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Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected by MA House

by TChris

Reasonable arguments can be made that laws should require drivers to wear seat belts, or that motorcylists should be required to wear helmets, because society often bears the cost of injuries that exceed insurance coverage. Others reasonably argue that the government should allow individuals to make their own judgments about the costs and benefits of using seat belts or helmets.

Putting that debate aside, states that mandate seat belt use must decide whether the police should be allowed to stop a vehicle solely because the officer suspects that someone in the car hasn't buckled up. The Massachusetts House wisely declined to give the police the power to stop motorists solely to write a seat belt ticket. About half the states permit only "secondary enforcement" of seat belt laws, permitting seat belt enforcement when the police make a traffic stop for some other traffic violation while prohibiting traffic stops just to write a seat belt ticket.

Representative Paul Kujawski said the bill "doesn't do anything but give police another opportunity to stop you, and that to me is absurd." Given the prevalence of racial profiling, it's bad policy to give the police another excuse to stop a driver for a trivial violation. The police too often seize on minor violations as a pretext to look for evidence of another crime in the absence of a reason (other than the driver's race) to suspect that such evidence exists. The police already have an arsenal of reasons to make a traffic stop; they don't need another.

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  • You guys want to complain about "Big Brother"...here is a good place to start. Big business... in this case the insurance lobby, controls most states. Both seat belt & helmet laws are unconstitutional. I'd love to see the ACLU jump on this type of thing instead of trying to get illegals amnesty. I did a report about the 55MPH limit & seat belt use while I was in college. The numbers didn't add up then and don't add up now.... it's a bunch of bunk!

    Seatbelts are a good idea. Primary seat belt laws are bad ideas. People probably should wear seatbelts. There is no good argument against actually wearing them. There are, however, good arguments as to why the government shouldn't force individuals driving to wear them and why we don't want police actively enforcing seatbelt laws. The decision over whether or not to wear a seatbelt is inherently an individual one, as the consequences of not wearing one are likewise individual. If I choose not to wear a seatbelt and get killed or maimed as a result, I have only myself to blame. Most importantly, when just about everyone would agree that most police forces are stretched thin as it is already, we shouldn't accept them wasting their time pulling over drivers to issue a $50 ticket. Joe Bob, your point about police already having the ability to pull you over for tint that is too dark or because you have too much junk hanging from your mirror misses the point of such stops. For the most part, police use those kind of stops as "ins" to investigate further. Watch an episode of COPS - you'll see that quite often an officer will say something along the lines of, "This guy didn't signal a lane change so I'm gonna pull him over and see what's going on." The difference is, at least tint and dangling crap might impede your driving and lead to a wreck. Not wearing a seat belt still only effects you.

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (4.00 / 1) (#3)
    by roy on Wed May 24, 2006 at 11:42:53 AM EST
    I've never heard a credible claim that seat belt laws are unconstitutional, but they bug the H*ll out of me. I'm gonna go for a drive to celebrate MA's moment of good judgement. If I don't comment again, you'll know why.

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (4.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Johnny on Wed May 24, 2006 at 03:06:15 PM EST
    I've never heard a credible claim that seat belt laws are unconstitutional
    And you will not, because there are literally thousands of laws on the books protecting a person from his/her own stupidity, all of which have been deemed constitutional. There is a solid precedence for enacting legislation such as this. The thought of giving police the power to pull someone for "suspecting" lack of seatbelt useage scares me to no end (in the dark, no-one looks like they are wearing a seatbelt!). Give an inch, they will take you a mile ot the nearest jail. This was a wise move on MA part.
    I don't relish the prospect of becoming a drooling idiot due to a traumatic brain injury.
    I have seen what happens when people crash while not wearing a helmet, in fact I just buried one last Saturday. Helmet laws are a good thing. Seatbelt laws are a good thing. Giving discretionary power to police to pull someone over because they suspect" someone is using neither is an evil thing.

    Seat belts should be mandatory.
    Slado, "Nanny Laws" are bullsh*t. This country is slowly turning into a "nanny state". In case you haven't noticed, it is the slow erosion of our civil rights caused in part by bullsh*t "nanny laws" that TL argues against.
    Usually they just pull up behind someone, run their plate and then make up a reason.
    That is disturbing to say the least. Even more disturbing is that people like you want to give police another "reason" to stop drivers.

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (3.00 / 2) (#7)
    by roy on Wed May 24, 2006 at 03:23:38 PM EST
    Likewise, I find the 'let people decide for themselves' argument a little ridiculous in this context. So long as driving is predicated on pooled risk, most directly in the form of mandatory auto insurance, people in the pool bear some responsibility towards the common good.
    Well, that's a handy way to grab power. Force people to accept pooled risk, and suddenly a whole category of private behavior becomes everyone else's business. I guess under mandatory health insurance, anything that might lead to medical treatment can be regulated for the "common good". Is it nutty to wonder if it will be made illegal to have sex without a condom?

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (2.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Slado on Wed May 24, 2006 at 07:59:44 PM EST
    Furthermore TL's arguement or quote that this additional law is a way for profiling is ludicrous. I've ridden on patrols with cops and they already can make up several reasons to pull someone over. Usually they just pull up behind someone, run their plate and then make up a reason. I was on a call when my buddy ran a plate saw the person had 8 arrests for possesion. The guy changed lanes without a single and whammo, pot arrest. This minor worry or concern about civil rights is not worth a single death that might be saved because someone buckled up after getting pulled over for not wearing their seatbelt. For me the choice is quite simple. I choose saving actual human lives over hypothetical civil rights scenarios.

    why "wisely"?

    Requiring seat belt use is no more unconstitutional than requiring people to abstain from driving when intoxicated, telling retailers to not sell lead-based paints, requiring parents to immunize their children or requiring US fruit growers to not use DDT. In all cases, there are significant public health benefits that we as a society, through a representative government, have agreed outweigh whatever "constitutional" concerns exist. Also, saying that we shoudln't have a law because some cops will abuse it is a little like say Catholic preists shoudln't be left alone with children, since some of them are pedophiles. The problem is the actualy practice of racial profiling, rather than having too many laws on the books.

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (1.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Joe Bob on Wed May 24, 2006 at 01:21:56 PM EST
    Personally, I have no problem whatsoever with this. I live in a state that just went from secondary to primary enforcement this past year. If not using a seatbelt is already illegal, which it is in most states, why shouldn't police be able to stop you for it? I don't get the 'and while we're at it...' logic of secondary enforcement. After all, police can stop you for arguably more petty infractions like having something hanging from your rearview mirror or getting too dark a tint on your windows. In that context, why argue with a measure that demonstrably contributes to both personal and public safety? Likewise, I find the 'let people decide for themselves' argument a little ridiculous in this context. So long as driving is predicated on pooled risk, most directly in the form of mandatory auto insurance, people in the pool bear some responsibility towards the common good. Lastly, while I acknowledge that public good vs. personal liberty is a constant balancing act I don't feel the requirement to wear a seat belt or purchase and wear a helmet to be particularly onerous. After all, the seat belt is right there in the car, you just have to reach over and grab it. Similarly, I like to feel the wind blowing through my hair, what's left of it, as much as the next guy but I wear a helmet because I don't relish the prospect of becoming a drooling idiot due to a traumatic brain injury.

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (1.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Slado on Wed May 24, 2006 at 07:53:49 PM EST
    Seat belts should be mandatory. Period. If secondary laws aren't enough to keep people from not buckling up then the state should step it up. Most driving manuals have a simple statement in the front...."Driving is not a right, it's a privlege." If you have to drive 55, obey stop signs, yeild when making a left hand turn etc... then what is so bad about making people buckle up so they don't fly out of a windsheild? BB I appreciate your comments most of the time but on this you are way off the mark. No one has a right to drive a car in any manner they see fit when they are on public roadways. The rules are the state gets to set the laws. If you don't like it move to another state. I for one hate sitting in traffic jams while they peel someone off the road because a seatbelt cramped their style.

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (1.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Slado on Thu May 25, 2006 at 06:34:24 AM EST
    Seatbelts are not Nanny laws. The state passing laws for the safety of its citizens is not an erosion of civil rights. Civil rights consits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Free speech, freedom of assembly etc... The right to drive without a seat belt is not what the founding fathers had in mind. If people have a problem with seatbelt laws then elect a different councilman or state representative but using the constituion and civil rights excuses through the legislature is lame. Once again the elected officials of this country are overuled by 7 or 9 justices who know whats best for us. It always amuses me that those who profess to cherish "civil rights" have no problem letting unelected officials decide which rights should be cherished. Also I'm not for unnecessary stops by police but it's a reality and saving lives is way more important then a couple extra people being stopped for not wearing their seat belt.

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (none / 0) (#13)
    by swingvote on Thu May 25, 2006 at 07:51:11 AM EST
    What sort of message does this secondary enforcement argument send? Does it not say "We aren't really serious about this"? Does it not say "We only made driving without a seatbelt illegal to shut up the people at MADD and the Insurance Institute of America"? If the state passes a law and makes some action illegal, it should require the police to enforce that law at all times, not create come nebulous gray area where a violation of that law only counts when the officer suspects another law is being broken first. Far better to enforce all laws strictly, against all violators. Maybe then people will wise up and stop electing the idiots that pass all these stupid laws.

    Boygenius... Requiring seat belt use is no more unconstitutional than requiring people to abstain from driving when intoxicated, I disagree.... The examples you cite could potentually effect other people. Not wearing a seatbelt isn't in that catagory. Joe bob... Likewise, I find the 'let people decide for themselves' argument a little ridiculous in this context. Why? Most people are perfectly capable of making their own decisions. This is one of the main complaints about the "left"...they are under the impression that the public is too stupid and they need to intervene in their personal lives. I wear a helmet because I don't relish the prospect of becoming a drooling idiot due to a traumatic brain injury. And that should be your choice. I've been riding motorcycles since I was 14. I never wear a helmet, and in fact the "helmet" law in Illinois has been struck down several times as being "unconstitutional". Johnny... there are literally thousands of laws on the books protecting a person from his/her own stupidity, That's my point. What's next... mandatory life jackets? Some moron in Washington will eventually find out that 10,000 people drowned last year. "Hey, I have a great idea... lets make everyone that goes in the water over 2 feet deep wear a lifejacket". And all the tree hugging... "your too stupid to protect yourself" morons in Washington will go along. It will eventually happen! Slado... I appreciate your comments most of the time but on this you are way off the mark. No one has a right to drive a car in any manner they see fit when they are on public roadways That's not what I'm saying. There are traffic laws that are there for the public safety... wearing a seatbelt doesn't apply there. Seat belts should be mandatory. Period. While I'll certainly agree that wearing seatbelts is a good idea... ( I wear one when I race) but I don't think not wearing one makes me a criminal. I have a story about this and it's the main reason I'm against this... My Sister was hit by a train back in the 70's. The impact threw her between the bucket seats of her car. When all was said and done, her car was about the size of a phone both and the ONLY reason she survived is that she was thrown in the middle. Now.. I know this is a very isolated / extreme case... but the point is, had there been a mandatory law back then....she'd be dead now! For me the choice is quite simple. I choose saving actual human lives over hypothetical civil rights scenarios Your liberal stripes are showing... hehehe

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (none / 0) (#15)
    by Jo on Thu May 25, 2006 at 08:32:55 AM EST
    Just a thought, what if the table was turned. What if seatbelts were illegal because they might restrict your actions in an emergency. What if helmets were illegal because they block your peripheral vision, increasing the liklihood of an accident. Whould anyone think there was a problem banning these items? Would it be okay for a cop to stop someone and issue a ticket for engaging in this dangerous practice? Would you feel you deserve the right to decide for yourself?

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (none / 0) (#16)
    by roy on Thu May 25, 2006 at 08:59:32 AM EST
    Jo, As much as I don't like these laws, I'll concede that they save lives. There's solid science showing that, with a few uncommon exceptions, wearing seat belts and helmets does more harm than good. So your counter-examples wouldn't just infringe on personal liberty, they'd be bad policy, so it's a whole different problem. Re: helmets & peripheral vision, I don't think states usually require a helmet big enough to interfere.

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (none / 0) (#17)
    by roy on Thu May 25, 2006 at 10:04:48 AM EST
    Shorter version of above: if you're good at math and value your life, wear your seat belt. If you're not or don't, it's your own business.

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (none / 0) (#18)
    by Johnny on Thu May 25, 2006 at 10:23:29 AM EST
    If I choose not to wear a seatbelt and get killed or maimed as a result, I have only myself to blame.
    You do have only yourself to blame BUT... If you are maimed, chances are that you will end up being quite a burden on many people not involved in your personal choice to drive like a fool.
    That's my point. What's next... mandatory life jackets? Some moron in Washington will eventually find out that 10,000 people drowned last year. "Hey, I have a great idea... lets make everyone that goes in the water over 2 feet deep wear a lifejacket". And all the tree hugging... "your too stupid to protect yourself" morons in Washington will go along. It will eventually happen!
    So where does the "your too stupid to protect yourself" fit in with the wrong-winger's perverted vision of sex, religion, marriage etc? Nanny laws are embraced by all political groups. Not just the "tree-huggers" you seem to despise.

    Johnny... with the wrong-winger's perverted vision of sex, religion, marriage etc? You need to be more specific... Perverted? Not sure I'm following here? But in general.. I don't think the Government has any business in my bedroom..in my religion... or in my marriage Nanny laws are embraced by all political groups. Maybe...but the Dems (libs) are for more interested in pacifying the few at the expense of the many. That's what the DNC/ACLU is all about. One guy (atheist) doesn't like a cross...so the ACLU sues and makes that guy happy but pisses off thousands. (see Mt Solidad in San Diego) One parent is pissed because his girl can't join the Boyscouts...the ACLU sues... ect...etc.. on & on & on... (bottom line: libs are ruining the US!)

    I was stopped last Sunday morning because he couldnt see that I had it on from 60ft away. Damn good vision if you can spot a two inch wide belt moving. He also informed me that if I continued wearing my belt in that manner I would be stopped again. I took it off when he got back in the car. ;)

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (none / 0) (#21)
    by Che's Lounge on Thu May 25, 2006 at 01:23:35 PM EST
    Choc, Not wearing a seat belt still only effects you. Well there are financial impacts of injuries due to NOT wearing restraints. They are not called donorcycles because of their safety. But I agree nanny laws suck.

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (none / 0) (#22)
    by roy on Thu May 25, 2006 at 01:59:08 PM EST
    Maybe we could compromise and require that everyone must either wear a seatbelt or be a registered organ donor. Should balance out the finanical impact due to the pooled risk.

    Ive seen as many dead with seat belts as I have without. If its your day, its a done deal.

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (none / 0) (#24)
    by roy on Thu May 25, 2006 at 03:51:19 PM EST
    Ive seen as many dead with seat belts as I have without.
    That actually supports the claim that seat belts work. A little casual Googling reveals that a majority of people in cars at any given moment are restrained. Therefore the unrestrained are a minority, and unrestrained people are overrepresented in the dead you've seen. So seat belts can thwart God's plan!

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (none / 0) (#25)
    by squeaky on Thu May 25, 2006 at 07:07:43 PM EST
    roy- nice one. I'm convinced.

    It's ridiculous to have a law the violation of which police must ignore unless and until they see another violation as well. Violations of the law in plain sight should be subject to police response. Otherwise perhaps the law should be repealed. Are there any other laws the violation of which police must ignore?

    Re: Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected (none / 0) (#27)
    by HK on Fri May 26, 2006 at 06:46:10 AM EST
    This thread has produced some really interesting comments. I'm not sure where I sit on this one. Difficult call. Generally, I don't think that the state should legislate against things which only affect the individual who chooses to do them. But one thing I do wonder is if not wearing a seatbelt really only affects that person in the event of a crash. Surely in a head-on collision, if the person in the front seat of one car is not wearing a seatbelt it is possible that they could be thrown through their windscreen and also through the one opposite, injuring people in the other car. Unlikely, but possible. Also, I think it would be very traumatic if as the driver of a car involved in an accident, one of my passengers was killed due to not wearing a seatbelt. Even if it was of their own free will, there would still be a consequence for me. The burden is not just financial. I'm still undecided, just throwing something into the pot.

    Seat Belt law:Faulty Premise (none / 0) (#28)
    by Locke on Mon Jan 22, 2007 at 11:01:26 PM EST
    I have read through this entire thread and am amazed how all the comments seem to leap from the primary faulty premise that:

    Seatbelts Save Lives

    Well of course they do, but if any of you took any philosophy101 you will understand that even though this may be a true statement it is not the entire story. let me make another statement:

    Birds Fly East.

    Of course they do. I have seen it. They also fly north south and west.
    Seat belts take lives. Seat belts make people feel safer and they drive more aggressively. State without seat belt laws have lower fatality rates.
    These are also true statements never brought to light in these arguments. If they were all the arguments for seat belt use (higher medical costs, safety for the morons who don't know any better) would be rendered moot.
    Consider this; have you ever seen a news article about an accident where a seat belt CAUSED the death of someone? Do you think it has never happened?
    We must decide for ourselves which is safer. Not the insurance lobby and not the legislatures who must sanction their federal funds.

    SEAT BELT laws to control insurance cost?!?!?!?!? (none / 0) (#29)
    by cmphoto on Tue Jun 05, 2007 at 01:12:17 AM EST
    WTFriggin heck is that!!!! (pearfrazin)  (((Everyone who gets caught not wearing a seat belt deserves a fine because your insurance rates may go up!!!!)))

    IF THAT IS THE CASE
    Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) continue to be a major health threat in the United States. CDC estimates that 19 million STD infections occur annually, almost half of them among youth ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to potentially severe health consequences, STDs pose a tremendous economic burden, with direct medical costs as high as $15.5 billion in a single year

    (can nonseat belt deaths compete with that!!!!)

    SO EVERYONE WHO HAS BEEN FOUND TO HAVE AN STD should by this logic get fined by the local or federal government...Yeah the HWY patrol could run by the hospitals and clinics to enforce it since they already have to waste there time on those evil SEAT BELT VIOLATORS!!!
    SEX POLICE ANYONE
    got to love the new socialist states of america

    Seat belt laws should be a choice for adults.  IF YOU DO NOT AGREE to this statement then how can you say a women has a right to choose what to do with her body in cases of abortion.  
    I CHOOSE to not be wearing a seat belt while in an accident BUT I DON'T have that legal right!!! ( why...it is not popular)