Reader Question: Seatbelts?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Barry writes: I understand (or at least expect) that the original mandatory seatbelt laws were for the benefit of insurance companies. However, 15-20 years ago in North Carolina I had an autobahn flashback interrupted by flashing lights, and was told I could make things better by taking a safe driving class, which cast a new light on seatbelt wearing. One essential service of the seat-and-shoulder belt is to keep you, in the event of a front-end impact, from being maimed or killed by the airbag as it deploys at huge speed. After a split second, it’s not moving at all, so “safe.” It stands to reason that anyone not wearing a seat belt in a car with airbags should figure out how to disable them, no?

My reply: Of course.  Air bags are dangerous, especially the first generation ones, which were specifically designed to “cushion” an unbelted male occupant. They proved to be very dangerous to belted occupants as they deployed with tremendous force, sufficient in some cases to actually kill and severely maim the victim. The buckled-up victim.

The deployment force/rate was adjusted (as via weight and even in some cases position sensors) but the bags remain dangerous even so. People – buckled or not – still get injured and some have died (e.g., the Takata fiasco). In any event, it is a mixed bag. It is absolutely true that an air bag can save your life. It is also true an air bag can harm and even kill you.

The question, then, is who has the right to make the decision? Is it the individual’s right to decide for himself whether the risk of having an air bag – or wearing a seatbelt – is greater (or less) than not having/not wearing? That is the moral crux of this business.

My argument is that it is not the government’s business – because the government (which is nothing more than other people) doesn’t have the right to impose risks on people. No matter how slight – and no matter how much “benefit” is asserted. Government exists to protect people’s rights – not to deny people the right to make decisions as regards their own welfare.

All buckled in for saaaaaaafety!

Wearing a seatbelt may be sensible on the whole; so is exercise. So is eating in moderation. The latter two are matters left to the individual’s discretion. Why not the former?

Not wearing a seatbelt imposes no harm on others – and that fact ought to be determinative. The only legitimate basis for punishing people is when they’ve done something to cause harm to the person or property of another. It is ridiculous to claim that not wearing a seatbelt – or driving a car without an air bag – harms anyone.

Because it doesn’t.

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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