Seat belts and Obamacare: Twin tools of the Nanny State

Seat belts and Obamacare: Twin tools of the Nanny State

by
Wayne Hoffman
June 9, 2010
Wayne Hoffman
Author Image
June 9, 2010

For months, we freedom lovers have been bemoaning the socialistic atrocity that is Obamacare. But keep in mind where Obamacare originated: In general, it is from the belief of politicians that they can make you do things under the altruistic notion that a law is in your or society’s best interests. That’s a notion that is as old as many other state and federal laws.

Let’s give an Idaho example: The other day, I broke the law. According to police, I was speeding. The friendly police officer (and I mean that sincerely; he was very kind) who pulled me over told me that I had been driving 35 miles an hour in a 30-MPH zone. Yes, indeed. I exceeded the speed limit by 5 miles an hour, necessitating my interaction with law enforcement.

That, of course, wasn’t my real crime, however. My real infraction — the issue that necessitated my interaction with law enforcement on this otherwise mundane morning — was my failure to wear a seat belt.

Idaho law makes failure to wear a seat belt a secondary offense. The law says that in order for a driver in Idaho to be pulled over for failing to wear a seat belt, the police officer has to see some other violation. He or she has to catch someone speeding, observe a tail light out, witness a lane change without signaling, and so on.

But that hasn’t stopped law enforcement from focusing on seat belt violations first, even though the law says it is a secondary infraction. The police, usually armed with a government grant to help fund such operations, will pick a high traffic-volume morning or afternoon and look for people not wearing their seat belts, identify some other crime they are committing and then intercept the scofflaw.

Indeed, the Legislature never intended the law to be used in this manner. The intent of lawmakers was to allow the seat belt law to be used to educate drivers about the seat belt law, but only while law enforcement was already enforcing the law as it applies to speeders, drunken or inattentive drivers and other societal outcasts.

On this particular day, I was not the only person to be cited for failing to buckle up. Friends in other Idaho cities told me they, too, had been stopped by law enforcement.

One friend in Boise has a citation that doesn’t include any other charges except the seat belt infraction, which would make his traffic stop illegal. But challenging a traffic citation is, by design, very difficult and very costly if you lose. People end up finding little reason to take time off from work to go to court and fight a $10 ticket.

This is what’s known as a judicial tax. It is less expensive and less time-consuming to just pay the bill than to challenge a ticket in court.

All this brings me back to Obamacare. No one claims anyone will go to jail for not buying insurance. When seat belt laws were passed, no one expected the law to be used for anything but secondary enforcement. And yet today, police are spending time stopping people for insignificant infractions because government thinks it is its job to keep us safe from ourselves.

The question isn’t how Obamacare will work. The question is, what’s next?

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