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Saturday, May 27, 2006

More on the nonsense of Click-it or Ticket

For the record, I strongly believe in the use of seat belts and do not leave my driveway without myself and my passengers buckled up. I consider anyone who drives without using a seat belt to be a moron. That said, I still believe that Click-it or Ticket is a big load of Bravo Sierra that sets bad precedence.

In his comments to my original post, G-man makes some very valid points on why people should wear seat belts for the safety of others as well as themselves. I don't dispute any of this other than his conclusion that the Click-it or Ticket program is a proper use of the power of government. What people should do and what government should mandate them to do are often not the same.

Drivers face many hazards on the roads. While I completely agree that unbelted drivers and passengers are unquestionably a major hazard to themselves, I maintain that the hazard they present to others is relatively minor as compared to poorly maintained or lighted roads, drunken, reckless, or unattentive driving, etc. Is the hazard faced by a police officer stopping a motorist with his or her back to traffic greater than the hazard an unbelted motorist or their passengers presents to the public? Does anyone really believe that revenue hungry governments won't encourage abuse of the opportunity to shake down motorists for easy money?

Face it, the primary purpose of the Click-it or Ticket campaign and ones like it is to either directly raise revenue, prevent the loss of federal highway funding (which is essentially extortion by the federal government), or both. How does sticking a person who would never intentionally drive without buckling up with a $50-$100 ticket the one time in thousands they forget increase safety? When the people condone state intrusion into their daily activities without limit they become the enablers that allow unchecked growth of bureaucratic government which invariably leads to a reduction in liberty.

While it's pretty much indisputable that seat belts save lives, it is very questionable that primary offense seat belt laws and slickly marketed (i.e. costly) campaigns of strict enforcement do anything but raise a lot of revenue for the government while harming public perception of the police officers who get stuck enforcing the nonsense. The bureaucrats who initiate these ostensibly safety-driven programs collect the money while sanctimoniously preaching on how much they care, while the law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line daily get tagged with the contempt the program generates with the public.

The pushers of primary offense seat belt laws (and other over-stepping programs) often don't consider the unintended consequences of their actions. David Kopel of the Independence Institute has written a well done essay that documents the ineffectiveness of of these kind of laws with regard to their stated purpose. He also cites a study that suggests that forced seat belt use may actually lead to more aggressive driving:
When subjects who normally did not wear seat belts were asked to do so, they were observed to drive faster, followed more closely, and braked later. In other words, people who are naturally cautious voluntarily choose to wear seat belts, and voluntarily drive safely. When reckless people are forced to wear seat belts, they "compensate" for the increased safety by driving more recklessly.
In any case, mandatory seat belt laws at best appear to have little impact on reducing the real or perceived hazard unbelted drivers present to others (and may even increase the hazard). Nanny state programs do, however, further the perceived dependence of government by the people and waste lots of tax dollars and human and equipment resources in the process.

Government dependency can only lead to decreased liberty. If the government must get involved, why can't the public schools educate our children in their health classes from an early age that seat belt use is an easy and effective way to maintain one's health? If the public education system spent half the effort and money preaching seat belt use that they do to promote condom usage, society as a whole would be in better shape. Dude! Abstinence and seat belt usage--what radical concepts!

A more realistic, pro-liberty way to encourage seat belt usage would be for insurance companies to offer policies with a collision deductible that is contingent on seat belt usage. In this scenario if Joe Motorhead messes up his nice ride in an accident the insurance settlement would be considerably less if Mr. Motorhead or any of his passengers was not belted at the time of the accident. This is a market driven, completely voluntary arrangement between the insured and the insurance company where the insurance company and Mr. Motorhead can both save money. I guess the government loses their cut in this arrangement (I'm all broken up), but haven't they already confiscated enough money from the involved parties through the tax system (they've taxed the income of the motorist and insurance company, the incomes of the insurance company employees, the car, the gas in the car, the contents of the car, the paper the policy is printed on, etc. etc. etc.)?

In America we are blessed with freedom, but with freedom comes responsibility. Responsibility, as with morality, can be forced to some degree with legislation, but true responsibility must come from within the individual. It is the responsibility of the driver to buckle up and to make sure all of his or her passengers also do so. When the government attempts to force responsibility, the cost in terms of lost freedom more often than not greatly exceeds the amount of any responsibility that is induced.

Update 6/2/06

Professor Walter Williams has weighed in on this and, as usual, nails it.


Blogger G-man said...

We are not that far off. However, I do believe that a vehicle with unbuckled front seat occupants is a real hazard to pedestrians and other vehicles. I do not think an unbuckled driver would be adequately able to control the vehicle during an emergency. Further, I think unbuckled front row passengers (particularly if the front seat is a bench seat) are likely to get in the driver's way.

My view is based on personal experience and supported by comments from Paul Brand of KSTP's Auto Talk. Unfortunately, it is difficult to quantify the true risk to the general public. We don't keep statistics on avoided accidents due to seat belts. Typically, people don't report these events.

During the debate to make “driving while unbuckled” illegal, I encouraged a few lawmakers to pursue the real hazard such drivers pose to the rest of us. I was, and am, willing to put the “risk to others” theory to the test before making it illegal to drive unbuckled.

Understand that I view “driving while unbuckled” to be akin to driving without required having equipment in functioning order. Similarly, the consequences of being caught without a seat belt should be doled out in a similar fashion. If driving while unbuckled is a similar hazard to driving without break lights, then the law should treat the two offenses in the same way. (Remember, I suspect the risk of driving while unbuckled is significant, but will concede that analysis to quantify it is in order. Maybe this would be a good thing for Discovery Channel's Myth Busters.)

Please note, it is not my intent to endorse the “Click-It or Ticket” program for I agree with Right-Hook's conclusions about this specific push.

[The solution to driving while unbuckled may lie with greater penalties for being involved in an accident while not wearing a seatbelt. Years ago, a friend of mine who was serving in Navy told me that their insurance benefits stipulated seat belt usage. If he was involved in an accident off-base and off-duty while not wearing a seat belt, his benefits would be in jeopardy. I've often wondered why auto-insurance companies don't include such a clause. Are there legal regulations against it?

5/27/2006 8:41 PM  
Blogger Right Hook said...

Unbelted drivers and passengers may very well be a hazard to other drivers. Regardless of whether that risk rates a 1 or a 10 on the common "1 to 10" scale there seems to be a lot of evidence that primary offense seat belt laws do not have the intended outcome of 100 percent compliance, but are very effective at raising revenue (and thus very tempting for government abuse). Such laws are also effective at creating resentment toward the police, especially when someone who generally follows the rules gets stiffed with a pricey ticket for the one time in five years they forget to buckle up for a half-mile trip.

People need to realize that no matter how pure and good the intention may be, legislation cannot protect all people from all hazards at all times and attempts to do so often cause unintended consequences and almost invariably end up infringing on liberty.

Personal responsibility can go a long way. For example, the classic vehicle I'm restoring did not come with seat belts and as such I could legally drive anywhere I want to without buckling up due to the grandfathering provision in the seat belt law. Although legal, this would be stupid. The old-timer is equipped with seat AND shoulder belts that are better than any optional original equipment that could have been ordered from the factory and are used any time it is driven. The point is that I spent the time, effort, and money to install the safety equipment because it was the intelligent thing to do, not because of some government edict.

I'm sure it can be shown statistically that all drivers and passengers would be safer if they used seat belts AND wore a NASCAR quality helmet and if all vehicles were equipped with a full-surround roll cage. Limiting freeway speed to 40 MPH (or maybe even 20) would also be safer. All it would take is some legislation and the stroke of a pen...

Do we really want government to go there?

5/27/2006 11:32 PM  
Blogger G-man said...

I'm confused and suspect that we are not debating the same aspect of this subject here.

First, I do oppose enforcement initiatives that are geared toward revenue collection rather than enforcing the spirit of the law.

Second, let's step back to that point before seat belt legislation was passed into law and consider the ideological “means testing” that should have been applied to the prospective law.

From the conservative view the primary responsibility of government is to protect our freedom. We establish laws to protect citizens from those who would seek to threaten another's freedom (i.e. life, limb, or property).

However, we recognize that every law intended to protect one freedom may result in reducing another. Therefore, laws must be weighed very carefully. Generally speaking, it is better to regulate after a risk has been identified and only if the regulation itself is deemed a reasonable trade-off. Effectively, by regulation, we trade one freedom for the protection of another.

We must also recognize that elected legislators, by the simple virtue of becoming a fabricator of government, tend to look toward government as the answer for all that ails us. They must be reminded that a government bent on protecting all of our freedoms will ultimately protect none of them.

Still with me?

Let's get back to regulating usage of public roads. It is (or should be) recognized that operating a motorized vehicle is risky. However, the citizenship has expressed a desire to accept the risks. When drivers say they want to drive 65-70 mph on our highways, they inherently accept the associated risks.

Further, the legislature must accept the fact that personal responsibility for personal safety may exceed that of government's responsibility. So, when it is reasonable to regulate the equipment in the car and its usage?

From the conservative viewpoint, we expect some regulation to reduce the risk that one vehicle may impose on those around it. It is reasonable to require breaks on cars using public roads. Breaks reduce the risk that cars will endanger the general public.

But, the point of regulation is not to seek the safest possible roadways (lest they be closed permanently). In short, regulating the vehicle should be limited to that which reduces an identified risk to the general public. Still, such regulation must be consistent with the level of risk that the public accepts on and near a given roadway. (We expect highways to be riskier than residential side streets.)

So, is it reasonable to regulate seat belt usage?

If the risks that such regulation seeks to reduce is to that of the occupants alone, then the answer is no. In a free society, we expect personal safety to be governed by personal responsibility – and not by the government.

However, if drivers are getting into accidents because they not wearing their seat belts and were unable to control their vehicles, then the answer may be yes. There is a reasonable expectation that drivers maintain control of their vehicles while on public roadways. If it can be demonstrated that seat belt usage is a key factor to controlling a vehicle – akin to working breaks – then regulating usage would indeed seam reasonable. Of course, as I said before, while I believe that seat belt usage does play a key role in vehicle control, demonstrating the risk is difficult.

My point is to endorse the concept of seat belt regulation should it be determined to reduce an identified risk to the general public. But, it should be treated as any other equipment regulation. If first time offenses for inoperative break lights only warrant a warning, then so should driving while unbuckled.

5/28/2006 1:26 PM  
Blogger Right Hook said...

Wow! This dead horse has been thoroughly beaten, but I'm willing to get in one final whack.

I think we agree on more than we disagree, but as a pragmatic matter I wish the government would just butt out when it comes to seat belt laws. As far as I'm concerned the government has more than fulfilled its responsibility to protect the public by requiring manufacturers to equip vehicles with seat belts. I don't object to a rule about wearing seat belts per se. I just view the law, no matter how good the intention, as sufficiently difficult to enforce to the point that it tends to negate the benefits of the enforcement.

In the case of a burned out brake light (although I understand the practicality of "break" lights on a Ford) there is a demonstrable condition that can be observed after the traffic stop. The brake light condition is hazardous to others because, unlike another driver without a seat belt, it can actively influence the actions of other drivers in a negative way (i.e. not applying the brakes because he is unaware that the car with the defective lights is stopping).

In contrast, if someone is hell-bent on driving without a seat belt they can put it on or pull out the shoulder harness to make it look like it is in use after they spot the cop (or even put it on as they are being pulled over). This is not conducive to safe driving--I'd rather have the unbelted moron pay attention to his driving rather than being on the lookout for cops. Furthermore, this creates a situation of the motorist's word against the officer's which can and does get ugly. Getting involved in cat-and-mouse games with morons who aren't going to buckle up until the have to do so to keep from falling out of their wheelchair anyway is not an efficient use of an officer's time. There is also the situation where if an officer could make an honest mistake and accuse an innocent driver of not buckling up or, worse yet, be tempted to stretch the truth a bit in his observation to earn brownie points with his supervisors.

In any case, I believe the headache of aggressive seat belt law enforcement outweighs the possible benefits and provides great temptation for abuse by nanny-staters (which is what started this rather long discussion). A stern talking-to from a cop when a driver is pulled over for some other offense is more than adequate to cause a person who honestly forgot to buckle up to pay more attention next time. The admonishment will go in one ear and out the other of the moron anyway, with or without a ticket.

5/28/2006 5:23 PM  

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