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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.

Comments (23)

I'm in favor of a seat belt... (Below threshold)

I'm in favor of a seat belt law.


Because your right to act like an idiot ends when other people have to foot the bill. I've covered more auto accidents with uninsured morons who were flung from their cars and had to be airlifted to a hospital 40 miles away.

Seeing as they don't have any insurance, and likely don't have the money to pay for the flight or the medical care -- who do you think picks up the tab? The tooth fairy?

It gets passed along to the rest of us. Even if you have insurance, a healthy number of morons will drive the cost of that up for the rest of us as well.

And God forbid, if you are a parent, riding along in your car without a seat belt you should be taken out of you vehicle and given a swift kick in the ass. I've seen accident scenes where a kid car seated in was hurt badly because their idiot parent went ping-ponging around their SUV like a damned bullet because they weren't wearing a seat belt.

The right to be an idiot and not wear a safety device that protects your life, the lives of other people in your car and my income from having to pay for your sorry ass isn't in the Constitution.

I have no problem with adul... (Below threshold)

I have no problem with adults choosing to flirt with suicide by not wearing seatbelts.

I want the idiots who won't strap their kids in not just ticketed, but hauled to jail.

PLEASE I'm SO tired of processing fatal accident reports on CHILDREN.

Because your right to ac... (Below threshold)

Because your right to act like an idiot ends when other people have to foot the bill.

Sounds to me like your objection ought to be directed against the "footing the bill" part, rather than in favor of yet another law enacted to save people from their own stupidity.

Zygote: "I'm in favor of a ... (Below threshold)

Zygote: "I'm in favor of a seat belt law. Because your right to act like an idiot ends when other people have to foot the bill."

And in mass, that is the case. Thats one reason why socialized anything infringes onpersonal freedom. The state is forever taking away presonal responsibility to contain costs.

NH is not a no fault state. If you get in an accident and its your fault, you or your carrier pays.

An insidious problem with the socialist model is that people get no practice bearing personal responsibility. Mass is a state of teenager drivers.

Because your right... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Because your right to act like an idiot ends when other people have to foot the bill.

The problem I have with that argument is that it can be used to justify almost anything. For example, what about using technology to monitor your driving speed, turning, acceleration, breaking, following distance; in fact all your driving habits? It can easily be done and the state could just disable your vehicle when you racked up enough points against you. Just think of the money and lives that would be saved. Everyone in favor of vending machine justice please raise your hands.

If a foreign power tried to impose such conditions we would send thousands of teenage boys (and maybe girls) into combat to defend our freedom, yet we seem willing to give up domestic freedoms if they cost us a few bucks. It's often said the price of freedom is blood, but it's also bucks. A free society has to be willing to let idiots pay the price in blood while paying the bucks to mitigate the damage. If that's not the case, then I have a long list of recreational activities that should be banned--anything that involves water, wilderness, height or speed to start with.

Yeh, they said that too, in... (Below threshold)

Yeh, they said that too, in Michigan: "No Primary Violation". Now it is, go figure.

Fees, points and sanctions have been sharply increased too, and now enforced with glee.

So, you get a hat trick and get 10mph speeding, and seat belt and oh maybe a failure to renew tabs. This goes for about $ 1,000.00 now and as a bonus, on your next birthday you get added fine of $ 200.00 for being over 2 points.

Failure to renew tabs or license is "taken seriously" now so they will likely impound your car, search it, then get you for big bucks for towing and storage.

So, we now have the crackdown on drivers, the drug war, a jihad on smokers and more coming. It will start slow - like seat belts - with a fine for diabetics eating sugar, patients not taking meds, or heart patients ordering that prime rib.

I live in MA... and the sea... (Below threshold)

I live in MA... and the seat belt law isn't on anyone's good list. It's always fun to ACTUALLY put it on when you see a cop nearby. And then in this state, auto insurance isn't just an option - its mandatory. I don't know if it's like that in other states, but here you can't buy a car without insurance on it. The laws here are rather... annoying.

I'm pro choice on this one.

In Connecticut the state po... (Below threshold)

In Connecticut the state police are prone to setting up seat belt checks on highway on-ramps. Probably when their ticket revenues are behind budget.

If you're curious its a $70 Ticket.

The problem I have with ... (Below threshold)

The problem I have with that argument is that it can be used to justify almost anything.

Yes, certainly. That's why the principle must be tempered by the democratic process. And since we can't eliminate all societal costs to individual stupidity, I don't think you can justifiably eliminate all societal regulations against same, either. I agree that it could be carried too far, but I don't think a seat-belt law does that.

then in this state, auto... (Below threshold)

then in this state, auto insurance isn't just an option - its mandatory.

Also in California

But you want to know how many times I've been hit by an uninsured motorist? Usually the same one without a driver's license driving a $500 car with forged registration and tags.

and sometimes, forged papers of citizenship.

mcgI don't disagre... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


I don't disagree with your statement as moderation is far more often the solution rather than an extreme is. However, the "democratic process" tends to move toward increasing restrictions on personal behavior.

Technology is now at a point where all our driving habits can be monitored remotely and our vehicle disabled at the command of a central justice vending machine. Someone will make the argument that "if it saves just one child" it's worth giving up all freedom of the road. After all, if you are not doing anything wrong, why would you care if you were monitored by the state? Same is true in the bedroom and boardroom, right?

We already see that many new vehicles contain a "black box" that saves data for the last few seconds. That could easily be expanded to hours of data that would be automatically downloaded by a wireless network as you drive. When the central justice vending machine determines you have enough demerits, it uploads a command to your vehicle that won't allow it to start again, or won't allow it to go over 20 MPH, or something like that. Heck, it could even deduct the fine from your credit card. You could always go to court after the fact to overturn the fine, but that's seldom economically viable.

Just because we can do such things doesn't mean we should. In the "democratic process" those who want to preserve some sort of freedom have to find successful counters to the argument of "if it saves just one child..." used by those who would effectively put all of us under electronic surveillance.

Well, here in Washington st... (Below threshold)

Well, here in Washington state insurance is mandatory and if you are injured in a car accident not wearing your seat-belt besides being ticketed your insurance company can deny your injury claims.

Originally seat-belt enforcement was to be a secondary offense, meaning the police couldn't pull you over for just that. Of course after a few years the promise was broken and now you can be cited for not buckling up.

This summer our state police (Washington State Patrol) started having an officer dressed as a panhandler on freeway off-ramps. If you didn't have your seat-belt hooked when he was panhandling you were pulled over and cited for failure to wear a seat-belt by one of 3 cars just around the corner. Of course the State Patrol spokesman claimed they were just enforcing the law. Oh, our ticket here is $105 for just the seat-belt offense.

IF this were just a safety issue that would be one thing. But, it isn't, it is a revenue enhancement program for the state. Under the guise of safety the argument was by making it a primary offense that compliance would be higher.

Mac, I would agree in gener... (Below threshold)

Mac, I would agree in general that the democratic process doesn't always give us optimal results. But what alternative do you propose? Seat belt laws aren't unconstitutional.

Your right to extend your f... (Below threshold)

Your right to extend your fist ends at my face. If we agree that this is true, then it follows that your right not to wear a seat belt ends at the point you are no longer able to control your car and therefore you do damage to others.

Security and (Civil) Liberty are opposite ends of the same scale. The more Liberty, the less Security. Therefore, some loss of civil liberty is necessary to gain security. Liberty is not possible without Security as is the reverse also true.

DUI/DWI Laws are in the same category too. Get as drunk as you wish. Just don't get behind the wheel.

mcg,I agree that "... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


I agree that "Seat belt laws aren't unconstitutional." Then again neither would be a law requiring electronic surveillance of all your driving habits (not where you went, but how well you drove getting there). Don't quite come to a complete stop at a stop sign and you get a demerit. Don't stop in the correct spot at a stop sign and you get a demerit. Not signaling soon enough or getting into the proper lane or not squaring off left turns all get more demerits. Speeding, and rapid acceleration all get demerits. By the time you drive to the shopping mall your demerit count would cause the central justice vending machine to issue your car a command to not start again once you were parked. By the way, wearing a safety helmet inside the vehicle also saves lives as evidenced by all forms of professional racing.

A fair democratic process produces the results voters are willing to fight for. It all comes down to how much we value our freedom and how much we are willing to pay to keep it. In the case of traffic management, it's the freedom to be human and make some non-perfect driving maneuvers, which occasionally result in accidents, but that's the price of freedom. Those who would take our freedom do so slowly, a little bit at a time. They know that once a small restriction is in place the next step won't seem so bad. This is evident by how the seatbelt laws were first enacted and then added to bit by bit.

I don't have a good answer as to how to prevent the erosion of our freedom to be human, as all the money and passion seem to be on the other side. Politicians like the money fines raise. Insurance companies like lower claims at the same time they raise premiums. Safety experts have a professional interest in "safety" and care nothing about freedom. Families of those injured or killed in traffic accidents bring an unmatched passion and sympathy to the debate. The way things are going we'll all be wearing electronic ankle bracelets in 20 years, even if you jsut want to walk in public.

Seat belt laws are only con... (Below threshold)

Seat belt laws are only constitutional in the context of the overextension of the "general welfare" clause. Otherwise, they can only be seen as an infringement into an area of personal freedom, and therefore unconstitutional.

"Public safety" in matters such as construction codes for public buildings, bridges, and the like, is quite a different issue than laws passed to insure "individual safety." As long as people think that others are incapable of protecting themselves, and therefore in need of laws to make safety measures mandatory, it's a slippery slope down which we're doomed to slide.

Again, the epitome of this type of thinking is found in motorcycle helmet laws. There's simply no way that I'm endangering anyone else by not wearing a helmet. There's a significant chance that I am endangering myself, however, but nobody seems to care about that--they've done their duty to "protect" me by making me wear the neck-breaker.

Richard: Surely you're not attempting to draw a parallel between seat belt laws and DUI/DWI laws. If so, how exactly is an unbelted driver impaired? How are they creating a greater risk to others?

I had always been told that... (Below threshold)

I had always been told that driving was a priveledge not a right. Personally I agree with the seatbelt laws. I work in a hospital and it is sad how many times we work our ass off in the E.R. to save someone who just couldn't put that belt on. I understand it is very difficult and so restrictive to have that little belt,but it sure beats all the possible pain and suffering not having them.

Connecticut had it worse on... (Below threshold)

Connecticut had it worse on Income Tax! We had no income tax at all until a certain politician ran on the position of stopping the income tax and then once elected, immediately implemented the income tax! We too were promised it would be repealed but nope, just too darn much money to be made. Top that off with all the slot machine profits from the two Indian Casinos.

Seat belt laws are only ... (Below threshold)

Seat belt laws are only constitutional in the context of the overextension of the "general welfare" clause. Otherwise, they can only be seen as an infringement into an area of personal freedom, and therefore unconstitutional.

I'm sorry, I just don't see "Congress shall pass no law infringing on personal freedom" in the Constitution. It's just not there. A case could be made that a federal seat belt law might infringe upon state's rights, but seat belt laws are well within the prerogative of states to regulate.

It might be a different matter if you were required to wear a seat belt sitting in your Barcalounger at home or something. But on the road? Unless you're a Souter-like Supreme Court Justice, you're not going to find a Constitutional prohibition here.

Rich, following your hospit... (Below threshold)

Rich, following your hospital experience, alcohol, tobacco, fatty foods, sweets, and virtually every mode of transportation faster than walking should be banned. If you don't want to help injured people, even those injured through their own lack of wisdom, get out of healthcare. I'm a Paramedic. I know what cars can do, and I know how much better a person's chances are with a seatbelt first-hand, as well. It's still none of the government's business.

mcg: since you brought up the "Barcalounger" point, how is it different? Courts have essentially upheld the interior of a motor vehicle as an extension of one's domicile as it pertains to firearms, so what is the difference? Insomuch as the Constitution serves to limit the government, not enumerate personal freedoms, there is no need for such a clause, but rather the lack of any clause that would allow the government this extent of control is sufficient grounds to declare the act unconstitutional. By arguing that such laws are justified in the name of the almighty "common good" you are paving the way for a more rapid downhill run into socialism.

As to low seat belt usage, ... (Below threshold)

As to low seat belt usage, perhaps the good citizens of Mass. know from famous precedent the importance of being able to exit a vehicle quickly when it plops into the drink. A fastened seat belt would only be an impediment to an expeditious escape.

mcg ... I agree that it ... (Below threshold)

mcg ... I agree that it could be carried too far, but I don't think a seat-belt law does that.

Hey! this slope isn't slippery at all!

People who refuse to wear s... (Below threshold)
Dan S:

People who refuse to wear seat belt have a death wish, as do those who drink and drive. Let the state simply grant them their wish and the problem will rapidly cease to exist :P

One way or the other.






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