Belted up in a legal stranglehold

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The Independent Online
RESENTMENT against the enforced use of safety helmets is not uncommon, but it is much rarer against obligatory seat-belt use. What must be almost unique is the court case being heard, in which Godfrey Plaque is suing the Government for perpetual damage received by him through the compulsory use of seat belts. Here is an extract from the trial when, last Friday, Mr Plaque himself took the stand.

Counsel: Now, Mr Plaque, you own a car, I believe?

Plaque: Yes.

Counsel: Does it have a single seat belt fitted in it?

Plaque: No.

Counsel: Not one single one?

Plaque: Not a single one, no. It has about four or five fitted.

Counsel: You do not know the exact number?

Plaque: One never does in a car. There are always two in front and three or more in the back, and one or two hanging down from the ceiling, and some of them fit into the sockets and some don't.

Counsel: But you use one when you drive?

Plaque: Oh, yes. It is the law. A very bad law, but the law, and I do not like to break the law.

Counsel: But the use of seat belts is to prevent accidents.

Plaque: That may be. It also causes many accidents.

Counsel: Could you describe these accidents that you maintain are caused by seat belts?

Plaque: Certainly. When getting into my car, I have several times cricked my neck or pulled a muscle by reaching round behind my head to grasp the belt.

Judge: Yes, I've done that.

Plaque: When pushing the free end of the belt into the socket, I have sometimes mistakenly pushed other things in as well - parts of my trousers, for instance. Sometimes more painful things, such as bits of my leg.

Judge: Me, too]

Plaque: Occasionally, thanks to my seat belt, I have nearly strangled myself while trying to take money out of my pocket to pay at a toll bridge, or just trying to get a paper tissue out.

Judge: I know the feeling.

Plaque: Once or twice I have nearly lost consciousness by trying to get out of the car after a long journey . . .

A pause.

Counsel: Has your Honour also undergone this particular seat- belt experience?

Judge: I don't know. I want to hear what happened next.

Plaque: . . . and not remembering that I still had the seat belt on, I have collided with this immovable object across my chest and nearly passed out with the pressure and effort of trying to fight it before realising it was my seat belt.

Judge: Yes] Done that.

Plaque: Sometimes I like to listen to music while driving. My car radio-cassette player is a little defective, so I have to use a personal stereo. Well, when you put on a personal stereo, the wires from your ears to the little tape machine on the driving seat tend to get tightly enmeshed with the belt around you, and you find one arm or the other tied to your side. This has the unfortunate effect of pulling down the steering wheel on one side, which in turn has the effect of making you drive off the motorway at 70mph.

Judge: As a matter of interest, do you have head rests fitted in your car?

Plaque: No, your Honour.

Judge: Then you have not had that ghastly experience with a seat belt when you get it wrapped round the head rest as you attach it, but only become aware of what you have done when you find you are trussed to the back of the seat like Joan of Arc about to be burnt at the stake?

Plaque: No.

Judge: Lucky man.

Plaque: On the other hand, have you ever had a seat belt become entangled in part of your clothing - a button, perhaps, or a buttonhole, or even a tiepin - so that when you turned yourself, your clothes stayed where they were? It is very alarming.

Judge: I can believe that. Though not as alarming as . . . (His phone rings) Excuse me. Hello? Yes, speaking. Yes, at the seat belt trial . . . I see. Yes, I understand. Right, leave it to me. (Rings off) That was the Government. They have pointed out that if I find in favour of Mr Plaque here, the floodgates will be open to more seat-belt claims for damages than the Government can possibly bear.

Plaque: So I will lose my case?

Judge: I'm afraid so. If it's any comfort, I think you're absolutely in the right. But that's no longer the point, unfortunately. Now, where were we?

The case continues.