“The case against mandatory seat-belt laws”

The federal seat-belt-law mandate was the result of a 1980s deal between Reagan-era Transportation secretary Elizabeth Dole (proof, long before Mayor Bloomberg, that nanny-state tendencies transcend partisan labels) and Detroit automakers, who calculated that regulating their customers would help stave off regulating their own design decisions. And now? Less individual liberty, more scope for police discretion, and in some states a taste for revenue: “In California, a single seat-belt violation can be as much as $490.” [Radley Balko] Earlier on mandatory seat belt usage laws here, here (“saturation detail” police stops), here, etc. (“doggie seat belt” laws), here (Germany: Pope in Popemobile), here, and here (England: Santa’s sleigh), among others.


  • Hmmmm. On the one hand, Balko is correct, criminalization of nonuse of seatbelts does provide another opportunity for state oppression. On the other hand, it seems to be undisputed that the benefits of wearing a seatbelt outweigh the costs. So, there should be some incentive to do so. One such incentive could be fines. I am unsure what other incentives there may be.

    This is an ongoing issue: how to persuade people to do things that are good for them without punitive measures. If we are not to have seatbelt fines, what else should we get rid of? Prohibitions against suicide? Prohibitions against drug use? Prohibitions on minors (but not adults) using cigarettes and alcohol (and marijuana in some states? On the other hand, if we need those laws, why don’t we have more? Perhaps a ban on drinking sugary sodas in excess? Prohibition (anyone).

    There are a whole host of laws out there to protect people against themselves. I don’t know the answer. I do know it is a societal balancing test.

  • The nanny state reinforces itself. Since in many (if not most) cases of injury the government provides assistance of some kind, or outright pays for treatment, then the government has a vested interest in preventing such injuries from happening.

    • The simple solution then is to stop piling error upon error and in fact, undo the previous errors (Govt sticking a gun to one set of citizens heads and taking to “give” to another).

  • “Differences in seat belt use don’t explain the disparity. Blacks in Florida are only slightly less likely to wear seat belts. The ACLU points to a 2014 study by the Florida Department of Transportation that found that 85.8 percent of blacks were observed to be wearing seat belts vs. 91.5 percent of whites.”

    What matters is the rate of NONcompliance, because that’s what gets you pulled over. Using the ACLU’s numbers, noncompliance would be 8.5% for whites and 14.2% for blacks, meaning blacks fail to use seat belts 1.67 times as often as whites. So if you then say that the citation rate for Blacks is 1.88 times as high… no, it doesn’t explain the entire disparity, but it sure explains most of it.

    The ACLU should be ashamed of itself for its misleading use of statistics (their report features a prominent infographic showing the small difference between 91.5% and 85.8% vs the larger difference between 1 and 1.9, probably because showing the large difference between 1 and 1.88 vs the not-quite-as-large difference between 1 and 1.67 wouldn’t be very exciting.) And Mr. Balko should be ashamed of himself for regurgitating their spin.

    If my math is right, then for every 8 tickets a nonseatbelted white driver gets, a nonseatbelted black driver would get about 9. These numbers simply do not support removing the entire law on racial grounds. Their may be other grounds, but this is the one he chose to open his article with.

  • “I am unsure what other incentives there may be.”

    You’re joking, right? Self-preservation isn’t even on your list?

    “This is an ongoing issue: how to persuade people to do things that are good for them without punitive measures.”

    You decide what’s good for you and I’ll decide what’s good for me. If you prefer that I decide for you, too, we can privately contract that arrangement; otherwise, for good or ill, you are master of your own fate. Relax, that’s a feature, not a bug.

    • I’ve always been with Walter Williams on this. Nobody ever died because they weren’t wearing a seat belt. Not wearing one is not a cause of death. They may die if they suffer major injuries in an auto accident. I would argue there is a case to be made that seat belts and air bags give some people a false sense of security, and sometimes help cause further injury or death. A trauma nurse I know (who is also an undertaker) refuses to wear hers. A British brain surgeon says bike helmets are pointless.

      A woman that worked with me used to get worked up about people who didn’t wear their seatbelts, and passed me most mornings and I was doing the speed limit. Yes, there are tickets for that too, and they go up the faster you go, they are cause and effect.I’d guess chances are much higher you will have an accident going too fast than not wearing a seatbelt. You either wear a seatbelt, or you don’t.

      I wear one because it is the law and I don’t want to be hassled. I feel sorry for police that gather on the corner to peer into cars during seatbelt checks to see if you are wearing a seat belt. It reduces them to hall moniter. 70% of the murders in Detroit are not solved, but we have over 90% compliance of the seat belt laws.

      • “Nobody ever died because they weren’t wearing a seat belt. Not wearing one is not a cause of death.”


        I guess it’s true that if you don’t get into any accidents, then it doesn’t matter whether you do or don’t wear a seatbelt. And I guess you can smugly believe that you’re way too good of a driver to get into accidents.

        But, y’know, I’ve been T-boned by someone who ran a red, rear-ended by someone who was gawking at a roadside accident, clipped by a motorcyclist that was splitting lanes at 65 (while the rest of the traffic was stopped). It’s not really about how good of a driver I am.

        • “But, y’know, I’ve been T-boned by someone who ran a red, rear-ended by someone who was gawking at a roadside accident, clipped by a motorcyclist that was splitting lanes at 65 (while the rest of the traffic was stopped.)”

          Of those situations you listed, only in the case of being rear-ended would wearing or not wearing the seat belt make any difference.

          In fact, a seat belt can result in worse injuries in the t-bone situation because the belt holds you against the side of the car which is collapsing in at you.

          • While seat belts performance is reduced during a side impact, I’d still prefer to wear one because if you’re not strapped in, you can still go flying sideways from the impact and chances are you’ll suffer more injuries hitting a passenger or other objects. And then you also have to factor in the chances if the impact causes you to roll, you can be ejected through your choice of window.

            I have a sports car which has a 4 point belt harness. There’s a big reason I have it and use it. I get the argument that we don’t like government telling us what to do, but personally, not wearing a seatbelt in a moving car just strikes me as just not worth the risks.

        • Agreed, which is why I wear mine (but the argument is, of course, about the precedent rather than the verdict).

        • I guess subjecting your freedom to be a real, and most free American, is up to the people you elect, not you.

          I’m a grown man.

          I know that driving is a risk.

          Only one story in all the reading I’ve ever done has a walking breathing man not being subjected to death as we all will someday experience.


          To be an immortal in a mortal world, pretty ridiculous.

          If I drive my 8800 lb. Ford pickup down the road with out a seat belt, I wish people would celebrate my freedom to make that choice, not denigrate me because I may get hurt, injured, maimed, decapitated, made a paraplegic or whatever.

          You don’t know me, please don’t act like you care about me.

          I know for a fact I’m not your family, I do not attend your church, and unless you live on the east side of Tucson, I’m not in your commmunity.

          Reduce your scope and sphere, and make a difference where you can.

  • […] (H/T: Overlawyered) […]