Restrain the Nanny State

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

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Restrain the Nanny State

by Ari Armstrong, January 17, 2002

State Senator Ken Arnold (R-Westminster) wants to let police pull you over if they think you're not wearing your seatbelt. Apparently he forgot about the notion of Republicans advocating limited government.

We all know that wearing a seatbelt increases your safety in case of a wreck. But not everything that's a good idea should be enforced by people with guns. The purpose of government is to protect individuals from violence and fraud, not protect us from ourselves.

Do we want to live a free society of self-responsible individuals, or do we want to live in a Nanny State in which politicians and bureaucrats wipe our noses and make us wear a jacket when we go outside to play?

If we grant politicians should force us to drive with a seatbelt, what's to stop them from calling up the safety police for all manner of behaviors? If mandatory seatbelts are good, wouldn't mandatory helmets in cars be better? Should we also force people to stop smoking, drinking, eating fatty foods, skiing without a helmet, and driving for frivolous reasons?

The legislature recently passed a bill to cut down on racial profiling -- do we really want to give the police yet another pretext to pull people over? Let's not forget that the Supreme Court recently ruled the police can arrest you and drag you to jail even for petty offenses such as seatbelt violations.

Poor people tend to drive older cars, many of which have only lap belts. Newer cars, on the other hand, often have automatic shoulder belts but manual lap belts. It's safer to wear a lap belt only than to wear a shoulder belt without a lap belt. However, from outside the car, a police officer will be unable to tell whether a lap belt has been fastened. Because of this, the poor are more likely than the rich to be pulled over under the proposed law.

What about safety? Do mandatory, "primary offense" seatbelt laws make people safer? Probably not. If we force careless drivers to wear seatbelts, they are likely to compensate by otherwise driving more recklessly. In other words, the seatbelt law may actually increase the risk of driving for responsible drivers.

Dr. Mary Ruwart makes this point in a recent e-mail from the Advocates for Self-Government (Liberator Online, Vol. 7, No. 1):

Studies in both Britain and the U.S. repeatedly show that seat belt laws don't lower the traffic death toll. Drivers forced to buckle up are protected, but more passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists are killed. Evidently, drivers forced to wear a seat belt drive more aggressively. If no net lives are saved, the aggression of seat belt laws has only set the precedent for would-be dictators and slave holders.

For more on this idea, see http://www.i2i.org/Publications/IP/PersonalFreedom/RiskHomeostasis.htm.

Even the government's web page at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/airbags/buckleplan/ fails to argue that seatbelt laws save lives. Instead, the page argues that laws increase seat-belt usage, but this doesn't translate into greater safety if those people are otherwise driving more recklessly. The proper and effective way to increase responsible seatbelt use is to educate drivers that buckling up is in their own interests.

We don't need a new law that treats us all like children. Instead, we need to restrain busy-body politicians who have nothing better to do with their time than try to force people to change their personal decisions.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com