Lots of discussion on my show today about St. Louis County passing a primary seat belt law, which gives cops the right to pull you over for not wearing your seat belt. County Executive Charlie Dooley signed the law this morning, and it will take effect on March 8th.
This is bad legislation. The fine is only $10, with no additional court fees tacked on. It won’t be counted as a moving violation, so it won’t be reported to your insurance company and won’t add points to your license. It’s simply a citation, like those red light camera violations.
I asked my listeners who don’t wear their seat belts if that $10 fine is enough of a deterrent to get them to change their habits, and none of them thought it was. Therefore, we have a completely ineffective law, which police officers aren’t going to want to enforce — considering how stressful and dangerous a traffic stop can be, they’re not likely to embrace the concept. Unless there’s a seat belt ticket quota they have to fulfill, that’s just a waste of time. There is also the risk of racial profiling if some officers use the law as an excuse to hassle minority drivers.
Missouri is considering similar legislation at the statewide level, a law that hasn’t passed since it was first introduced 7 years ago. However, now that the county has taken the lead, the state may follow.
You’d think that thousands of Missourians must be dying, but you’d be wrong. The supporters of this law say about 90 lives a year will be saved because they’ll be wearing seat belts. In a state with five million people, that’s not a big enough number to demand legislation, and if none of those 90 people were likely to have worn a belt with this law anyway, it’s even more of a moot point.
I always wear my seat belt and won’t let you in my car if you won’t buckle up, but if you’re in your car without me, how does it affect me to the point where we need a new law that won’t change your mind?
Update 5:49pm: Towards the end of my show, Missouri Rep. Neal St. Onge, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, called to talk about the chances of the law passing at the state level. I pressed him for explanations of why is it the government’s business to tell you that you can’t engage in risky behavior, and whether we can expect legislation regarding diets full of fatty food and other things that might be unhealthy. He kept quoting statistics about how many lives would be saved and how, in other states, 11% more people wear their seat belts with laws like this in place. But when I asked him how anyone knows how many drivers are wearing seat belts, he fumbled and said something about “observers” keeping tabs on people on the roads, which is nonsense.
St. Onge also discounted the opinions of everyone who called me show earlier and said the law wouldn’t change their habits, saying they were obviously against seat belts in the first place. That’s exactly the point — the law will change nothing because the risk of a $10 fine and some stats from a politician aren’t going to change their minds.