- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2000

"Safety" enforced at gunpoint is hardly worth our freedom or so you might think. But Virginia's state legislature, though controlled by Republicans who are supposed to believe in less government, not more, are poised to pass legislation that would give police authority to turn on their sirens and pull motorists over for no greater "offense" than their failure to wear a seat belt.

Under existing law, police may issue a ticket for failure to comply with Virginia's mandatory seat belt law which requires that people buckle-up when in a motor vehicle but only after pulling a motorist over for another offense, such as speeding. The new law would confer "primary enforcement" powers upon the seat belt patrol enabling the gendarme to interfere with your trip, hassle you, inspect your person and vehicle all solely because you happened not to be wearing your seat belt like a good little boy or girl.

Of course, the Virginia legislative proposal has its origins in emotionalism. The Washington Post carried an article Saturday relating to the story of a woman whose son was killed in a car accident. He wasn't wearing his seat belt. Ergo, every resident of Virginia must be treated like a child. "Seat belts could have saved his life," she told The Post. "They don't infringe your rights. They just save your life."

The problem the rational dilemma is that this argument could be used to justify all kinds of invasive measures. If police have a right to force us, at ticket and gunpoint, to wear our seat belts "for our own good," then perhaps dietitians should be sent to the homes of every officer and legislator in the state to make certain that no "unhealthful" foods are consumed that may lead to atherosclerosis. After all, society has an interest in the well-being of its public servants correct? And it isn't "safe" if Officer Friendly is clogging his arteries with greasy cheeseburgers while on the job; he might have a heart attack and wreck his car. What about the children?

The fact is that seat-belt usage has absolutely nothing to do with either the safe operation of a motor vehicle or public safety which are areas over which the state has legitimate jurisdiction because they affect other people. Police should only have authority to interfere with the conduct of private individuals when their conduct clearly threatens other people or their property. Failing to wear one's seat belt, while certainly increasing the odds of injury or death in the event of a traffic accident, presents no such threat to others let alone to "society."

Virginia lawmakers are overstepping their bounds by contemplating this measure. One hopes they realize the precedent they would establish.

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