Saturday, August 04, 2012

I see your seatbelt laws...

... and raise you a seatbelt shirt.

One of the things that surprised me about driving across America was the seatbelt laws. In fact, it was the first sign I saw after crossing the border into Free America (Arizona). Driving though Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, I expected some or most not to have seatbelt laws. Every single one did.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Organization, 32 states have "primary" seatbelt laws, which affect everyone in a vehicle. While 17 have "secondary" seatbelt laws, which have minor limitations. Only New Hampshire has no seatbelt laws.

Contrast this to the motorcycle helmet law stats from the same site, where 19 states (including TN!) have a universal helmet law. The rest, save three, have age limitations which usually expire at 18 or 21. Some even depend on your insurance coverage, which is humorous. The three with no helmet laws are Illinois (!), Iowa and New Hampshire. A careful observer may note that NH broke down and made a helmet law for bicyclists under 16! I'm sure every month someone shows up at a city council meeting and yells, "IT'S LIKE KING GEORGE TAKING A DUMP ON MY COUCH!"

Either way you slice this, seatbelt laws fall well within the category of "For your own good!" laws. I don't remember a rash of people killed by being struck with a human body flying through a windshield. I suppose we could check with New Hampshire to be certain. The only person in danger when you don't wear a seatbelt is you. It's dangerous and foolish to do, but I don't have a problem with someone making that decision for themselves.

I expected that beyond the wire surrounding our aspiring socialist states, these laws wouldn't exist. But they do. Even in the states that pop to mind whenever someone says, "freedom."

Of all the states in the union, I guessed Texas as most likely to have no seatbelt law, as they've declined federal highway funding in order to cut the strings that come attached to that money. It was a surprise to learn that "Don't mess with Texas" wasn't a warning to oppressors to leave them alone, but a warning that the state is set in its ways and may fine you $10,000 for littering. To me, there isn't much difference between oppressively restrictive and oppressively polite.

Many states, like Texas, are becoming more economically free, and showing great gains even in this economy. But increased economic freedom is practically beneficial to the state as it draws more money in taxes. Other countries such as Ireland are discovering the benefits to free market capitalism as well, but this is still only economic freedom, and it still is in the best interest of the state.

Economic freedom is not personal freedom.

If Hitler discovered that free market capitalism made the Fatherland flush with capital, it would only have empowered his oppression and aggression. It's hard to cheer the financial success of a state that doesn't value personal freedoms.

Seatbelt laws seems to be a bit of an odd duck. Over the past few decades, more personal freedoms have returned to the people in many states, yet seat belt laws remain. It's possible that these laws remain only for the increased highway funding, and they aren't enforced as a primary offense, but I haven't been able to confirm that outside of anecdotal evidence.

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