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Seat Belt Law – A Matter of No Choice?

By Darryl McPherson

New Hampshire is the only state in the USA that doesn’t treat its citizens like they were morons incapable of deciding for themselves whether they want to use a seatbelt. Maybe their motto says it all.

The federal government first became interested in 1968 when they enacted seat belt regulations nationally. Seat belt usage was not a requirement, but was strongly recommended to promote driver and passenger safety. Manufacturers were then required to install seat belts into passenger vehicles.

It was December 1984, when New York, the grandmother of all nanny states, passed the nation’s first mandatory seat belt use law. Practically all other states followed suit, leaving New Hampshire as the only state today that does not require adults to use a seat belt.

Intellectually, we understand and appreciate the point of seat belts. Their use saves lives, and that is a good thing. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belt use in 2012 reached 86% nationally.

The choice to wear a seat belt may be wise and healthy, but should the government compel you to do so? If there was ever an example of a controlling hand of government intruding upon your person, this has to be one of them.

In New York, drivers and front seat passengers aged 16 years and older may be fined up to $50 for not wearing their seatbelts.

Children under the age of 8 must be in an approved child safety seat (use of the seat belt alone is not sufficient). The driver must make sure that each passenger under age 16 obeys the law. The driver can be fined $25 to $100 and receive three driver license penalty points for each violation. Curiously, seat belt use is not required in taxis (although if you’ve ever been to NYC you’d be crazy not to buckle up).

It’s hard to argue against taking measures to protect the children, given that they are not fully capable or wise enough to make proper, mature judgments. But again, once it comes to an adult, isn’t it dangerous to allow the State to determine how to sit in a car?

The danger to freedom and personal liberty is in the enforcement of the law. New York is a “primary enforcement” state, which means that a police officer can pull you over and issue a ticket merely by observing that you are not wearing the seat belt. Once you have been stopped, that gives the police probable cause to seek out any number of violations. Secondary enforcement states require another violation to occur before a ticket can be issued for lack of a seat belt.

No one is advocating illegality, but one of our country’s founding principles is the idea against self-incrimination. If we become shrouded with laws that can turn simply travelling down the street into a criminal offence, then our freedom is at risk.

Criminality, should not, and cannot, be found within the eye of the beholder.

Everyone wants to be safe, but at what price?



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Feb 26 , 2013