John Dunham States

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 15 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3155
  1. Gavin Yamey, San Francisco
  1. gavin.yamey{at}

Orthopaedic surgeon and motorsport physician who successfully pushed for seat belt laws in the US

As a young orthopaedic surgeon and race track physician at the Watkins Glen International automobile track in upstate New York, John States made an observation that was to revolutionise injury prevention.

States saw race car drivers walking away from horrific, high speed crashes relatively unscathed. Meanwhile, ordinary motorists brought to the emergency room after less serious crashes would have terrible injuries. A key explanation for this stark contrast was that race car drivers were wearing seat belts.

So began States’s extraordinary life of injury research and advocacy, which ultimately led to the 1984 passage of a law requiring drivers and front seat passengers in New York State to wear seatbelts—the first law of its kind in the nation. Since then, 48 other states have passed seat belt laws. New Hampshire—fiercely libertarian—is the last remaining state in the country without such a law, as befits its motto, “Live Free or Die.” The US Department of Transportation estimates that seat belts have saved over a quarter of a million lives nationwide.

States was an introverted child who loved to build things. He built toy cars when he was six and …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription