Link and Comments: Personal Liberty and Seat Belts

As I was saying: Washington Post: How mask fights echo seat belt fights: ‘The right to be splattered all over their windshields’

As transportation secretary in the Reagan administration, Elizabeth Dole pushed for mandatory seat belt laws. The idea created angry divisions among the public as some Americans said their rights were being infringed. Stephen Teret, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University, recalls the era.

“We are a country that very, very much values personal freedoms,” Teret said. “And there are always some people who see their personal freedoms as being more important than the common good. And that’s the fight public health has always had.”

Dole appeals to college students:

Lecturing to a college classroom, Dole says, “How many of you think it’s important to buckle your safety belt every time you get into a car?”

Not everyone raises their hands.

“Do you know that every 10 minutes someone is a killed in car accident?” she asks. “Do you know that every 10 seconds someone is injured?”

The students look startled.

Dole wasn’t finished.

“Do you know that each of you in this classroom can expect to be in a car crash at least once in your lifetime?” she says.

Then the camera zooms in on her face.

“Now,” she says, “is there anyone here who doesn’t think it’s important to buckle up every time you get into a car?”

But this misses part of the point. Sure, you’re free to jump off a bridge if you like, or drive over a cliff, with or without a seatbelt; but car safety, like pandemic protection, is a matter of social responsibility. In the case of seat belts, the more people who die in car crashes not having worn seat belts raises the insurance premiums of everyone, even those who did wear them; the responsible people pay a price for the selfishness of the irresponsible people. Just as people who don’t wear masks because PERSONAL LIBERTY could well be spreading the virus and infecting other people. The anti-mask zealots don’t seem to understand that — or more likely, don’t care.

And from direct and indirect experience: cars of the 1940s and ’50s were deathtraps. If your car went off the road and flipped over, you were gone. This is common in movies of the era, and I saw it in a newspaper clip in a scrapbook of my grandmother’s, about some incident in the ’50s, in which some enormous car of that era (something like a 1956 Buick perhaps,, had run off the road and flipped over, and killed three of her cousins.

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