Seat belts and other laws: How far is too far?

Dwight Harriman
Enterprise News Editor

Montana lawmakers on Jan. 13 tabled a bill that would have allowed police to stop you simply for not wearing a seat belt.
Right now officers can cite you for a seat belt violation only if they stop you for some other cause.
A hearing on the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee included testimony from Pat Goldhahn, who said the life of his 15-year-old daughter, who was not wearing a seat belt in the accident that caused her death, could have been saved if there’d been a stricter law in place, the Associated Press reported. He said his daughter was a “rule-follower,” and believes she would have otherwise been wearing a belt.
The proposed law, SB 9, sponsored by Sen. Dick Barrett of Missoula, raises a critical question about government’s role in our lives: How far should the government go in making you do or not do things for your own good and the good of society at large? 
In the case of the stricter seat belt law, it could be argued it could not only save your life — in more than half of Montana’s 224 highway deaths in 2015, people were not wearing seat belts, according to the Montana Highway Patrol — but also reduce the financial burden on society to care for people injured in accidents who were not wearing belts.
And if a law like that seems too restrictive, consider how “the government” — be it federal, state or local — already orders us to do many things related to vehicles: We must have a license, insurance and pollution controls, we can’t drink and drive, and there are some restrictions on cell phone use.
And the government tells us what to do on a myriad of other aspects of our lives: from food (no transfats), to our homes (meet building codes), to work (follow many workplace safety rules). 
But how much is too much? At what point do laws for our own good move from being acceptable to an intrusion into our personal lives?
This question was famously highlighted by then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to make it illegal to sell soft drinks more than 16 ounces in size.
A reasonable person would instinctively know this silly proposal enters the area of intrusion. 
However, using food as an example here, we do want the government to enforce some things, like telling food manufacturers they can’t use cancer-causing ingredients in food. But do we want the government telling you, say, you can eat red meat only once a week, or not at all, because it increases your risk for heart disease and it’s not fair to make taxpayers help cover the cost of your open heart surgery?
That’s the eternal conundrum of a democracy. 
No such conundrum exists in authoritarian governments. The person in charge tells you what you’re going to do, and that’s it. It’s simple, but not bearable.
The Montana seat belt proposal to make you wear your seat belt is actually not a bad one, but you can see why it got tabled. People get nervous giving the government too much power. It’s an American thing — it’s in our DNA, going all the way back to what started the Revolutionary War.
And, unless we want to be ruled by a dictator, the fight will always continue. 
As well it should — for your good, and the good of society at large.


Upcoming Events

Wednesday, July 17, 2019
10 a.m., Laurel Public Library, 720 West Third Street, Laurel, 628-4961
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., check for more info. Find them on Facebook . Email them to find out meeting time and to join: The club will have a meeting or volunteer activity. Meeting location is Sid's East Side Bar & Grill on first and third Wednesdays of each month. Members and guests eat free.  Volunteer activity on the second Wednesday of each month. Check their facebook page for updates.  Every fourth Wednesday is for a club social activity. 
Saturday, July 20, 2019
Third Saturdays, 1 p.m., The Crossings, 600 Roundhouse Dr.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Tuesdays, Noon, Beartooth Grill, 305 1st Ave. S.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Fourth Tuesdays, 7 p.m., Eagles Hall, 313 W. Main, 628-4503
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
10 a.m., Laurel Public Library, 720 West Third Street, Laurel, 628-4961


Are you going to go cheer on the Dodgers at the Eastern A District tournament in Laurel?

The Laurel Outlook


Click Here to Check Out Our Latest Ads

We use Google cookies to determine our demographic of visitors to our site. You can opt out here.

We also use Twitter Analytics to track clicks from our twitter feed. 

You can find all the City Council documents that we have received here.