The powers that be have recently decreed that Indiana motorists can be stopped and ticketed solely for failure to use their seatbelts. Prior to the new rule, a traffic cop who had stopped you for another violation -speeding, or a missing taillight — could issue a secondary citation if he also found you without proper restraints, but he…
Sheila Suess Kennedy
The powers that be have recently decreed that Indiana motorists can be stopped and ticketed solely for failure to use their seatbelts. Prior to the new rule, a traffic cop who had stopped you for another violation -speeding, or a missing taillight — could issue a secondary citation if he also found you without proper restraints, but he couldn’t stop you merely for failure to buckle up. That has now changed, and the solicitous state will be on the alert to insure that you are taking adequate precautions for your safety.
Next, perhaps, Officer Friendly will stop in to be sure I am eating all my vegetables.
While the ICLU has received several dozen calls about the new law, it doesn’t violate any constitutional provision. It just strikes many of us as needlessly intrusive, an illegitimate use of the power of the government. It is one more example of the seemingly inexorable growth of rules and regulations meant to circumscribe individual behavior. Those who pass such laws clearly mean well. They are protecting us from harm.
Originally, the American legal system operated to protect something very different: our right to personal autonomy. The job of the state was to keep our fellow citizens and the government itself off our backs and out of our hair. If our neighbors held dumb opinions, read trashy books, prayed to the wrong gods or smoked tobacco, we didn’t agitate for bureaucrats to intervene. Not that our neighbor’s behavior wasn’t potentially harmful to him– but our system was premised on the belief that adult members of a society should be treated like adults, and that giving government power over their personal behaviors, even for their own good, was dangerous and ill-conceived.
The notion of a government that keeps order and then gets out of the way seems almost quaint today, when officious functionaries debate whether to mandate seatbelts in golf carts. Today, religious zealots want public schools to require prayer and public laws to regulate sexual behavior; drug warriors want to test high school children, search travelers who fit certain "profiles," and impose curfews on those unlucky enough to live in high crime neighborhoods. Censors want the public libraries to "filter" cyberspace and the television industry (under threat of law) to take the Boy Scout oath. Feminists want government to outlaw books they find "degrading" to women. It’s all for our own good.
The problem is, most of us do not believe that any of this is any of government’s business. Most of us resent the paternalism of government-as-nanny, the implicit assumption that the political establishment knows better than we do how we should conduct our affairs and run our lives.
When I was raising a houseful of kids, I learned a valuable lesson: if children are to mature into responsible adults, they have to learn to take responsibility for their own decisions. They have to make their own mistakes. Otherwise, they never grow up.
I thought about that the other day, when I was buckling my seat belt.