'Live Free or Die' - so let them live free AND die, already....
It seems that our neighbors to the north, the good people of New Hampshire - or at least their state legislators - are considering a law that would make the use of seat-belts mandatory. (Source: Wall Street Journal. Access may require a subscription.)
Some folks take that license plate motto "Live Free or Die" pretty seriously, and they're doing some heavy lobbying against passage of the law. They fear the nanny state - or worse.
Bob Hull, a computer technician dressed in camouflage hunting gear, came to say that "the state is moving toward, basically, communism." Ivy Walker, a local restaurant owner, grew teary-eyed. "What's next?" she asked. "Will they mandate that I can't have more than three cheeseburgers next week at McDonald's?"
I hadn't been aware of the connection between communism and seat-belts, but perhaps this is the slippery slope we hear so much about. Today, seat belts. Tomorrow collective farms, comrade.
In any case, New Hampshire is the only state in the US that doesn't legally require that adults buckle up. They've been standing alone since Maine buckled under in 1995.
Much of this is being blamed on the influx of liberal, Massachusetts Democrats who have moved across the border for less costly housing and no state income taxes. This has been going on for years, and has even gone so far as to turn New Hampshire into - if not a completely and reliably blue state, at least into a swing state.
Since the Mass invasion, New Hampshire has okayed civil unions, banned smoking in restaurants, and is even considering a state income tax. (Seems like all those folks from Massachusetts want state services that somewhat resemble what they had in the place from whence they fled.)
Well, I'm one Mass-hole who actually doesn't believe that wearing a seat belt (or a motorcycle helmet, a perennial hot button issue in this state) should be required by law, other than for children.
Personally, I wouldn't drive ten feet without buckling up, but if someone wants to go without, well....
This is not to say that I don't think there should be widespread education on why wearing a seat belt is a good idea, including mandatory screenings to drivers-ed classes of macabre videos showing the bodies of dead teenagers who died as a result of not wearing a seat belt.
As it happens, the proportion of people who do wear seat belts in New Hampshire - 69% - is not any different than that of many other states (all of which have seat belt laws). So it's not clear that actually having a law would increase the proportion, or save any lives. New Hampshire also has an overall automobile fatality rate that's well below the national average. (Obviously, this has nothing to do with their lack of a seat belt law, but it's interesting nonetheless.)
But back to my personal belief on seat belt laws: why not do away with something that's largely unenforceable to begin with - those kids who are flung to their death because they're not wearing seatbelts are unlikely to have been stopped and ticketed, or to have been convinced to buckle up, based on a law. Instead, focus efforts on education: graphic videos in school, public service announcements, big signs in the state liquor stores that all seem to be located right off the highway. And let the market do the rest.
How about: if you're in an accident and not wearing a seat belt, your health insurance doesn't cover your injuries. Or you end with a big-time deductible - say $10K or $20K. Sure, if you're the one who's brain-injured because you weren't wearing a seat belt, someone else may be stuck with paying that deductible. But wouldn't the pressure - parents to children, husbands to wives, children to parents - to use the damned seat belt result in more people using the damned seat belt.
Same goes for motorcyclist who want that Easy Rider feel of the wind in their hair as the gun along the highway.
No helmet, no brain injury coverage - or a big, whopping premium to pay. Your choice.
You get to live free. And you might get to die because of it. But you're free to choose.
Of course, New Hampshire isn't exactly free to choose. There's a cost associated with their holding out on a seat belt law. And that cost is the $3.7M in federal funds they won't receive if they don't pass a law.
The law has gotten by its first hurdle, but there's another one to come.
And that $3.7M is looking mighty good these days.
But, frankly, I'll be a tiny bit disappointed if our neighbors to the north give in and vote for mandatory seat belts.