No football, killer seat belts
By W. Gardner Selby
Published on Friday, July 15th, 2011 at 10:00 a.m.
Hot to trot but locked down in our fact-checking duties, we took a PolitiFact tour of fellow state-level sites, on the lookout for invigorating fact-checks.
For instance, PolitiFact Georgia gauged a National Football League player’s claim that taking away professional football is likely to drive up crime. Ray Lewis, a 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, told ESPN that if the ongoing league lockout continues through this season, watch out. "Do this research," Lewis said. "If we don’t have a season, watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up if you take away our game."
Turns out there’s nothing substantive to back up the player’s claim. Rate it False.
Farther south, PolitiFact Florida caught U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio voicing concerns on CBS about letting the space shuttle program lapse. Rubio also made a point about costs the United States will incur while the program is dormant: "From now on, we are going to have to pay the Russians $50 million an astronaut to send Americans to the space station," Rubio said.
Unexplored: Will bags at least fly free?
NASA contracts with the Russian Federal Space Agency to send astronauts to the International Space Station. The latest per-astronaut round-trip fare shakes out to $63 million, though there are caveats worth weighing. First, NASA’s deal with the Russians has been in place more than a decade. Second, the part of NASA’s budget dedicated to overall space operations is dramatically declining. So while the per-astronaut cost looks outrageous, it's something of a bargain. His statement landed Mostly True.
Rhode Island’s legislature this year changed state law to require motorists to wear seat belts. This occurred despite House Minority Whip Joseph Trillo warning: "There are 30,000 people that have been killed with seat belts, where they've gotten into accidents, the cars were on fire, they've been knocked out, they haven't been able to get out of the vehicle. My point is, even if the majority of people are saved, why do we keep forcing people to do things that they feel it's their own individual right to make a decision?"
Trillo couldn’t come up with precisely how he reached his figure. Meanwhile, PolitiFact Rhode Island found there were 157 fire- or explosion-related fatalities in passenger vehicles in 2009 where the victims were using their seat belts. If you add people who died by immersion in water, the number jumps to 243. Even if seat belts trapped the occupants in every case, though, that would represent less than 1 percent of fatalities and it would take 123 years (at the 2009 rate) to match Trillo's 30,000 figure. Lap belts have only been mandatory in U.S. cars since the 1960s.
Granted, there must be at least a few in which victims might have survived had they not been wearing a seat belt. But a search of Google, a question to the 32,000 readers who get PolitiFact’s Twitter feed and queries to three federal agencies, two law enforcement agencies and others with an interest in tracking the dangers of seat belts generated no evidence that 30,000 people have died from wearing seat belts — ever. Pants on Fire!
A little surprisingly, we feel cooler now. You?
PolitiFact articles in Georgia, Florida and Rhode Island.
Researchers: W. Gardner Selby
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