January 25, 2006

Losing Freedom One Step At A Time

Firstly--in the interest of honesty, El Presidente wears a seatbelt over 90% of the time he drives, especially when on the highways, or making long cross-town jaunts; in the summer and winter, day and night. But this just takes the cake (or your freedom):
DENVER - A group pushing for a tougher seat belt laws will stage a dramatic display at the Colorado State Capitol Tuesday morning.

Two hundred and eighty two empty pairs of shoes will line the west steps. The shoes represent people who died in car accidents in 2004 and were not wearing seat belts.

"We can show that you more than double the chances of surviving a serious injury crash, if you simply wear a seat belt," said Colorado State Patrol Major Jim Wolfinbarger.

The Colorado Seat Belt Coalition organized the demonstration. The group is made up of law enforcement agencies, automobile and insurance businesses.

Right now in Colorado, not wearing a seat belt is a secondary offense. That means law enforcement officers can't ticket you for not wearing a seat belt, unless you get pulled over for breaking another law. The Colorado Seat Belt Coalition wants to toughen the law, so people can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt alone.
So bikers have the freedom--to be fearless or stupid or both--and not wear helmets, but the silent majority of Coloradans must now buckle up or face fines and points as a result of a primary offense?

Bikers are organized as a political entity, a minority if you will, and demonstrate on their own behalf to have noisome (in their opinion) Nanny-state restrictions lifted. Drivers do not generally organize around such ideas. They simply get in their cars and drive.

"If it could save one life. . ."

The Colorado Seat Belt Coalition (they actually have a coalition?!?!) argues that 282 of 502 traffic deaths in 2004 were from people that did not wear seat belts, which presumably exacerbated the accident in question through ejections from the vehicle. That is a good argument, but does not tell the whole story.

230 deaths in Colorado in 2004 occurred while wearing seatbelts. So 46% of those who died were in fact buckled up. Presumably, a great majority of the remaining 54% of drivers who died while not buckled up would have survived had they taken the 2 seconds to protect themselves with a seatbelt.

So what? No one argues that Americans stop driving in order to reduce the number of traffic related deaths (though they use this argument to call for bans on handguns). No driving would mean no deaths as a result of private use of vehicles. There might still be accidents on public transportation, but that's another story for another day.

So the solution is to mandate, by governmental regulations, that every citizen buckle up or face the scrutiny of law enforcement who would ostensibly divert their attention from more important factors that result in accidents likely to cause death: drunk driving, reckless driving (road rage), speeding, driving while tired, and distracted drivers. These are followed by those drivers who fail to signal, run red lights, change lanes erratically, U-turn anywhere, etc. This fundamentally, in addition to taking more freedom, misses the root cause of accidents.

Wearing a seatbelt does not predispose you to be less accident prone, or non-seatbelt wearers more so. Bad drivers and bad driving habits make every driver susceptible to accidents, some of which may result in death. As mentioned before, of the 502 deaths in Colorado, 230 occurred while the victim was wearing a seatbelt, or 46%. That is nearly a 50-50 chance of death in those cases. How many lives were saved? Many, many more. That is why El Presidente chooses to take the time to buckle up. It is a wise and rather inconvenient precaution.

But should the state force otherwise law-abiding citizens comply? Not if you value freedom. This is not dissimilar to the arguments laid out for gun control initiatives, or even the case reported in the English media on samurai swords, that one saved life makes the Nanny-state all-important and correct. In other words, protecting us from ourselves. This could be accomplished far easier by simply enforcing the laws against bad drivers and bad driving, upholding fines and other penalties, and actually requiring the citizens to know what the heck they are doing when they get behind the wheel. Driving is a right, not a privilege, but with rights come responsibilities. Reducing the overall accident rate would reduce the number of potentially fatal accidents and therefore, less people would die on the streets. But making police, who would be the primary intermediaries dispensing this new "corrective" legislation peer into every car simply to check if a person is wearing a restraint smacks of overbearing bureaucratic liberalism and Nanny-statism, and should be opposed on principle. Let the people decide whether or not they would chance their lives by avoiding seatbelts. That is the essence of freedom of choice.

Stop The ACLU Open Post


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