I’m not a libertarian, but I have the traditional cussedness that is provoked by being told what to do by others when the behavior only concerns me. Such is the case with Minnesota’s seat belt law, which now requires drivers and occupants to wear a seat belt on the road and authorizes law enforcement authorities to stop drivers to enforce the law. The new “primary” seat belt law went into effect last year; the old “secondary” law only allowed officers to ticket someone for not wearing a seat belt only if they first witnessed a moving violation.
The previous law required that the driver, a front-seat passenger and a passenger in any seat between three and 11-years-old wear a seat belt. The new law requires all passengers — regardless of age or seating position — to wear a seat belt. Violators originally faced a $25 fine; the current fine is, unbelievably to me, $105.
The (University of) Minnesota Daily ran an informative article on the new law last year in anticipation of its effective date. The rationale for the law’s passage seems remarkably attenuated. According to an analysis provided by the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety, primary seat belt laws could reduce the incidence of automobile crash fatalities by about 10 percent in rural areas. How about on city streets in suburbs where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour/
A Democratic legislator quoted in the article probably spilled the beans on the underlying motivation. She said an additional benefit of this law is the federal dollars that will come into the state with its passage.
In more than 40 years of driving, I have received two tickets for moving violations, one of which was dismissed. While driving to lunch on a city street in the suburb where I work, I was pulled over. I couldn’t figure out why. What had I been doing wrong? When the state trooper came up to my car, he asked: “Do you usually wear a seat belt?” I’d been busted under the new law.
When the trooper came back to my car after running my driver’s license through his computer, the officer explained: “We’ve got a major enforcement campaign going this summer. You’ve probably seen it on the local news.” I actually don’t watch the local news and hadn’t seen news of the campaign. It wouldn’t have occurred to me in any event that it involves looking for drivers to stop whose only offense is not wearing a seat belt.
The incident reminded me of William F. Buckley’s love of riding his motorcycle scooter to get around town in the 1960’s. Buckley put a photograph of himself wearing a coat and tie and riding his motorcycle scooter in city traffic on the cover of 1968’s The Jeweler’s Eye. I recall hearing that his joy in riding the motorcycle scooter was killed when it became subject to the requirement that he wear a helmet.
Minnesota’s motorcycle helmet law reflects a more libertarian spirit than the seat belt law. It applies only to operators under age 18 or riding with instructional/learner’s permits. I infer that no federal funds are at issue, and that in Minnesota motorcycle riders are a more difficult interest group to deal with than drivers. Buckley could have remained an easy rider in Minnesota.
I don’t have the option of not driving to protest the new law, but I’ve got a few other ideas in mind in connection with the ticket that was issued to me.


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