Buckle up your kids

I’m a rabid advocate for personal freedom, especially when it comes to Big Brother telling us we have to wear seatbelts when we drive our cars and helmets when we ride our motorcycles. Freedom always costs something, and the cost is sometimes distributed to society at large when we have to foot the bill for someone who gets seriously injured because he did not wear his seatbelt or helmet. I think that personal freedom is worth the cost, generally. But not when it could put your kids’ lives in danger.

The recent head-on collision on Interstate 80 that left five people dead gave me pause to think. Three of the fatalities were children, none of whom appear to have been wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident. I don’t know if they would have survived the crash if they had been restrained, but they might have, considering that the father (and mother, as of this writing) did survive, despite being in the front seats during the head-on collision.

I have traveled thousands of miles with my own three kids in the back of vans and station wagons over the years. They don’t do well restrained on long trips, and after dark, they inevitably want to stretch out and try to sleep (for which I am always grateful). That’s hard to do in a seatbelt, so even if they did have them on while sitting up, they usually unbuckled for the night.

Few of us making a long trip and doing night driving think we will get creamed by some drunk driver going the wrong way down the interstate, especially in the middle of Nevada. This latest tragedy reminds us all that we are not immune to such freak occurrences. It could have been any of us on that road that night, and many would have had kids sleeping unrestrained in the back.

I am against seatbelt laws—and helmet laws—on principle. But if we are going to agree to have a seatbelt law, it would seem at least somewhat consistent to require that everyone in the car have one on, and it should be a “primary” offense, meaning that law enforcement should be able to pull over a violator for non-compliance alone.

Right now in Nevada it is a “secondary” offense, which means you cannot be ticketed for not wearing your seatbelt unless you have violated some other law (like speeding) first. This seems to me to be like having a law that says you cannot drink beer while driving, but even if a police officer sees this happen, he can’t pull you over for it unless you break some other law. It seems unenforceable, and a law that can’t be enforced is just silly.

Personally, I will try to develop a new habit of belting myself in when I drive, and I’ll be making sure that all my passengers are restrained, as well. Even though I still don’t think the government should make me wear my seatbelt, I am more convinced than ever that wearing them—and making my children wear them—is a good idea. If there is any consolation for the parents of those young children who died on Interstate 80, there will be a lot more of us making sure our kids are safely restrained while we drive.

Choose freedom, but live wisely. Buckle up those kids.