I wrote this in 1984 during the controversial proposed law to mandate seatbelts in Michigan. In 2021, what four letter word can you substitute for “seatbelt?”
I am ashamed to say I am in favor of the mandatory seatbelt law now being debated in Lansing. As one who sanctifies individual responsibility to the cult level, I can hardly hold my head up endorsing a law where the government will fine me $10 if I don’t buckle up. Orwell’s 1984 warned us about big government’s intrusions into our lives and I tremble at the thought. If I were a better person, I would be outraged at the idea the state would order me to do what I know I should do—but don’t.
Yet free will, individualism, and civil rights aside, the disgraceful truth is I do want the state to make me do what I know I should, but I’m just too busy. Turning the key on and driving are simultaneous for me. And I’m already late and still have lipstick to put on, hair to comb, radio to tune not to mention coffee to drink. My traffic light breaks are barely long enough to finish my toilette leaving me no time to thrash under my seat for a buckle.
Behind my succumbing to a government mandate, I go back to one snowy day in 1962 when I didn’t bother putting my seatbelt on driving to my teaching job on a four-lane highway in Wayne County. I’m in my comfortable right lane when I pull into the left as the car in front of me stops to pick up a hitchhiker. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye something shiny appears. While my rational brain says this isn’t happening, my brainless instinct jerks the wheel away from the shiny object. It turns out to be a full-sized car coming hard across a double yellow line right at my brand new but much smaller Tempest.
The instant crashing sound of steel on steel accompanied by tinkling glass and feeling no pain, I was sure I’d been sideswiped. Fixed on getting the license number, I jerk myself up from the passenger seat where I’d ended, and in full hot pursuit, I grab for the door handle. But—no door. And the driver’s seat’s in the back seat. Seeing but not absorbing, I jump out to give chase. Then I see the hitchhiker and his driver have both gone through the windshield when the skidding car hit them head on.
My driver’s seat was a death trap buckled in. But that was 22 years ago, and I have moved from that emotional trauma into the world of scientific evidence. Some 400 Michigan residents would be alive today had their seatbelts been on last year and another 11,000 injuries would have been avoided. Mine was freaky good luck. The driver who hit both our cars and the men beside me ALL went off in ambulances because they did not have their seatbelts on. Three to one.
Mandatory seatbelts became law in Ontario almost ten years ago and traffic fatalities have gone down over 40% since. Of course it’s an infringement on our individual liberty! But we irresponsible drivers need to be forced to buckle up and make our passengers do the same for the good of everyone else on the road. I’m not proud to cave from my “back off” government stance. But I’ll take giving in over going through a windshield.