The death of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, who was killed when the taxi in which he was riding crashed in New Jersey, has renewed awareness about the need for people to buckle up when they’re riding in taxis or similar car services.
Nash, 86, and his 82-year-old wife, Alicia, were not believed to have been wearing their seat belts when they were ejected from the vehicle when the driver lost control Saturday on the New Jersey Turnpike, police said.
Accidents involving people riding in the back of taxis or other car services have been caught on camera. Many passengers choose not to wear their seat belts.
“People have mindset that when they get into back of cab, somehow safer and that's absolutely not true, you're just as vulnerable,” said Kara Macek, communications director for The Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit which represents state and highway safety offices that address highway safety issues. “An object is going to remain in motion until something stops that object and so the person in the front seat of the car or the person in the back seat of the car, no matter where you are in a vehicle, when that vehicle stops suddenly you become a projectile. And so you want to be protected no matter where you are in that vehicle.”
According to the GHSA, 22 states don’t require that adult passengers wear a seat belt if they are in the back seat of a vehicle. A 2014 survey found that, in New York City, 62 percent of taxi passengers don’t wear seat belts, according to the 2014 Taxicab Factbook of the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission.
Nash, whose life was depicted in the film “A Beautiful Mind,” isn’t the only prominent death in taxi cabs. CBS correspondent Bob Simon died in February after the town car in which in he was traveling hit another car. The longtime “60 Minutes” correspondent was not wearing his seat belt at the time of the crash.
Perhaps the most famous such case was that of Britain’s Princess Diana. Neither she nor her boyfriend Dodi Fayed were wearing their seat belts when their chauffeured car crashed during a high-speed paparazzi chase in 1997. They were both killed.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about half of all traffic deaths involve people who are not wearing seat belts.
Video of crashes seem to make a strong case for seatbelts. In one crash, an unbuckled female passenger is tossed, and slams her head hard. In another crash caught on video, a buckled woman is clearly in pain but her seat belt prevents more serious injury.
In taxis with partitions, facial injuries to unbuckled passengers are so common that emergency room doctors have a name for them: partition face.
Car service industry experts say passengers must do their part.
"It's the transportation service's responsibility to have a properly inspected vehicle with working seatbelts, but it is ultimately the passenger's responsibility to wear the seat belt,” Mike Fogarty, president of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, said in a statement.