Innovators in the field of public health and safety often struggle to overcome stubbornness when they publish their findings. The Austrian surgeon who first discovered that unwashed surgeons were killing their patients with infection rather than healing them with their surgical skill was mostly ignored when he proposed hand-washing protocols for hospital staff. Likewise, the London researcher who discovered the connection between cholera outbreaks and sewage in the drinking water was also ignored at first.

Closer to home, Robert McNamara faced a mighty struggle in his attempt to improve automobile safety. McNamara was the Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and he was the architect of American policy during the Vietnam War. His career in the Cabinet of two Presidents tends to overshadow the success of his earlier career as the head of General Motors Corporation.

The automobile industry in the 1950’s faced a safety crisis. Drivers and passengers were dying on the highways at a much higher rate than we see today. Researchers at General Motors discovered in the 1950’s that seatbelts would be effective at saving lives, but it took decades before seatbelt use became common practice. At first the automobile industry opposed introduction of seatbelts because they feared that seatbelts would promote the belief among customers that vehicles were dangerous. McNamara argued that cars were indeed dangerous, but less so with the introduction of seatbelts. The second line of resistance to seatbelts came from consumers. Once seatbelts were installed as standard equipment in new vehicles, drivers and passengers were reluctant to use them.

It took years of persuasion and even legislation before a critical mass of drivers made seatbelt use the norm rather than the exception. Now we would consider it to be actionable neglect if a parent failed to secure his children before driving with them in the car.

Seatbelt discussions often include an anecdote about someone’s friend who was spared rather than harmed because he was not using a seatbelt, but such evidence is anecdotal rather than statistical. The research yields a clear conclusion: seatbelts save lives. If your seatbelts or warning systems are malfunctioning, be sure to get them checked for the sake of your family and your passengers.

At Cassels Garage in West Melbourne, we are ready to help keep your cars in good working condition. We are a family-owned shop well equipped to provide routine maintenance or do major repairs on your car. We have been serving Brevard County since 1966.