The Washington Post

Don Draper should really wear a seat belt

Jon Hamm as Don Draper. Michael Yarish/AMC

Don, Don, Don. You smoke, you drink. You drink and drive. Could you at least wear your seat belt?

The Daily Beast is so concerned about the possibility that the "Mad Men" character is going to die soon that it posted this week on all the signs of his possible demise. Possible methods include an airplane crash or suicide. Even better was a 2012 Vulture effort that asked an actuary to forecast when the hard-living ad man would pass away, given his many vices (promiscuity, occasional visits to prostitutes, five drinks per day, two packs of cigarettes a day, phenobarbital use for anxiety), not to mention high blood pressure and only occasional exercise.

The answer: 1985, at the age of 59, according to actuary Jack Luff.

I'm going with a car crash, for a number of reasons. Don drives around in high-powered status symbols like Cadillacs and Buick Electras, and he's already driven into a ditch at least once. But mostly it's that he and everyone else in the show--including the children--don't wear seat belts.

"Mad Men" is famous for getting the details of its period right, so I won't quibble with its accuracy. I'm old enough to remember the days when all we had were lap belts, though I feel certain we used them, at least most of the time. The government says they're 16 percent less effective than the lap-shoulder versions that seem to be standard now, so I'm not saying Draper would get the full benefit of restraints.

But in case you've forgotten just how big a difference seat belts can make, here are a few important reminders:

• Even with all the car safety advances since Draper drunk-drove a Jaguar, seat belts are the "single most effective means of reducing the risk of death in a crash," according to the American Automobile Association. The devices have saved nearly 300,000 lives in the U.S. since 1975, according to estimates.

• Car accidents killed 21,667 people in 2012, down from more than 32,000 in 2003, and use of seat belts continues to climb, reaching 86 percent in 2012, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report in March. The percentage of people killed in accidents who weren't wearing seat belts remains more than half. It was 56 percent in 2003, and 52 percent in 2012, according to the NHTSA report.

• But among 16- to 44-year-olds,  (Don, are you paying attention?) more than 60 percent of those killed weren't wearing seat belts, the NHTSA data shows. The worst group was 21- to 24-year-olds: 63 percent weren't wearing belts when they died in car accidents. The low is for the 75-and-over group, only 26 percent of whom were "unrestrained" when killed.

Men are 10 percent less likely to wear seat belts than women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On the other hand, urban and suburban residents like Draper are more likely to use them than people who live in rural areas. And let's remember that survival isn't your only goal when it comes to car accidents. The CDC says 2.3 million people were treated in emergency rooms for car crash injuries in 2009.

Read more: Here's how NHTSA calculates the effectiveness of seat belts and estimates the number of lives saved.

Lenny Bernstein covers health and medicine. He started as an editor on the Post’s National Desk in 2000 and has worked in Metro and Sports.



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