Since when, my angry friends asked, can the government make us wear seat belts?Phil Kadneron September 14, 2021 at 1:51 pm

Many of my friends were ready to revolt against the federal government. I mean they were angry.

“This isn’t communist Russia,” they said. “The government has no right to tell us what to do.”

“Those things can kill you,” someone warned.

“The next thing you know the government will be telling us we can’t smoke,” was a common refrain.

Seat belts. That’s what they were talking about. And people said this was the beginning of the end of democracy. Adolf Hitler had come to America.

You can look it up.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration required that lap and shoulder belts be installed in all new cars starting in 1968. But the government didn’t bother to require their use at the time.

Car manufacturers fought like hell against the idea, saying this was a form of socialism and government intervention in private enterprise.

Next bureaucrats would be telling the car companies to install more devices, like air bags, that would make car costs skyrocket. The average American wouldn’t be able to afford a car.

Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate, was out of his mind advocating for not only air bags but also padded dash boards so passengers’ heads wouldn’t crack open like eggs in an accident.

He urged the installation of roll bars in car roofs.

My buddies, with cigarette packs rolled up in their t-shirt sleeves, went bonkers.

They knew cars. They did their own tune-ups. Changed the oil. Had grease in their blood and gasoline in their veins. None of this safety stuff was needed.

“It doesn’t hurt anybody else if I don’t use a seat belt,” they said. “I have the right to choose how I live or die.”

Their views were common on the streets.

If a car catches fire and you have a seat belt on, people said, you will be trapped and burn alive.

And if fire didn’t kill you, water would.

“Suppose your car plunges into a river or stream and you have to get out in a hurry before you drown? Do you want to be fiddling with a seat belt buckle as the water rises inside the car?”

This was long before anyone suggested that a young child should only ride as a passenger in a back seat or that a baby should have its own safety chair.

Even after seat belts were installed in many cars, only 14% of people used them.

They weren’t comfortable. They restricted movement. They were un-American. A man’s car was his castle, and he would rather drive the speed limit before chaining himself to his automobile.

In the 1980s, a Michigan legislator proposed a state law mandating fines for anyone who failed to use a seat belt and received hate mail from across the country. An opponent declared the law was “a pretty good lesson in mass hysteria created by corporate-controlled media.”

Soon other states were proposing similar laws requiring police enforcement of seat belt use. Politicians took sides, dividing the nation.

President Ronald Reagan called for deregulation of the auto industry because, he said, the car makers could best determine what was good for the masses.

I reminded some of my friends of these arguments some years back, when they began driving their grandchildren to soccer games.

“Everybody buckle up!” they would shout before starting the car.

Remember when you screamed that safety belts posed a danger to life and liberty, I would say.

“I never said anything like that,” came the response.

None of this has anything to do with the arguments over face masks and COVID vaccinations.

Yet, whenever I hear folks debating those issues on TV, I envision crash dummies getting their craniums crushed during car safety tests.

Email: philkadner@gmail.com

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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