General Question

Phobia's avatar

Is the law for wearing seatbelts unconstitutional?

Asked by Phobia (1470 points ) June 12th, 2009

Shouldn’t I have the choice of whether I’m safe in my own vehicle or not? The government shouldn’t be able to tell me what to do on or in my property as long as it doesn’t endanger someone else.

Do they pull the “You are on our roads, so you follow our rules.” card or something? Still, I don’t see how seatbelts can be governed.

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61 Answers

kevbo's avatar

I haven’t tested this, and I don’t know anyone who has, but here is one argument: http://www.marcstevens.net/content/view/84/33/

There’s more about traffic court on this guy’s site.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

I haven’t seen anything in the Constitution about seat belts.
Seems like a small thing really. No one’s in jail for not wearing their seat belt.

It’s an easy thing to do and it keeps health care costs down and saves lives.

Phobia's avatar

It’s not about the seatbelts really. Its about defending rights, no matter how small. You either defend your rights, or give them up. And if its such a small thing, why make a law out of it?

robmandu's avatar

Folks, the US Constitution outlines the specific powers of the federal government. All others are – by default – the province of the individual states and the People.

A federal seat belt law would likely be unconstitutional. But that’s not what you’re seeing. Yours are local and state.

Edit: I’m sure it would be trivial to sell people on a federal seat belt law as it might pertain to interstate commerce which is under the purview of the federal government. But there’s no need.

MrItty's avatar

What part of the constitution do you believe it’s in conflict with, out of curiosity?

dynamicduo's avatar

I know people who choose not to wear seatbelts for just this reason. I see the benefit in wearing one so I do wear one. I do not appreciate “mandatory helmets for adults” laws because I think that people should be free to take that risk. As for wearing seatbelts in the car, I acknowledge that the risk of your body going through the windshield and causing damage to others is low, however the costs in rehabilitating you would be much greater versus wearing the belt that in a social medical system place such as Canada, I feel that seatbelt laws in cars are appropriate. That said, I would support an initiative to repeal the laws, but that ain’t gonna happen cause the cops need to fill the city coffers.

No idea about the constitution as I’m not American.

SirBailey's avatar

Er, I remember my driving manual saying the reason the driver should have a seatbelt is ALSO so that he can remain in a position to keep control of the car in an accident. So it DOES affect others.

willbrawn's avatar

Really? You want to have a greater risk of dying? Do you think smoking is good for you too?

oratio's avatar

@willbrawn I don’t think that’s what he meant. The point is if you should be punished for not protecting yourself from harm.

willbrawn's avatar

Point is, we all see why the law is there. It saves lives, and sometimes people are plan stupid and don’t follow laws. I see no problem with dumb people getting tickets for endangering there own lives. In a sense that person is being selfish and not thinking of loved ones.

MrItty's avatar

@dynamicduo Should people also be free to foot their own medical costs when they go flying through the windshield? Can we cut them off from medicare and health insurance that the rest of the taxpayers pay for?

Your own health is NOT your own right if it’s not also your own responsibility. It belongs to all of us.

Phobia's avatar

@kevbo Thanks for the video, just goes to show these laws aren’t justifiable.

@robmandu Amendment 14 – Citizenship Rights. Ratified 7/9/1868. Note History

1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Making laws that take away a right that endangers only me deprives me of liberty (choice). As I said, unconstitutional.

@syz I completely agree.

@MrItty look at syz’s link. shouldn’t EVERYTHING bad for you be illegal then? Also, I have my own health insurance that covers me incase of accidents.

CMaz's avatar

Is it unconstitutional to not allow me to drink a bottle of draino? For the most part no one really cares. It’s my problem and the problem for the few people I am directly in contact with.

It is called risk management. Not wearing a seat belt WILL cost more in insurance and civil expense. It is really not about your safety or being unconstitutional. It is about money.
Safety just sounds nicer.

critter1982's avatar

Since driving a car is not a right but a privilege, I would say no it is not. Additionally, as many here hit on, it keeps insurance and health care costs down.

On a side note, it never made a whole lot of sense to me, at least in my state, motorcyclists are not required to wear a helmet. One could argue though that if a motorcyclist gets in an accident to keep healthcare costs down, they might as well just die rather than being saved my a helmet and a parapalegic the rest of their lives.

Phobia's avatar

I see your point. But I still ask, why isn’t everything bad for you illegal then? Smoking causes cancer, yes? My health insurance would have to cover that, which raises prices. Drinking eats away at my liver, another raise in price. Eating McDonalds as much as I do is obviously unhealthy, another raise. People suffer from just those few things (if not McDonalds, any unhealthy eating habits) and if its about money, why are they still legal? Because the government cannot govern risk you place upon yourself.

MrItty's avatar

@Phobia no. Not everything bad for you should be illegal. Just those things that are bad for you that are caused by stupidity. If you want to be stupid, fine. But I shouldn’t have to pay for your stupidity.

Does your health insurrance also cover the costs of the police officer who has to respond to the scene of the accident? Of the ambulance workers who have to load your carcas on the gurney? Of the city dpw workers who have to fix the streetlight you hit? No. I paid for all of those, through my taxes. You do not live on an island. Everything you do, affects people around you.

oratio's avatar

@MrItty I don’t know what I think about this law. Both aspects have good points. If there is a law against not wearing a seat belt, maybe there should be a law for wearing life vests while in boats. This legislation is done for economic reasons and not to protect us, but then again it doesn’t really matter. I still wear a seat belt, and I wear a life vest at sea.

I do see why some people get pissed off for getting a traffic ticket for that though.

robmandu's avatar

Still trying to figure out how wearing a seat belt impedes anyone’s liberty in a real, substantive manner.

In short, it does not. Wearing a seat belt prevents no one from accomplishing a real goal with a motor vehicle. It’s a triviality.

Zaku's avatar

Seatbelt and helmet laws exist because of the insurance industry and the tolerance for corporate and industry interests to lobby, fund, and otherwise manipulate our government. It is an insult to our freedom. I still wear seatbelts because they make sense. The laws are just an insult and an abuse of power.

Phobia's avatar

@oratio Yeah, I see MrItty’s point, but it doesn’t dismiss mine. Either way, things are wrong with it.

For the record, I wear my seatbelt.

@Zaku Very true. And thats my problem, its an insult and an abuse of power.

@robmandu Liberty- 1: the quality or state of being free: a: the power to do as one pleases b: freedom from physical restraint c: freedom from arbitrary or despotic control d: the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges e: the power of choice.
Of course our liberty is limited if it infringes someone else’s rights. (the freedom from physical restraint made me laugh)

CMaz's avatar

“if its about money, why are they still legal? Because the government cannot govern risk you place upon yourself.”
Not true, look at Nazi germany.
Cigarettes, alcohol, and fast food have VERY strong lobbyist.

robmandu's avatar

@Phobia, it’s liberty, not anarchy. Rule of law comes into play. What are laws, but limits on what you can and cannot do?

Requiring a seatbelt is not arbitrary or despotic. Nor does it limit your freedom in a real, substantive way.

Phobia's avatar

@robmandu Not all laws should exist. Just because its a law, doesn’t mean its right. Of course this law doesn’t limit me in any real way, but punishes me for making a simple choice. As I said before, I believe one should defend their rights, or just give them up. It isn’t just about the seatbelts, but setting a firm limit on what the government can and can’t do.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@Phobia How do you intend to fight such injustice?

MindErrantry's avatar

I see one aspect of the seatbelt laws that hasn’t come up here—children and seatbelts. There are plenty of people who wouldn’t (think to) put a seatbelt on their child if they weren’t reminded/legally enforced. The child wouldn’t know enough to put their own seatbelt on, but it’s still dangerous for them—thus the laws can (at least theoretically) enforce the protection of others. That’s a good thing.

Phobia's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic The only thing a common man can do, complain complain complain. Write my senator, even though I doubt he’ll give it the light of day. But, there’s never a chance of winning if one does nothing. Also, take that video into consideration. If I ever get a ticket, I’ll just get it thrown out if possible.

robmandu's avatar

@Phobia, I get that. I understand. I just suggest finding better selection criteria for picking your battles.

I also subscribe to Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote: “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.”

Phobia's avatar

Ah, I love that quote. I’ll find a better cause eventually, but every journey starts with one step. Start small and work your way up. If you remove small issues with certain cases, they can be used for reference in larger ones.

Anyways, thanks for all the input guys. I think its time for me to hit the sack, no use staying awake for more than 24 hours.

(goes back up and gives some lurve)

Bri_L's avatar

@SirBailey – 100% true. Even with the smallest forces applied to one’s body in normal driving if one was driving with feet on the floor and hands at 10 and 2 our bodies are still shifted around. Now take a hand off the wheel, move the non-braking foot around to where ever and put a cell, burger or cig in the persons hand and a seat belt gives you that extra bit of restraint.

adreamofautumn's avatar

In my state it’s not mandatory to wear a seatbelt after a certain age (that means kids HAVE TO), I think that’s fine…we also don’t have mandatory helmet laws, because if you do something that kills you like not wearing a seatbelt or helmet, it’s mostly your own fault. That said…it does make every state around us have a nice lucrative income where they can just pick cars off as they come across the border and ticket them for not wearing seatbelts. I wear a seatbelt because i’ve seen car wrecks kill people, but to be honest…I don’t see why the government needs to ticket those that don’t.

Bri_L's avatar

What I love is in my state, WI, they have a “Click it or Ticket” campaign and yet we are fighting, FIGHTING to get your FOURTH drunk driving conviction, a felony. Those are fucked up priorities.

Zaku's avatar

Some places in the USA require a special baby seat to be used for children under a certain age. Those seats get to be pretty complex (and expensive)... though I have heard that research shows that they actually endanger children over part of the legally required age range. Seems to me that (if accurate) that research should be both a defense and a compelling force that causes laws to change. Not that I think the law is the right way to get people to do THAT, either. It should be a matter of education and at most, social pressure. To my mind, it’s really NOT CRIMINAL to not use maximum caution, even with children. I’m glad I got to grow up before safety consciousness went berserk and litigious. None of my friends would’ve been spared injuries that I remember by bike helmets or baby seats or even by seat belts, which again isn’t really the point. Maximum safety shouldn’t be the law… not where I want to live, anyway.

It seems like this issue could and maybe will be changed, at least in some jurisdictions, by public referendum. Unfortunately, adding laws for anything that seems like a good idea based on short-sighted thinking about examples, seems to be still the way a lot of the US public thinks… I tend to blame the patterns in the “news” media for that – the pattern of story that reports an accident, hams up the drama and “it’s so wrong” aspect, and asks, “how could this happen? what can be done?” Geez there are about 300 million Americans – things are gonna happen to them.

Darwin's avatar

This is why we need a seat belt law.

As the article states, ”...if 95% rear passengers wore seatbelts, we would save more than 800 lives a year and prevent more than 65,000 injuries. This would represent a savings of about $3.8 billion a year in the United States.”

Ivan's avatar

You’ll have to point out the article of the constitution that states “each citizen shall be ever to do whatever the hell they want to themselves, no matter how dangerous, so long as it does not harm others.”

LexWordsmith's avatar

Little problem if these idiots who who refuse to wear a motorcycle helmet kill themselves without harming anyone else, without destroying public or other people’s property, without incurring huge clean-up costs, without causing traffic jams, and so on—but those conditions are rarely fulfilled, and most of the time these idiots, even when they kill themselves, cost me money. and when they don’t kill themselves, but do injure themselves severely, the costs skyrocket, raising at best my insurance premiums and at worst my taxes. So i judge that there’s a good reason for them to make a reasonable effort to reduce the possible public-expenditure consequences of their urge to ride unfettered.

YARNLADY's avatar

I almost agree with the concept, except the constitution part. Back in the 1950’s, before the seatbelt law, we didn’t have to have wars to keep the population down. It was a natural effect of not wearing seatbelts. The problem with it was the “collateral damage”, and “unintended consequences”.

Bri_L's avatar

Here is an interesting ponderable.

If the government fails to regulate a product that IS dangerous, like a faulty crib or a swing we cry rat if something happens.

Why do we only want them to protect us from ourselves when it agrees with our already established practices?

Darwin's avatar

If anyone read my link, mandating seatbelt use by back seat passengers at any rate saves the lives of people in the front seat. Thus, not using a seatbelt can cause injury and death to others, not just yourself. You become a projectile and regardless of what happens to you, anyone you hit will also be injured.

YARNLADY's avatar

The thing most people forget in the “I want my freedom” issue is the rest of the equation. Personal responsibitity has to come first, and from that, we find/earn freedom. If responsibility had been observed from the very beginning, no such law would have been necessary.

Garebo's avatar

I think it’s is another reason for the police to stop people; and it is all about the money, – insurance industry/lobby. Not much different then the health insurance; now, the government is increasingly controlling what we can eat and drink and there quest to discredit the nutritional supplement industry is persistant, on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. Just think eventually we won’t be able to enjoy those delicious Trans Fats-I don’t know what I will do with out them. I think it all sounds good, but I don’t think the governments intent is primarily to save lives, if it was, we wouldn’t be in Afghanistan, rather it is to control costs and people. If anything it should be a market driven to wear them, if you don’t wear them then you pay a higher insurance rates, and as a deterrent to lying or cheating the system, a stiff penalty. Make it an incentive to wear them, and if you want to take the risk, or hate wearing them, willing to pay the premium, then you should have the choice. As our past great Governor, Jessie “The Bod” Ventura use to say, “just follow the money”.

Darwin's avatar

@Garebo – Remind me to never offer you a ride in my vehicle. No seat belt, you walk.

And there is an incentive to wear seat belts, two of them, actually. If you are in a crash and do not have your seat belt fastened, you get an additional ticket for not using the seat belt, and you get additional injuries from flying free inside or outside the car, both whether the accident was your fault or not. Personally, I find both of these to be incentive enough.

Garebo's avatar

Don’t worry, I wouldn’t accept anyway. I wear them, but I don’t think people should be punished for not wearing them, if they so choose.
Go ahead levy your fine to my friend who wasn’t wearing his seat belt who tried to pull a 300 pound drunk driver in his seatbelts out of his burning car that just about killed him. He couldn’t get him out of the restraint, nor the car.
They are not the panacea for irresponsible or negligent driving; yes, they are necessary, but there should be just as much of a concern over drivers talking on cell phones and driving like idiots. Why aren’t there any laws for you on that; probably because the telecommunications lobby is far stronger right now than the weakened auto insurance lobby.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Garebo California and many other states have laws against using cell phones in cars, and laws against driving like idiots, which they call reckless driving.

LexWordsmith's avatar

Well, as John D. MacDonald had Travis McGee say, wearing a seat belt is not good when you are driving a convertible that happens to roll and burn—but the seat belt tilts the odds in your favor overall, despite its worsening the situation on infrequent occasions.

Darwin's avatar

Also, military bases have strict laws against using a cell phone while driving. While it is handy to be able to take a call while driving, I wouldn’t mind at all if my locality would make it illegal. I have had to dodge too many other drivers who were preoccupied with their phone conversations to see my big white truck.

Garebo's avatar

@YARNLADY: We don’t have such a law; we should, or if we do I have never heard of anyone getting a ticket. So, what is the law say in CA, if a law enforcement person notices you driving while on the phone, he can pull you over and cite you with a traffic violation with a hefty fine-sorry I am too lazy to go look into it? I am personally busy looking for a 1958 Chevy-just kidding.

YARNLADY's avatar

The enforcement of the law is up to each agency. Some will pull over, others will only cite in case of a collision.

Garebo's avatar

Thanks, just what I thought “No state completely bans all types of cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for all drivers, but many prohibit cell phone use by certain segments of the population.”

oratio's avatar

I agree that holding the phone to the ear during driving is questionable and unsafe, but I see little point in banning cell phone use during driving, if it’s used with a head set or a docked speaker system. If so, you should ban drivers from speaking to passengers, and maybe even ban the car radio.

MindErrantry's avatar

The thing about cell phones is that your mind gets brought farther away from the immediate situation than when you’re listening to something right there—this has been tested (no, can’t cite it, sorry), but it certainly holds true with what experience I have, and I expect other peoples’ as well. Yes, talking to passengers is actually distracting and, depending on the driver, can lower the quality of their driving, but it’s less so than when you’re talking to an ‘abstract’ person, where you have to pay attention to this object (which may be having signal issues, hard to hear, etc.) which really butts in on your focus. Radio, I think, would be less of an issue, because you’re at least not having to respond, and its a lot easier to tune out than a real person.

The problem with cell phones isn’t the number of hands on the wheel, but the brain’s focus. I agree with @oratio that we shouldn’t then ban friends and radio (because that would be ridiculous), but I think there is an issue of scale here which makes cell phones worth banning, except for emergency calls. Just take a look at that person at the four-way stop on their cell phone who takes forever to get moving (is s/he waiting for the sign to turn green?) or who’s meandering between lanes and doesn’t even notice… They really do drive much worse than the majority of people, even those having animated conversations with their passengers.

oratio's avatar

@MindErrantry I do agree that it can take away focus. Even if that is true, that talking to a person in a headset is more abstract than a person in the back seat that you don’t look at, I think that banning cell phones while driving would be a toothless law.

Sales people and people working on the road that has to be reached will not pull over to take a call. Police officers would be excempted, as well as truck drivers, taxi drivers and security guards.

I think that the amount of focus is the responsibility of the driver. You are not responsible when you look at the passenger while talking, not when you reach for something in the glove compartment, or drink a beverage while driving. This is still legal to do. (In my country that is.)

There is nothing that prevents the driver from telling the person on the phone to hold, while driving through an intersection.

Responsible driving is something that has to be included in the driving school, rather than banning it, and believe that will solve anything.

That’s what I think anyway.

Zaku's avatar

We discussed the driving on the phone thing last year – it’s been shown to generally make drivers as dangerous as being drunk, from lack of attention to driving.

MrItty's avatar

@Zaku difference being that you can hang up or drop the phone. You can’t snap your fingers and make yourself sober.

Rsam's avatar

suggesting you have a “right” to not wear a seatbelt and potentially kill yourself and inflict pain, suffering, and potentially a lot of emergency care cost to your family and insurance is well. one of the dumbest things i’ve ever heard.

go ahead and die is probably the best response i can give.

LexWordsmith's avatar

the difference between a passenger and a hands-free cell phone is pro and con: the passenger could be aware enogh to shut up in an iffy situation or even help draw your attention to something you missed that you need to notice to be safe, but on the other hand i’ll turn my head when talking to a passenger, but i wouldn’t do that if i were talking on a hands-free cell.

the part of the attention at issue seems toi be the novel-response-generating portion, so a radio is no problem unless you have a tendency to answer back to it a lot.<grin>

Rude_Bear's avatar

The simple answer is it is neither constitutional nor unconstitutional, referring to The US constitution. It’s a matter of State law, and not all states require a seat belt.

oratio's avatar

@Rude_Bear I bet their insurance companies do though.

Rude_Bear's avatar

@oratio Nope. NH doesn’t require a seat belt, nor am I aware of any insurance company mandate.

john65pennington's avatar

True, your automobile is your property. but, your property is riding on public property, which gives the government the right to establish and maintain laws governing seatbelts. you can drive your autombile on your farm or other personal property and never be required to wear a seatbelt.

lillycoyote's avatar

Yes, as @Rude_Bear stated, it’s really not one or the other, though I would lean toward constitutional because as the bear also mentions, seat belt laws are state laws and the 10th Amendment states that:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

And I think, though I am certainly not an expert on these things, that state seat belt laws would be constitutional under the 10th Amendment as it not something specifically mentioned or otherwise “delegated” in the constitution.

Also, driving is not considered a right, it is sort of privilege so you kind of have to follow the rules if you want to do it.

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