat belt costs $30,000; to save a life with an air bag costs $1.8 mm. See here.

Levitt suggested that one thing left out of the statistics is that airbags reduce the number of suicide attempts from running into trees and bridge abutments, “especially suicide attempts by people who want their deaths to appear to be accidents, for insurance purposes.”

3 Responses to “Seat Belts, Airbags, and the Governor”

  1. Joel M. Kauffman says:

    Did you know that the black gas-guzzler Gov. Corzine crashed in did not have its actual speed measured? Did you know that the EDR (black box) probably gave the supposed speed? And that the speed reading was not actual speed, but the highest reading in the previous 10-20 min? And that the speed was calculated from the transmission’s gear and the engine rpm? So any wheel slippage would have given a falsely high reading. This possible slippage could have occurred during the crash as one or more wheels left the groud.

    The National Motorists Association ( has been lobbying to get the EDR contents under the vehicle owner’s control. The information can now be used, out of context and incorrect though it may be, for warranty, insurance and traffic violation evidence.

  2. Henry Sturman says:

    You write:

    …but combined with seat belts [airbags] do not offer significantly more protection

    Well, it depends on how you define significant. According to this site:

    The supplemental fatality reduction by air bags for belted drivers in all crashes is estimated to be 9 percent (confidence bounds: 3 to 15 percent).

    I think a 9% reduction in fatalities, while not huge, is significant and more importantly the effectiveness of airbags can be expected to improve over time.

  3. Foqia says:

    Nice post. This post provided very useful and important information.

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