Imagine a poor African country. Adults are unemployed and children are malnourished. Malaria and tuberculosis are major problems. River blindness afflicts young and old. Crime is everywhere. What do these people need? Ah yes, more helmet laws. Two physicians explain in today's Washington Post:
Now it's time to ignite action on another compelling global problem: deaths from injuries…
Few of the lessons we have learned in industrialized countries have been applied to other parts of the world: requiring cars to be built so that they protect the passenger in a crash; requiring and enforcing the use of seat belts and motorcycle helmets; controlling speeding; and vigorously pursuing drunk drivers.
Hey, here's a wacky idea: Before making blanket policy recommendations to poor countries, consider the fact that said countries are poor. What do people in the developing world drive when they can afford to drive? At least some of them drive our old cars, or some recombination of ancient car parts of dubious origin—cobbled together monstrosities of engines and metal that somehow manage to run. Where there are new cars, they're often built cheaply and by our standards shoddily. Requiring cars to be up to Western standards might mean safer cars. It might also mean no cars. But I guess that's a good thing, given all the manpower "requiring and enforcing the use of seat belts" is going to take in countries with no manpower to spare.
Brian Doherty slammed Mozambique's WHO-funded "buckle up" campaign back in 2002.