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The last great example from the greatest generation

Lead Summary
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

The 20-somethings that fought or supported our troops in World War II have been lauded as the greatest generation. In my case, these were my parents. In yours, it may be your grandparents, great-grandparents or in some cases, your great-great-grandparents.

The last en masse example of their actions goes unremembered today at a time when we need to remember what they did and how effective it was.

The time was the fall of 1973. At that point, the greatest generation was somewhere between 49 and 65 years old. As I said, they had been through a lot and well stood the test of time.

In the federal government area, regulation by unelected bureaucrats was still largely in its infancy. Federal safety regulations for automobiles were less than 10 years old and largely seen as a good thing. OSHA and the EPA had not reached their fifth anniversary yet and had not grown the teeth they have since then. The FDA was trusted to protect us from bad drugs and bad food; it had not yet been politicized. In general, unlike today, I think a vast majority of the citizens would have said the government’s intent was keeping our interests at heart. I know I would have said that in those days.

So, what happened in the fall of 1973? The 1974 automobiles were introduced. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had mandated an interlock system for front seat belts of all 1974 models. Simply put, if there was a driver or a driver and a passenger in the front seat of a 1974 automobile, this mandated interlock system required that these people put on their seat belts before the car would start.

It was a pretty clever system, given the state of computer chips in those days. You could not just buckle the seat belt behind you and get in and out as you pleased, starting the car as you had in the past. The sequence was that you had to get in the car, put on the seat belt and then start the car. All passengers in the front seat had to follow this exact procedure or the car would not start.

Seat belt usage at the time was very low. The oldest data I could find while researching this column was 1984, when seat belt usage was at 14% (it is over 90% now).

How did this happen if, starting in 1974, the interlock system existed? There was such a hue and cry (particularly from the greatest generation) that the U.S. Congress revoked the NHTSA’s 1974 seat belt mandate by October 1974. In fact, it was not only nullified, dealers were given the permission to deactivate the system on any cars, primarily 1974 models, that had the hated interlock system.

Up through the 1970s, many people believed they had a better chance of surviving a crash by not wearing seat belts. This had already been disproven by the evidence of a number of crashes where the automobile was only slightly damaged, but the occupants had been thrown through the windshield.

Well then, you may ask, how did we arrive at the situation now where there is over 90% seat belt usage? States passed laws requiring seat belt usage, but there was a movement that was more effective than this. Schools started teaching our children about seat belt usage, and they came home and pestered us until we started using them. I know, as a parent this happened to me in the 1980s.

This glimpse from the past so reminds me of what we are seeing with the COVID-19 “vaccine” today (I am fully “vaccinated” – three shots). Just perhaps, our reaction should be the same as that of the greatest generation when they faced government overreach.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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