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NATIONAL SEAT BELT CRACKDOWN - SAFETY OR CASH COW?


Posted: May 26, 2004
12:36 AM Eastern
by NWV Staff Writer
2004 NewsWithViews.com

This week more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies are gearing up for the new "Click it or Ticket Mobilization" seat belt crackdown. This effort was juiced by a $30 million dollar congressionally funded radio and television ad campaign currently blitzing the country.

This effort specifically targets young adults between the ages of 16 and 24. "Our young people are not invincible," U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said. "We are committed to doing everything possible to communicate the advantages of safety belts in a way that will make them want to buckle up."

Proponents of this new crackdown say statistics support the effort. According to National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Ellen Engleman Conners, "These data released today should resonate among state legislators and help them grasp the life saving benefits of primary seat belt laws. There is no greater priority for the Safety Board than saving lives on our nation's roadways. Seat belts are proven to reduce the risk of death in a crash by 45 percent in passenger cars and 60 percent in minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks."

The national television ad campaign will air on several major networks featuring motorists driving in several regions of the country without their seat belts on. Each of these drivers are then ticketed and told to buckle up. The ads will be also be shown in certain target markets: Fear Factor, WWF Smackdown, Major League Baseball, NBA Conference Finals, NASCAR Live, and the Indy 500.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Transportation Safety Administration only estimates the number of lives saved every year by motorists wearing seat belts and motorcyclists wearing helmets. Statistics provide some startling facts:

According to the California Highway Patrol's most available data, 2001, there were 2,764 fatal automobile accidents that year. Those killed wearing seat belts numbered 1,496. The number killed not wearing a seat belt: 1,268. Of the 266,777 injury accidents that same year, the number injured wearing a seat belt: 237, 028. Those injured not wearing a seat belt: 29,749.

In the motorcycle category, there were 295 fatalities the same year. Number of motorcycle operators killed wearing a helmet: 254. Number killed not wearing a helmet: 41. Injury accidents for motorcycles numbered 8,405. Those injured wearing a helmet: 7,085. Injured not wearing a helmet: 1,320.

Texas' Department of Safety's most available data, 2000, shows the following: Of the 2,983 fatal accidents, those killed who were restrained: 1,693. Those killed who were unrestrained: 1,290. There were 223,363 injury accidents that same year. The number of injured wearing a seat belt: 293,432. Those injured, but not wearing a seat belt: 29, 931.

Not everyone is supportive of seat belt laws and point out the financial gains for local jurisdictions. In 2002, a Memorandum of Understanding from the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission was distributed asking law enforcement agencies statewide to promote WTSCs 'Zero Tolerance' seat belt 'Click It or Ticket' campaign. Opponents maintain that this is just another way to pick the pocket of the average working guy in order for local law enforcement to get their "fair share" of the federal pie.

Parts of the text for this Memorandum of Understanding are as follows:

"It is the purpose of this Agreement to provide overtime funding to law enforcement agencies to conduct "Zero Tolerance Safety Belt Emphasis Patrols" during the period between May 20th and June 2nd, 2002. The goal of this project is to contact as many violators as possible with a "Zero Tolerance" for seat belt violations

"It is, therefore, mutually agreed that: Contractor will provide a commissioned police officer (active or paid reserve) with appropriate equipment (vehicle, radar, etc) on an "overtime" basis (not to exceed 1.5 times normal salary) to enforce seat belt laws. No on-duty personnel will be funded.

"The period of activity will begin on May 20 and extend through 2 June, 2002. Funding is not available for activity before or after this period and funding may not exceed the amount prescribed in the attached Request for Proposal Performance standards for funded personnel are a minimum of three (3) self initiated contacts per hour funded with a "desired outcome" of three (3) seat belt citations per hour. This is an enforcement activity with "zero tolerance" for seat belt violations.

"Payroll support documents (overtime slips, payroll documents, etc) Officer worksheets (showing 3 or more self initiated contacts per hour). Post-event 100-car seat belt survey." (End of excerpts)

Constitutionalists object that the forced use of seat belts violates a person's natural (not "civil") rights. Dr. Walter Williams, nationally syndicated columnist (search) in a September 10, 2003, op-ed piece has this take on the issue:

"Under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, the federal government is spending $500 million to aggressively enforce seat belt laws...."Click It or Ticket" represents another bold step along the road to serfdom. History knows of no totalitarianism agenda where noble goals weren't used as justification. Nazis used "for the good of the German Volk" and the Soviets used "for the good of the proletariat" as their justification. Health and safety have become the American justification for attacks on liberty.

"In a free society, each person owns himself. As such, he has the broad discretion to make his own choices regardless of what others think of the wisdom of his choices. He has the right to take chances with his own health and safety. However, if an American doesn't own himself, and it's Congress that owns him, he doesn't have those rights. Thus, the "Click It or Ticket" program is simply Congress' way of caring for its property, the American people.

"Some might argue, but falsely so, that the problem with people exercising their liberty to drive without seat belts, ride motorcycles without helmets or eat in unhealthy ways is that if they become injured or sick, society will be burdened with higher health care costs. That's not a problem of liberty but one of socialism."

According to constitutional criminal defense attorney, Larry Becraft of Huntsville, Alabama (search):

"The police power of the State may be exercised to remedy a real hazard or public harm, but not something ephemeral, lacking in substance and subject to conjecture. From these statistics that you have provided during our interview, it clearly appears that this exercise of the police power, making helmets for cyclists and seat belts for car passengers mandatory, is not being implemented for 'the public good,' but obviously because some vested interests desire it.

Others point to the argument that forcing individuals to wear seat belts does not prevent accidents. According to William J. Holdorf in a May 2, 2002 editorial:

"Seat belts are an after-the-fact device. As such, not one penny of the millions of tax dollars annually spent in support of seat belt laws has ever prevented even one traffic accident. Further, because wearing a seat belt gives a person a certain sense of safety as promised by the government, studies have shown that drivers will tend to drive more recklessly. This is known as "risk compensation," which is covered in more details in the 1995 book, Risk by Dr. Johan Adams, University College London, England.

"We do not need to spend millions of tax dollars for more seat belt law enforcement, for more forced seat belt use, for more traffic accidents. Tax dollars spent for traffic safety should focus on achieving more responsibly educated drivers, and more safely built roads and vehicles in order to prevent accidents. Preventing traffic accidents will not only save lives but will save the cost of property damage and, most importantly, save our freedom."

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"The police power of the State may be exercised to remedy a real hazard or public harm, but not something ephemeral, lacking in substance and subject to conjecture."