This past weekend my family and I drove through four states to attend the wedding of a family friend. As we entered one state, we encountered a huge sign that read “Seatbelts Save Lives: Buckle up—It’s the Law!” Then underneath in smaller print we saw the fashionable cliché: “Click it or Ticket.”
I think in general a law that requires all passengers in motor vehicles to wear seatbelts is a no-brainer. Most people consider this a commonsense safety practice and don’t need a billboard and the threat of criminal prosecution to compel compliance with the law.
It’s not so much the law that caught my attention, so much as its inner logic, which often seems to be missing in discussions pertaining to abortion “rights.”
Let’s start with the premise that seatbelts save lives. This premise far outweighs the 101 reasons why one might not want to wear a seatbelt. Yet, wearing a seatbelt doesn’t make me a safer driver. People who are not in my car are not in any way threatened by my not wearing a seatbelt. As my Mom used to say, “it’s your own funeral,” meaning I’m only hurting myself by not wearing a seatbelt.
If that’s the case, isn’t wearing a seatbelt a personal decision. Shouldn’t I be able to personally weigh the pros and cons and come up with my own decision without threat of legal repercussion?
Or, does the state have a vested interest in my well-being and that of my passengers—especially those who are too young to make their own decisions? Should the state protect this interest even when I am too foolish or ignorant or reckless to do so myself?
Clearly society’s answer—at least when it comes to seatbelts—is yes.
But where is my choice in the matter? Shouldn’t I have a certain autonomy to decide how I will protect myself and my passengers without outside interference? I’m not saying that seatbelts aren’t right for most people. I’m not even saying that seatbelts most of the time aren’t right for me. But doesn’t the Constitution respect my freedom to make choices that concern my own body?
Apparently when it comes to seatbelts, no.
And lastly, doesn’t it seem legitimate for the state to make the judgment that its citizens should wear seatbelts? Yes, there is a value judgment or moral judgment implied in all this. While some people probably disagree with the law, the state is free to make the law if most of the people think it’s going to promote the common good. Those who back the law see this as an important public safety issue, and not as the unwarranted imposition of the “values” of the majority on the minority.
After all, don’t all laws reflect the values of those who enact them? I mean, it seems silly to think one way, but legislate another, doesn’t it?
And wouldn’t it seem to be an undue and in fact odd impostition of the federal government to strike down seatbelt laws because they violate the privacy and autonomy of individual motorists and their passengers? Further still, wouldn’t it be strange if the Supreme Court were to find somwhere in the Constitution a “fundamental right to choose” to not wear seatbelts?
Of course it would. Maybe we should use more common sense when it comes to abortion. Seatbelts do save lives. Abortion doesn’t.