In 1896, an Italian economist developed the Pareto Principle. This states that 80 per cent of the consequences come from 20 per cent of the causes. Over the years this has evolved to the 80/20 rule, or the Law of the Vital Few.
So, 80 per cent of the crime comes from 20 per cent of the criminals, 80 per cent of the accidents come from 20 per cent of the hazards, 80 per cent of your revenue comes from 20 per cent of your customers and so on. But in road safety, the ratio is much sharper.
Ninety seven per cent of New Zealand drivers wear seatbelts but nationally 30 per cent of all vehicle occupant deaths have been people who were not buckled up. So, the 3 per cent of drivers who were not buckled in caused 30 per cent of our national road toll. In Northland last year, it was much worse than that.
Our road toll last year was 27 people and of these, 10 were not restrained by a seat belt or child restraint. That's 40 per cent. It is tragically simplistic to reduce the pain of those fatalities to a statistic. But when we consider that the 3 per cent of drivers not wearing seatbelts cause 40 per cent of our road fatalities, its starkness starts to hit home.
You can imagine the frustration of one Northland cop who ticketed a mid 50s man for sitting on his seatbelt, ostensibly to stop the noise. Two weeks later he became a fatal statistic after a repeat performance.
It really makes you wonder about the death wish of some people. In many of our seatbelt fatalities, alcohol and speed were involved. They may well have caused the crash, but lack of a seatbelt created the fatality.
The seatbelt is our oldest vehicle safety device. Developed by Volvo in 1959, the three-point belt's basic design across the hips and chest has not changed since Nils Bohlin created it.
The initial belt has gained inertia reels, pre-tensioners, load limiters and even built in air bags, but the basic design has remained the same. Today, they are required equipment and mandated wearing for every new car, truck and SUV.
Seatbelt-required availability has now been extended to farm vehicles, most particularly the popular side by side, and the problem of non-use extends here as well. Recent data analysis by Worksafe found not wearing seatbelts on the job was relevant in 40 per cent of vehicle-related fatalities on farms.
Quads and side-by-side vehicles are essential equipment on most farms. Quads are where the rider straddles the vehicle and the rider needs mobility to ride it. Seatbelts are seen as a hindrance to overall safety on a quad.
Side by sides, on the other hand, drive more like a car with the occupants inside a roll cage and seatbelts are required. If a side by side rolls, the safest place is to be restrained inside the cage.
The question that arises - is it just bravado or ignorance causing drivers to choose not to be restrained?
The AA Research Foundation in 2017 analysed the factors involved in 200 non-seatbelt wearing fatalities. Researchers found those most at risk were working in the primary industry or a trade, drove a van or a truck, and in rural areas; were male and had previous traffic convictions.
It's a common excuse that if you are frequently hopping in and out of a vehicle over a short distance, whether opening farm gates or making a delivery, it's a nuisance to be continually buckling and releasing a seatbelt.
That thinking just means that you have a potentially shorter lifespan behind the wheel.
Right now it is not compulsory to wear the seatbelt provided on side-by-side vehicles, as most are ridden on private property. Country people die on country roads and they die on farms as well.
The seatbelt is there to hold you securely when the vehicle is out of control. Buckle up and make it click is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.
• John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and former Whangārei District Council member.