Buckling down on those who won't buckle up.

One of the dumbest things one can do, I have discovered, is to trust a Massachusetts politician to keep their word.

When the Bay State raised its income tax from 5% to 5.85% in the 80’s in response to a fiscal crisis, it was promised as a temporary measure. Critics managed to get it back down to 5.3% a few years ago, over fierce opposition, but nearly 20 years later it’s still at that “temporary” level.

Likewise, the state’s laws regarding seat belts. Many people fought for years against a mandatory seat-belt law. They said (and I agree with them) that it’s a matter of personal choice and freedom, that people should be free to wear or not wear their seat belts. If you want to be an idiot, that’s your choice. The police have better things to do than to protect morons from their own bad decisions.

But that didn’t stop the Massachusetts legislature. They kept trying and trying to pass a seat belt law, insisting that the police needed yet another reason, on top of the 1,300 existing ones, to pull over a motorist. But they made a few concessions to the critics. They made sure that the violation wouldn’t be a surchargeable offense — it wouldn’t affect your insurance rates. And it wouldn’t be a primary offense, either — the police couldn’t pull you over for that, they could only cite you after you had been pulled over for another offense. With those restrictions in place, the measure passed.

The surcharge issue lasted a couple of years. But when seat belt militants saw that drivers’ compliance wasn’t high enough, they figured they’d hit them in the wallets to get them to do the smart thing.

But that didn’t work well enough to suit them, either. So the other promise they made is now on the table.

I find myself in the awkward position of agreeing with the ACLU. They oppose the new bill, citing a fear of potential police abuse of this new power, which could lead to racial profiling and other misconduct.

To me, it’s simple: the legislature assured critics that they would never seek to make the offense a primary one. I think they ought to keep their word — at least every now and then, just to keep things interesting.

And I still find it ironic that Massachusetts has a far lower seat-belt usage than we do in New Hampshire, which has no mandatory seat belt laws for anyone 18 or older.

Punishing the victims
Starting the new year off properly

23 Comments

  1. Zygote January 2, 2006
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