Thursday, April 12, 2007

Liberty Nibbled Away

Like any other routine traffic violation, a primary seatbelt law allows police to stop a motorist, and their passengers, for not wearing a seat belt. Under current Missouri law – St. Louis County excluded, having passed a primary law in March – police can only cite seatbelt violations after stopping a motorist for another traffic offense. For obvious reasons, enforcement and safety are the goals of any primary seatbelt law, with advocates and opponents alike citing statistics to prove or disprove the effectiveness of seatbelt use. For Missouri officials, another would be the millions in federal grant money the state would receive - that could be used toward education, enforcement and infrastructure - by amending the law from secondary to primary enforcement.

With an inherent suspicion cast upon enforcement, the issue in the seatbelt debate is about choice. Under a secondary seatbelt law, a person has the choice to wear or not to wear a seatbelt. A primary law leaves no choice – an infringement on the fundamental values upon which this country was founded. The fact that wearing a seatbelt is an enforceable regulation is a moot point, as enforcement is often discretionary, and despite the letter of the law, maintains a personal choice under it. As such, responsibility lies with the individual to weigh the consequences in the decision to wear or not to wear a seatbelt.

Primary seatbelt laws are simply part of a growing trend, a footnote in government’s continual intrusions and micromanagement of our daily lives. For all its ills past and present, the United States has thrived, and is sustained, by personal rights and freedoms; with the potential cost to civil liberties, legislation that debases that idea erodes any future for it. The expansion of governmental powers under such would be a potentially opportunistic – and legalized – tool by zealous law enforcement. As political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke stated, “the true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts.” Despite a country founded on life AND liberty, that sentiment is slowly, but assuredly, coming to fruition.

©2007 Steve Sagarra

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