NMA Seat Belt Laws Fact Sheet ( PDF )
Free to download, print & distribute.

This editorial originally appeared in USA Today in 1996.

In the early 1980’s, state legislators introduced legislation mandating the use of child restraints in automobiles. The argument was that children did not possess the judgement necessary to make important safety decisions and some parents were not wise enough to make these decisions for their offspring.

Legislators assured constituents that these mandates would not lead to similar laws for adult restraints.

A few years later, the auto industry, in an attempt to head off air-bag requirements for new automobiles, launched a $100 million lobbying campaign to pass mandatory seat belt laws in all states. Responding to citizen resistance, most legislatures passed belt laws that involved secondary enforcement and small fines.

The official claim was “we just want to ‘encourage’ people to use seat belts.” [Secondary enforcement means you must commit another offense before an officer can stop you for not wearing seat belts.]

Now we enter the third phase of this duplicity, primary enforcement, ticketing motorists merely for failure to wear seat belts. Lest you think this is the end, rest assured there is more to follow. Look forward to extortionist fines, license violation points and insurance surcharges. [Primary enforcement means no other reason is needed to stop you.]

Ten states that already have primary enforcement give some insight on what to expect elsewhere. Most onerous is the banana republic practice of “road blocks.” If you’re black, travel late at night or fit the in-vogue drug profile, plan to have your personal safety regularly checked by Officer Friendly.

This most recent campaign is based on several dubious premises:

  • American motorists are too stupid to be educated on the value of seat belts.
  • American motorists are incapable of exercising personal judgement concerning their personal safety.
  • Primary enforcement seat belt laws will significantly reduce injuries, fatalities and insurance costs.

The fallacious argument that belt usage or the lack thereof has or will have any meaningful impact on “social costs” is ludicrous.

Should it not be taken into account that the same person touting the economic impact of belt laws (Transportation Secretary Federico Pena) also came up with the cost estimates and completion date for the new Denver Airport?

If you want a more pervasive government, added motorist harassment, road blocks, increased fines and insurance costs and less personal discretion, then support primary belt laws. But, please quit lying to people about how belt laws will reduce insurance and medical expenditures. It hasn’t happened and it isn’t going to happen, even we uneducable and recalcitrant motorists can count.