I always wear my seatbelt when I’m in the car. It’s as natural to me as pulling the keys out of my pocket to drive. But my darling wife is not as zealous as I am, so I often browbeat her into wearing hers. I tell her that I’m doing it because I love her, and every married couple has the natural right to nag each other. That’s to be expected, but it bothers me when the government is doing the nagging. I’m not married to the government, so it doesn’t get any nagging rights. And if you have been watching TV or watching movies that have commercials up front (grrr!) then you have seen the latest government nag: Click It or Ticket.
Having just driven over 1,000 miles this week, I am very aware of this seatbelt campaign, but I disagree with it. As my friend Fen says, “Just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it needs to be a law.” And this is a perfect example. I share the sentiments expressed by Dr. Walter Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University, that he recently sent to the Virginia Secretary of Transportation.
Mr. Secretary: This is an example of the disgusting abuse of state power. Each of us owns himself, and it follows that we should have the liberty to take risks with our own lives but not that of others. That means it’s a legitimate use of state power to mandate that cars have working brakes because if my car has poorly functioning brakes, I risk the lives of others and I have no right to do so. If I don’t wear a seatbelt I risk my own life, which is well within my rights. As to your statement ‘Lack of safety belt use is a growing public health issue that . . . also costs us all billions of dollars every year,’ that’s not a problem of liberty. It’s a problem of socialism. No human should be coerced by the state to bear the medical expense, or any other expense, for his fellow man. In other words, the forcible use of one person to serve the purposes of another is morally offensive….
If we accept the notion that government ought to protect us from ourselves, we’re on a steep slippery slope. Obesity is a major contributor to hypertension, coronary disease and diabetes, and leads not only to many premature deaths but billions of dollars in health care costs. Should government enforce, depending on a person’s height, sex and age, a daily 1,400 to 2,000-calorie intake limit? There’s absolutely no dietary reason to add salt to our meals. High salt consumption can lead to high blood pressure, which can then lead to stroke, heart attack, osteoporosis and asthma. Should government outlaw adding salt to meals? While you might think that these government mandates would never happen, be advised that there are busybody groups currently pushing for government mandates on how much and what we can eat.
Government officials, if given power to control us, soon become zealots. Last year, Maryland state troopers were equipped with night vision goggles, similar to those used by our servicemen in Iraq, to catch night riders not wearing seatbelts. Maryland state troopers boasted that they bagged 44 drivers traveling unbuckled under the cover of darkness.
Professor Williams finishes up with a wonderful quote:
Philosopher John Stuart Mill, in his treatise “On Liberty,” said it best: “That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise.”
So the next time you get nagged by the government to buckle up, remind them that you are not married to the government, and they don’t have the moral authority to compel you to do something good for yourself.
Not that lack of moral authority will ever stop the government.