By Robert L. Sumwalt
I spend a fair amount of time on airline flights these days. I usually spend most of that time working and catching up on reading. Late last month, however, I did something I rarely do – I watched an inflight movie. The movie, 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind,” starred Russell Crowe as Dr. John Nash, widely regarded as one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th Century.
The movie depicted many of Nash’s struggles with mental illness and how he overcame those struggles to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994. The last scene showed Nash and his wife, Alicia, departing the ceremony with happy words scrolling across the screen: “John and Alicia Nash live in Princeton, New Jersey. John keeps regular office hours in the Mathematics Department. He still walks to campus every day.”
Despite the movie’s happy ending, the real-life story did not end so happily. On May 24, 2015, just a few days before I watched the movie, John and Alicia Nash were killed in an automobile crash. The NTSB is not involved with the investigation of this crash, but according to news reports, they were sitting in the back seat of a taxi when another car ran into their vehicle. Neither John nor Alicia were wearing a seat belt; tragically, they were ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. The taxi driver was treated for non-life threatening injuries.
The question that came to my mind was, “Why would someone so brilliant make such a devastating decision — not to wear a seatbelt?” Perhaps there’s a false sense of security when it comes to riding in the back seat, especially in taxis. CBS News recently featured a story, however, which should dispel any false beliefs about not needing to wear seat belts in the back seat.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) teamed with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to examine the characteristics of back seat safety. Among the report’s findings was that “the risk of serious injury was nearly 8 times higher among unrestrained rear-row occupants as compared with those using restraints.”
With numbers like that, each of us — mathematical genius and layperson alike – can understand why it is important to wear seat belts, even in the back seat. Make sure every occupant is buckled up when getting on the road.
Robert L. Sumwalt has been a Member of the NTSB since 2006. He is a frequent contributor to the blog.