(commentary & news)
"Those who would sacrifice essential
freedom for a little temporary safety
deserve neither freedom nor safety," said
Benjamin Franklin. Yet around Western
New York, police are conducting seatbelt
roadblocks. It is part ofa nationwide program where some 7,000 police agencies
are receiving federal grants and pledging
zero tolerance for the non-essential freedom exercised by the seatbelt scofflaw.
Inmost states police are looking for
unbelted children; every state has a "primary enforcement" law for children, but
most states require another violation
before police have probable cause to
arrest and issue a summons for adult
seatbelt infractions. New York is one of
few that make seatbelt violations an
adult "primary enforcement" offense.
In Florida, an adult primary enforcement bill failed to pass after much
debate, despite DOT claims that seat-belt
use would rise by 15 percent and the fact
that National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration estimates that it would
save 158 lives and 4,109 injuries annually in Florida. Health care experts also
claimed that hospital care costs are 50
percent higher for unbelted motorists
forcing consumers to pay higher insurance premiums.
Nevertheless, Florida .lawmakers said
adults have the right to decide whether to
use seat belts.
The Orlando Sentinel disagreed. "Using that logic," they editorialized, "Drug use, too, is a matter of personal
preference. If people want to risk killing
themselves with drugs why not?"
That question is, if unwittingly, applicable to legal drugs: If all US motorists
wore seatbelts 9,500 lives could be saved
annually. Yet 450,000 Americans die of
tobacco use, and more than 125,000
from alcohol. If seatbelts and risky
drugs are analogous then banning alcohol and tobacco would be the higher priority.
Other safety concepts are also stirring
** Besides roadblocks, police deploy
roaming "Seatbelt" patrol cars, meaning
seatbelt laws may, in some instances, be
an excuse for racial profiling.
** California recently sought mandatory road tests for drivers over age seventy-five, since this segment of the population has higher .accident rates.
Although AARP lobbyists killed the bill,
claiming ageism, other states are planning similar legislation.
**The city of Brooklyn, Ohio, first to
pass a seatbelt law, (1966) became the
first to enact the "Mobile Telephone" law
banning phone use while driving (1999).
Several states are considering similar
**Several municipalities are considering mandating safety helmets for adult
Thus, applying the logic of seatbelt
laws — saving lives, reducing injuries,
and saving consumers' money— government may enact many new laws to protect its citizens.
Supporters of seatbelts laws, 'however,
may actually be eschewing logic in favor
of paternalistic and do-good emotionalism. The following list of hypothetical
laws may prove the point. Each is based
upon the same logic propounded by seatbelt enforcement advocates:
** Motorists could be required to wear
crash helmets; keep Stereos low (insuring
sirens and horns are heard) and, with a "two-hands on the wheel" law, driving
while eating abstain from.
** Motorcycles, probably more dangerous (per mile driven) than automobiles with or without a seatbelt, would be
** The World Health Organization
expects 44,000 people to be newly
infected with HIV in North America in
1999. The consequences of "unsafe" sex
suggest primary enforcement.
** People risk killing themselves with
unhealthy food; gluttony causes heart illness: Government may legislate "safe"
** George Orwell's "1984" government, using primary enforcement, mandated morning exercise. Consumers
were spared higher costs.
** Using the same ankle monitors,
currently tracking felons sentenced to
home arrest, government could identify
potential criminals by age, race, and gender, then require them to "buckleup'' with ankle monitors.
** In Chicago, they call warrant-less
police searches through minority neighborhoods "sweeps." A nationwide sweep
would reduce illegal possession of dangerous weapons and drugs.
** Georgia law requires drivers' fingerprints on licenses. Universal fingerprinting will allow government to review
employment applications, helping find
** On Grant Street, in Buffalo, NY,
police video cameras, installed on traffic
lights, monitor the street. Government
could similarly monitor all outdoor areas
- including your door step.
** A federal camera inside the home
will deter crime.
Of course, most seatbelt supporters
would balk at these absurd proposals.
Yet, the emotional outcry for seatbelt
enforcement, effectually: "Have you witnessed the mangled bodies of motorists
who didn't wear seatbelts?"is logically
Why should the seatbelt fanatic alone
decide safety-above- freedom issues?
The tobacco abolitionist might equally
ask: "Have you seen x-rays of the cancerous lungs of a long term tobacco
The argument then opposing seatbelt
coercion is not about the efficacy of seatbelts, but the role of government.
The next time you put on a seatbelt ask
yourself: Am I moving the hands that
buckle because it is prudent and voluntary, or am I being coerced as an automaton?
Should citizens be micro-managed for
their personal safety? Dowe need more
laws, or more brains?
See you at the next roadblock.