Hillary Clinton wants you to buckle up for safety — and she’s ready to crack her whip to make sure that you do. Along with co-sponsoring Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, Sen. Clinton is pushing strong-arm federal legislation, Senate Resolution 1993, that would all but require every state in the country to pass “primary enforcement” seat belt laws.
Primary enforcement means the police can screech out of alleyways, turn on their sirens and pull you over, hands on their guns, spotlight in your face — simply for failing to wear your seat belt. (Primary enforcement also gives police officers legal pretext to demand that you produce ID, answer questions — and enables them to give you and your vehicle a thorough “once over” — again, solely for failing to buckle up.)
Only a few states currently have such over-the-top Nanny State laws, but her bill would change all that by threatening to withhold desperately needed federal highway funds — a bully-stick of great heft that was used with spectacular success to keep the odious 55-mph “National Maximum Speed Limit” in force for more than 20 years. Expecting states to hold firm and risk losing the federal kickbacks they need to maintain existing roads and build new ones is about as realistic as expecting Oprah to stay away from carbs.
“It is time for a national seat belt law,” argues Judith Lee Stone of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “The states are just not moving fast enough to pass this lifesaving law.”
But seat belt laws are unique in one critical respect. Unlike such things as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, running a red light, reckless driving, even “speeding” — wearing or not wearing a seat belt has no negative effect on the safety and well-being of other drivers. It is akin to being overweight or smoking; clearly not good for you — but of no direct consequence to others. Certainly not a matter of public safety.
Moving violations — things for which the police can pull you over and issue a ticket — have until quite recently been based on the premise that whatever it is you’re doing could endanger the other drivers out there. Otherwise, it was hands-off.
It’s true that going unbuckled increases one’s personal risk — but if that’s to be the new standard, what about those who eat a steady diet of cheeseburgers and fries? We don’t issue people tickets (much less sic the cops) on sedentary people who choke themselves into an early grave with greasy fried food. It’s their life and therefore no one else’s business.
If we buy the idea that government should be using its power not merely to ensure that we do no harm to one another — but also that we do no harm to ourselves — we’ll have acquired a Super Mommy instead of a government. And there will be no end to its wet nurse interference in our lives — all of it “for our own good,” of course.
But most of us have our own parents already, thank you very much — and aren’t especially keen to put Hillary Clinton in that role. Whether it’s what we eat or the hobbies we pursue, the choice to accept a bit more risk in return for what we find enjoyable is no one’s business but our own.
Primary enforcement of seat belt laws — and seat belt laws themselves — are less about “safety” and all about controlling other people. There are plenty of people who think that riding motorcycles (no air bags, no seat belts, not much protection) is foolish or that scuba diving is nutty. But most of us are content to live and let live — perhaps shaking our heads a little at what we perceive to be the excess risk-taking or blindness to peril manifested by our neighbors. But what separated us from other peoples is that we left it at that and didn’t seek to get the police involved.