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The Air Bag/Seat Belt Controversy: How the States Voted


  • Robert Kneuper

    (US Federal Trade Commission)

  • Bruce Yandle

    (Clemson University


In the late 1980s, a frustrated effort by federal regulators to require auto producers to mandate air-bag equipped cats, the Secretary of Transportation called on the states to settle the issue. The states were told to establish mandatory seat belt laws. If state voters failed to provide seat-belt protection for two-thirds of the nation's population, passive restraints (air bags) would be mandated. The resulting votes provide an opportunity to examine two Public Choice theories. Conventional theory claims that economic interests will prevail in determining outcomes. The newer theory of expressive voting claims that voters will support popular icons, like auto safety, instead of voting on narrow economic grounds. This article examines the votes and tests these two theories. The conventional interpretation is the most robust.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert Kneuper & Bruce Yandle, 1996. "The Air Bag/Seat Belt Controversy: How the States Voted," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 147-160, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:eej:eeconj:v:22:y:1996:i:2:p:147-160

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    Protection; Voter; Votes;

    JEL classification:

    • D18 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Protection
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior


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