Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

  “Seatbelts are part of the culture of death”

Milo was helping me this morning to replace my van’s brake pads when he happened to mention another one of the Bush administration’s outlandish appointments. I’m not one to gripe (that’s as good as my motto, in fact, as a blogger). But this particular appointment does seem just a tad over the top.

With little fanfare yesterday, Bush appointed Bobby Orr as the acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Transportation Safety. The administration describes her as “highly qualified” for the job. How qualified? In the past, Orr has made many controversial statements about passenger safety. In particular, she has campaigned for years against mandatory seat-belt laws, which she claims are “about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death”.

That just seems a bit extreme to me.

It hardly needs stressing that Orr will now be in charge of the agency that ensures that seat belts remain available to drivers, even while she strenuously opposes their very existence.

For years Orr has been working a variety of angles trying to undermine seat-belt laws. For example, in March 2001 at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference Orr urged President Bush to move quickly to decertify automobiles that come equipped with standard seat belts.. And the next month, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Orr cheered a proposal by Bush to eliminate a clause in federal employees’ insurance policies that required them to use safety belts while driving on work-related business. Said Orr, at that time the Director of the Family Research Council: “We're quite pleased because driving a car is not a disease. It's not a medical necessity that you have it.”

This is in fact, paradoxically, a cherished position of the “right to life” movement, one of whose most successful spin-offs is the “right to die in horrific circumstances, if God wills it” movement. Christian fundamentalist leaders, of which Orr is one, have argued again and again in recent years that seat belts are unknown in the Bible and therefore abominations against nature.

Many right-wing Christian groups have advocated successfully for state and federal “abstinence only” policies in regard to seat belts. The founding hero of their movement is University of Chicago guru Sam Peltzman, who argues that seat belts cause more damage than good by encouraging risky behavior.

Last year, Bush appointed a Peltzman accolyte, Jackie Keroack, to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Formerly the head of a Christian driving academy in Colorado Springs that also counseled against using seat belts, Keroack drew intense criticism from safety advocates. Ultimately, however, she was forced to resign her post in March because of allegations of fraud in her private practice.

Now it looks like we’re saddled with an equally intransigent seat-belt ideologue.

"We have another appointment that just truly politicizes traffic safety planning," said Mary Jane Gallagher, president of the National Family Motoring and Health Association. "The last time I looked, both Republicans and Democrats used seat belts in America."

Meanwhile, it looks like Orr is trying to duck questions about her hard-line stance, especially her inflammatory 2001 WaPo op-ed.

Reached by email, Orr referred questions to the Office of Public Affairs, which said she was simply supporting President Bush’s policy. “As she said then, the policy allows freedom of conscience and freedom of choice. Practically speaking, workers should be able to choose what kind of coverage matters to them.”

Unstated, but implicitly understood among fellow members of the seat-belt movement, is that once they have gutted the regulations mandating active-restraints, they plan to set their sights on passive-restraint systems. According to Milo, who has a second cousin in this movement, they’re already funding research to “prove” that air bags endanger eggs in a mother’s womb. After that, the target will be crumple zones and side reinforcement beams.

There appears to be no end in sight to this crusade.

crossposted from

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