Save Us From Ourselves

by Tom Swift

Consider the seatbelt. Under the law, you must wear one. Why should this be? The intent of a seatbelt, of course, is to protect a person in a car from getting hurt in the event of a sudden stop, car malfunction, accident, or so forth. Yet why is there a law that I says I must protect myself from such an injury? I can see why there must be such a law for minors. They may not be old enough to fully understand the possible consequences of not wearing a seatbelt. But an adult who qualifies for a license to drive a vehicle … shouldn’t she or he be able to make a determination as to whether to put themselves in bodily harm?

To be clear, I am grateful for the law. I do know bad things could happen to me if I don’t wear a seatbelt while driving. Yet, sans the law, I would, no doubt, go without one from time to time. I would do this out of laziness. Or forgetfulness: some years ago I got pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt — I had driven not even two full blocks, going from one business to another. I was pulled over as I entered a small parking lot. I recall this incident every time I start my car before strapping in.

Too, such a law does more than protect me — it protects others. If I get hurt unnecessarily during, say, an accident involving another driver, that driver might have greater problems, financially and/or emotionally, to deal with as a result. It is also certain that my unnecessary injuries or death would cost society in terms of hospital bills and site cleanup, not to mention possible increased insurance premiums as I skew the stats. Indeed, you can make the argument in favor of the seatbelt law strictly on the grounds that society would pay too much a price if seatbelts were optional.

Which leads me to wonder: why do we outlaw certain such self-afflicting behaviors but not others?

Why, for example, is an otherwise healthy person able to weigh 100, 200, 300 or more pounds over the high end range of healthy weight without facing a no-seatbelt-like fine? (Again, excepting persons with untreatable and diagnosable conditions. I will also addd that at one time in my early adulthood I would have likely qualified for this fine.) The cost to society in terms of health care alone is substantial. I don’t think it would be hard to make the case that French fries and donuts cause more harm than unclicked seatbelts.

Further: Why are cigarettes legal? Alcohol? Soda? Candy? Fox News?

Understand, I am not advocating Prohibition. If everything bad for you were outlawed … first of all, what a boring society we would have — there goes every food booth at the State Fair, save for maybe pickle-on-stick — and what a restriction on personal freedom we would experience. (No doubt, I will have fries with that.)

It is curious, though, what we choose to protect ourselves against and what we choose not to protect ourselves against.

Anyway, time to hit the road. Please be sure to buckle up. By the way, if you are not yet done with your 64-ounce Mountain Dew, no worries, you can finish it along the way.