Who really calls the shots in our American system of government? The voters who elect powerful politicians like President Barack Obama and small fry like Mayor Paul Dyster, or special interests with millions of dollars at their disposal to grease the wheels to slide in their direction?
The mandatory seat belt laws passed by 49 of 50 states are instructive.
While polls showed that between 75 and 80 percent of Americans opposed seat belt laws prior to the mid-1980s, state legislatures all over the country began passing the laws intruding upon motorists.
In 1985, the U.S. Department of Transportation ruled that air bags or other “passive” restraints must be installed in all new cars unless states representing two-thirds of the nation's population passed seat belt laws by 1989.
American automakers panicked, believing that air bag installation would be so expensive that average car buyers would be unable to afford their products. Armed with a $100 million war chest, lobbyists representing General Motors, Ford and American Motors fanned out to state capitols from Albany to Sacramento.
Politicians whose campaign war chests were suddenly full said they just wanted to encourage people to wear seat belts, and weren't interested in imposing harsh penalties or having people stopped and ticketed simply for refusing to wear seat belts.
They promised voters that only bad drivers stopped for other traffic violations would get seat belt tickets. They promised that fines will be low, and there would be no points or insurance surcharges for non-compliance.
And besides the millions of dollars spent by the industry, the federal government added millions more, giving grants to states for achieving a certain percentage of seat-belt use, and to pay the police to enforce the seat-belt law.
Once the initial laws had been passed, insurance company lobbyists took over, and seat belt violations began carrying stiffer fines. And forgetting or refusing to buckle up went from being a “secondary” offense, meaning that a driver had to be stopped for something else first, to a “primary” offense, where a driver could be pulled over for no reason other than not wearing a seat belt.
Most states that originally passed laws mandating seat belt use for drivers and front seat passengers, upgraded the statutes to include back seat riders as well.
Today, in the state of California, cops stopping automobiles carrying four people who aren’t wearing seat belts can result in fines and costs totaling $648. New York laws are more lenient, with drivers and front seat riders facing fines of $50 for not wearing seat belts, and rear seat passengers under the age of 16 liable for the same penalty.
And with intensified seat-belt law enforcement, ticket income increased, generating another source of easy revenue for the cities and states. In Niagara Falls, overzealous traffic cops have traditionally raked in the big bucks with mass seat belt checkpoints set up in front of the Factory Outlet Mall and other popular shopping spots during the Christmas shopping season.
Already impoverished Falls residents are robbed of money they might have otherwise spent on children’s presents.
Clearly, laws requiring motorists to wear seat belts were passed by greedy politicians at the behest of lobbyists for the automakers and insurance companies, aided by the federal government, where officials were also being paid off by the special interest groups. The wishes of a vast majority of citizens in all 50 states were simply pushed aside and dismissed as unimportant.
Attorney David Veskler has argued quite simply that driver safety is not the prerogative of the state.
“Seat belt laws are enforced ‘for our own good,’ but traffic accidents are not leading causes of injury or death, nor is buckling seatbelts the most beneficial thing you can do for your health,” he said. “Daily exercise, nutritious meals and regular sexual activity have all been shown to have a positive impact. So the issue is not whether seatbelts are beneficial, but whether the state has the right to coerce us for our own good.”
In other words, if the state controls every aspect of the individual’s life for the “common good,” then individuals become little more than property of the state.
“There is no logical end to laws that replace individual judgment with politically-mandated notions of what risks we are and are not allowed to take,” Veskler added. “If it is desirable to the state to control individuals while driving, eating, working, and seeing the doctor, it follows that the state should regulate every other aspect of their lives as well.”
Without a principled and uncompromising defense of the individual’s right to own his life, we are reduced to being property of an all-powerful state, being permitted to live only at the mercy of some bureaucrat’s decision that we contribute to the “common good.”
Laws such as those requiring us to wear seatbelts represent the first step on the slippery slope this country continues to slide down to a society where elected officials and the special interests who bribe them decide what is good for individual citizens.
Criminal laws against marijuana, for example, a natural drug that has never resulted in a single known overdose or case of lung cancer, have been propped up to a large degree by the liquor industry. Certainly, the illegal nature of pot seems absurd compared to the legality of booze and tobacco, products that result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of users each year.
Gun control laws targeting certain types of weapons or legitimate gun owners who have never committed a crime or have mental health issues are clearly designed to disarm an American public the Founding Fathers just as clearly thought should be armed.
In the works are laws seeking to regulate everything from sugared soda pop and junk food to isolated but highly publicized cases of “cyber-bullying,” each having the potential to make us all little more than wards of a nanny state, with government regulations dictating to us what we can or cannot do in virtually every aspect of our lives.
The erosion of American liberty is accelerating. From the state’s seatbelt law to the city’s landlord licensing law to the current federal push for draconian new gun control laws, we are losing our rights at a rate unprecedented in this country’s history.
The next time you hear somebody say, “There oughtta be a law,” you might just put the seat belt you cut out of your car to good use and strangle him with it.