CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

CLT UPDATE
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Safety stormtroopers assault freedom again
with another broken promise


The House of Representative is set to take up a divisive bill on Thursday to make not wearing seat belts a primary offense for which police can pull over and ticket drivers. Lawmakers for and against the primary seat belt bill, that has died in rare tie votes in the House in 2001 and 2003, predict it will pass this time around.

Supporters point to compelling data touted by lobbyists showing lives could be saved, medical costs could be decreased and federal money would come to Massachusetts if the state adopts a primary seat belt enforcement law. Yet opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union, fear the measure would hinder personal freedoms and open the door to racial profiling and other abuses by police....

Under the bill, police could pull over drivers if they or passengers in their cars are not wearing seat belts. Fines would remain as they are now: $25 for each violator over the age of 16, and for each unbelted passenger between the ages of 12 and 16, drivers are fined $25.

The bill states police could not search people or vehicles because of seat belt violations, and such violations would not go on a driversí records or affect insurance rates. House Majority Leader John Rogers, D-Norwood, predicted most members will vote for the bill, though he himself plans to vote against it. House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Gov. Mitt Romney support having a primary seat belt law; Senate President Robert Travagliniís spokeswoman could not confirm his stance last Friday....

The stateís current secondary enforcement seat belt law has been on the books since 1994. The state previously had a seat belt law that passed in 1985, though voters repealed it the following year in a referendum.

Rogers said he cannot support the bill up for debate this week because lawmakers pledged in 1994 not to change the seat belt law that passed that year to be primary enforcement.

"We made a promise to the people," Rogers said. "Even if not one constituent in my district remembers the promise, I do, and thatís why Iím keeping my word."

The MetroWest Daily News
Monday, January 16, 2006
House to debate seat belt law


The rhetoric, of course, is about saving lives; proponents of primary enforcement note that seat belt usage in Massachusetts lags the national average by 17 percent.

That would be a stronger argument if our highway fatality rate were higher than the national average. Actually, it's lower. According to a recent Globe story, in 2004, the state had 7.42 driving-related fatalities per 100,000 residents, the lowest rate in the nation....

"We always said that once they get the law passed in any form, they won't stop until they get primary enforcement," notes Chip Ford, who led the fight against seat belt legislation back then. Although proponents downplay those concerns, the potential erosion of liberty here is real. Giving police the power to stop a motorist upon suspicion that a seat belt isn't being worn would grant them an excuse for stopping anyone anytime they desire.

As it happens, I had an experience with that sort of excessive law enforcement in rural upstate New York last fall....

I realize we're not talking roadblock enforcement here. Not yet, anyway. Of course, back in 1994, we weren't going to have primary enforcement, either.

But if the Legislature allows primary enforcement, scores of Massachusetts residents will soon find themselves cooling their heels in the same way.

And that might just shift the balance from a seat belt law the state can live with to one that voters decide, once again, they want repealed.

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Reining in seat belt enforcement
By Scot Lehigh


Representative James H. Fagan, a Democrat from Taunton who has led past fights against a primary seat belt law, said the legislation would be an invasion of privacy and would chip away at people's Constitutional rights.

"Do I think that people should wear seat belts? Absolutely," Fagan said yesterday from a cellphone in his car -- where he was wearing his seat belt, he said. "But do I think we should give police officers the ability to stop people based on the suspicion that they're not wearing a seat belt? Absolutely not. People are intelligent enough to make that decision on their own, and they don't need Big Brother or the government coming in and enforcing the decisions in their lives." ...

At the same time, Massachusetts touts the lowest number of driving-related fatalities: There were 7.42 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2004, the lowest in the nation, according to federal data....

Seat belt regulation has been a persistent issue in Massachusetts. In 1985, legislators passed a law requiring drivers to wear seat belts, but it was repealed the next year by voters on a referendum. The Legislature again passed a seat belt law in 1994, and that time it survived a ballot challenge.

The Boston Globe
Monday, January 2, 2006
Stricter seat belt bill back on table
Police could stop unbuckled drivers


Whatís that old saying? "If at first you donít succeed, try, try again."

Well, when it comes to the Legislature, itís more like, "If at first you donít succeed, then you fail a second time, and the voters oppose it but surely you know better than they do, keep voting until you get the result you want."

A Boston Herald editorial
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Know-it-all pols drive this debate


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

"No Means No!"  That was the name of the organization I ran from 1987 until 1994 to annually battle against the Safety Stormtroopers' next mandatory seat belt law bill, and next one, and every one that followed year after year from the day in 1986 when the late-Jerry Williams, "The Dean of Talk Radio" on WRKO, and I led the first ballot campaign that repealed the mandatory seat belt law.   Even after the voters shot down that law, the insatiable safety-at-any-price zealots  kept marching forward -- as we always knew they would -- after all, "if it saves even one life . . ."  They have an all-important end-game to win, and their mission isn't only about "safety," as they'd have you believe.  Follow the money.

Our slogan, "What part of 'No' don't you understand?" was ignored as they finally passed the second mandatory seat belt law in January of 1994, despite the will and mandate of the voters.

Again we collected signatures, this time in the dead of winter when they said we couldn't pull it off.  We put the second law's repeal on that upcoming November's ballot.  I still contend that the design of the 1994 ballot itself -- question numbers, yes or no, and no explanations of the questions or what a yes or no vote would do -- led to our defeat at the polls.  I knew we were in trouble when so many callers to Jerry's program on that election afternoon announced, "Jerry, I voted with you, I voted for repeal, I voted yes!"

It took a "No" vote to repeal the law.

By the next election new requirements were established defining the appearance and presentation of ballot questions, but that was two years too late for us.

The Safety Stormtroopers march forward, so it's time for the annual reminder too that "No Means No!"  This will be the twenty-first year I'll make an effort to one degree or another in an attempt to stop their inexorable push toward what has always been the end-game:  first a mandatory seat belt law in any form or shape; next primary enforcement; then ultimately an insurance-surchargeable moving violation and limited liability in the event of an accident.

The zealots said secondary enforcement of a mandatory seat belt law was all they wanted, that they'd never push for primary enforcement -- but they lied, as we predicted.

Do you believe them now when they say they'll settle for the current $25 fine, won't push to raise it?

Do you believe them now when they say being stopped and ticketed for not wearing a seat belt will never be a moving violation?

Do you believe the insurance industry has pumped millions upon millions over decades into this unrelenting campaign just because it's concerned for your personal safety -- and isn't interested in jacking up your rate, increasing its profits, recouping those lobbying millions?

Do you think for a moment that eventually, sooner of later, failure to use a seat belt if involved in an accident won't be deemed by insurers as "contributory negligence" while breaking the law, grounds to deny or limit damage claims?

That is the progression I predicted as far back as 1986:  that is the end-game.

So far I've been right.

The Safety Stormtroopers plod ahead year after year like automatons.  More Is Never Enough!  Whether it's our money or our liberty, more will never be enough for Big Brother, until he has it all.

The House debate is scheduled for Thursday.  If you feel betrayed by yet another broken promise, call your state representative and tell him or her that you're sick and tired of broken promises and being lied to.

CLICK HERE
TO  FIND  AND  CONTACT  YOUR  STATE  REPRESENTATIVE

Chip Ford


The MetroWest Daily News
Monday, January 16, 2006

House to debate seat belt law
By Emelie Rutherford, Daily News Staff


Drivers, you may want to become better friends with your seat belts.

The House of Representative is set to take up a divisive bill on Thursday to make not wearing seat belts a primary offense for which police can pull over and ticket drivers. Lawmakers for and against the primary seat belt bill, that has died in rare tie votes in the House in 2001 and 2003, predict it will pass this time around.

Supporters point to compelling data touted by lobbyists showing lives could be saved, medical costs could be decreased and federal money would come to Massachusetts if the state adopts a primary seat belt enforcement law. Yet opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union, fear the measure would hinder personal freedoms and open the door to racial profiling and other abuses by police.

Now police can only fine people for not wearing a seat belt if the drivers committed a primary offense like speeding for which they were pulled over.

Massachusetts ranked 48th in 2005 for seat belt compliance, out of 49 states with some sort of seat belt law for adult drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Twenty-two states have primary seat belt laws.

State Rep. Karyn Polito, R-Shrewsbury, plans to vote against the seat belt bill, saying that while she understands the benefits of increasing seat belt usage, she canít get beyond her belief that seat belt usage is a choice government should not mandate.

"My vote will be on the side of rights and freedoms," Polito said, adding this reflects what sheís heard in "coffee shop talk."

"Most people do wear their seat belts but they do want that choice to do that, and theyíre concerned about what will next be in line to be regulated," she said.

Even some lawmakers who plan to vote for the bill acknowledged concerns about police using the law as an opportunity to improperly pull over drivers.

"I think if youíre going to err on this one you err on the side of public safety," said state Rep. Deborah Blumer, D-Framingham, who plans to vote for the bill. "The data that weíve been given shows that Massachusetts drivers are not using their seat belts. I drive on the Turnpike and I see some of the accidents on the side of the road."

Under the bill, police could pull over drivers if they or passengers in their cars are not wearing seat belts. Fines would remain as they are now: $25 for each violator over the age of 16, and for each unbelted passenger between the ages of 12 and 16, drivers are fined $25.

The bill states police could not search people or vehicles because of seat belt violations, and such violations would not go on a driversí records or affect insurance rates. House Majority Leader John Rogers, D-Norwood, predicted most members will vote for the bill, though he himself plans to vote against it. House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Gov. Mitt Romney support having a primary seat belt law; Senate President Robert Travagliniís spokeswoman could not confirm his stance last Friday.

Massachusettsí seat belt usage was 65 percent in 2005, compared to 82 percent across the nation, according to the NHTSA. Having a primary enforcement law on the books could increase seat belt usage by 11 percent, NHTSA estimates. States that adopt primary enforcement laws could save 23 lives, prevent 896 serious injuries and thwart $205 million in accident-related costs a year, according to NHTSA.

If Massachusetts adopts a primary enforcement law, it would start receiving federal money each year for roadway safety projects, with annual payments starting at $13.6 million the first year, according to lobbyists for Seat Belts Are For Everyone.

The ACLU of Massachusetts objects to the bill, with Executive Director Carol Rose saying it could be used for racially motivated police stops. If the bill does pass, Rose said the ACLU wants a requirement that police collect data on the nature of their stops to see if the law leads to racially motivated abuses, Rose said.

The stateís current secondary enforcement seat belt law has been on the books since 1994. The state previously had a seat belt law that passed in 1985, though voters repealed it the following year in a referendum.

Rogers said he cannot support the bill up for debate this week because lawmakers pledged in 1994 not to change the seat belt law that passed that year to be primary enforcement.

"We made a promise to the people," Rogers said. "Even if not one constituent in my district remembers the promise, I do, and thatís why Iím keeping my word."

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The Boston Globe
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Reining in seat belt enforcement
By Scot Lehigh, Globe Columnist


This week, the Massachusetts House of Representatives will face a telling test: Can it resist a progressive Legislature's ever-present impulse toward pesky paternalism?

The issue is seat belts, and whether the police will be allowed to stop motorists upon suspicion that someone in their vehicle is not wearing a seat belt or only ticket them for that grievous offense if they have first been pulled over for something else.

The rhetoric, of course, is about saving lives; proponents of primary enforcement note that seat belt usage in Massachusetts lags the national average by 17 percent.

That would be a stronger argument if our highway fatality rate were higher than the national average. Actually, it's lower. According to a recent Globe story, in 2004, the state had 7.42 driving-related fatalities per 100,000 residents, the lowest rate in the nation.

Would greater seat belt use save some lives? Undoubtedly.

But so too would, say, reducing the highway speed limit to 55, to name another nostrum whose inconvenience would outweigh the safety gains it would bring about.

Now, I support reasonable laws to crack down on drivers whose actions endanger others. Thus I applauded recent efforts to toughen the state's drunk-driving law.

However, though failing to wear a seat belt increases your own risk, it doesn't render one a menace to other drivers. It's the sort of behavior that philosopher John Stuart Mill, in his essay "On Liberty," describes as "self-regarding conduct." That kind of conduct shouldn't be regulated at all, Mill thought. Certainly the threshold for justifying a crackdown on that sort of behavior should be far higher than it is for penalizing behavior that could well prove injurious to others.

Some proponents, however, are dismissive of the philosophical distinctions that justify tougher punishment or enforcement for one category of conduct, but not the other.

State Representative Michael Festa, a Melrose Democrat and cosponsor of the primary-enforcement legislation, displays that mindset in offering this rationale: "If we believe that as a society we should require everyone to wear a seat belt, then we ought to mean it by enforcing it."

There, unfortunately, Festa proves exactly what opponents of the seat belt law predicted when the secondary-enforcement compromise was offered back in 1994.

"We always said that once they get the law passed in any form, they won't stop until they get primary enforcement," notes Chip Ford, who led the fight against seat belt legislation back then. Although proponents downplay those concerns, the potential erosion of liberty here is real. Giving police the power to stop a motorist upon suspicion that a seat belt isn't being worn would grant them an excuse for stopping anyone anytime they desire.

As it happens, I had an experience with that sort of excessive law enforcement in rural upstate New York last fall. Driving from the tiny hamlet of De Kalb Junction to the small village of Gouverneur, we encountered a midmorning police roadblock. At first, we thought a convict must have escaped from the nearby correctional institution to occasion such an intrusion.

Noticing our Massachusetts plates, the New York State Police officer wanted to know why we were in the North Country. We were there to visit a hospitalized family member, I told him. What I wanted to say was: That, really, is simply not your business.

What were the police looking for, my sister asked?

"Anything and everything," replied the officer, fairly brimming with his own sense of authority.

And by that time, he had found something: I had forgotten to fasten my seat belt on the short drive. And so my wife and I and two siblings were ordered to wait on the shoulder for 20 minutes or so while the police ran checks on me and other, equally baleful, offenders.

It was ridiculously intrusive and time-consuming for such a minor infraction.

I realize we're not talking roadblock enforcement here. Not yet, anyway. Of course, back in 1994, we weren't going to have primary enforcement, either.

But if the Legislature allows primary enforcement, scores of Massachusetts residents will soon find themselves cooling their heels in the same way.

And that might just shift the balance from a seat belt law the state can live with to one that voters decide, once again, they want repealed.

Which is just one more reason why the wise way to encourage seat belt use is more public persuasion, and not more police invigilation.

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The Boston Globe
Monday, January 2, 2006

Stricter seat belt bill back on table
Police could stop unbuckled drivers
By Matt Viser, Globe Staff


House leaders plan to take up legislation this month to strengthen the state's seat belt laws by allowing police officers to stop drivers solely because they aren't wearing a seat belt. Massachusetts ranked 49th in seat belt compliance, slightly ahead of Mississippi, in a recent survey.

Under current state law, police are allowed to ticket drivers for failing to buckle up only if they have first been pulled over for another offense, such as speeding or an expired license tag. The bill, which has stalled twice since 2001 on rare tie votes in the House, would make the failure to use seat belts a "primary offense" and allow police to stop drivers for a seat belt infraction even if they aren't breaking any other laws.

Critics say the law would erode personal freedoms, and that it could lead to racial profiling. Proponents, including Governor Mitt Romney, say the law would increase safety, cut back on medical costs, and ultimately reduce auto insurance rates. It would also bring more federal transportation funds into the state.

"It's very simple: It's a matter of life and death," said Representative Ruth B. Balser, a Newton Democrat and a cosponsor of the bill. "It's been demonstrated when people don't wear seat belts, there are more fatalities. So if more people wear seat belts, the roads will be safer."

House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi also supports the bill and will probably bring it to the floor during the third week of this month, his spokeswoman Kimberly Haberlin said yesterday.

Representative James H. Fagan, a Democrat from Taunton who has led past fights against a primary seat belt law, said the legislation would be an invasion of privacy and would chip away at people's Constitutional rights.

"Do I think that people should wear seat belts? Absolutely," Fagan said yesterday from a cellphone in his car -- where he was wearing his seat belt, he said. "But do I think we should give police officers the ability to stop people based on the suspicion that they're not wearing a seat belt? Absolutely not. People are intelligent enough to make that decision on their own, and they don't need Big Brother or the government coming in and enforcing the decisions in their lives."

Twenty-two states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have primary seat belt laws; Connecticut is the only state in New England to have one. Twenty-seven states have secondary laws like the one in Massachusetts. New Hampshire is the only state with no seat belt law covering motorists over 17.

Although seat belt use in Massachusetts has risen from 50 percent to 64.8 percent over the last five years, it is still far below the national average of 82 percent, according to data based on observational surveys and released in October by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Bay State is 49th in the nation in seat belt compliance. By contrast, the study found 60.8 percent of residents surveyed in Mississippi wearing seat belts; in Hawaii, which had the highest average, 95.3 percent of residents were buckled.

At the same time, Massachusetts touts the lowest number of driving-related fatalities: There were 7.42 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2004, the lowest in the nation, according to federal data.

Tickets for not wearing a seat belt carry a $25 fine, but unlike tickets for speeding or drunken driving, they don't go on a driver's record or affect insurance rates. The proposed law wouldn't change those provisions.

According to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 124 lives -- or 7 percent of those who died in driving-related deaths -- could have been saved from 1996 to 2003 if Massachusetts had a primary seat belt law.

Passing the legislation could also help the Bay State reap more federal dollars. Legislation signed into law by President Bush in August steers $498 million in federal transportation funds to states that either adopt a primary law or reach 85 percent seat belt use or higher for two years.

Seat belt regulation has been a persistent issue in Massachusetts. In 1985, legislators passed a law requiring drivers to wear seat belts, but it was repealed the next year by voters on a referendum. The Legislature again passed a seat belt law in 1994, and that time it survived a ballot challenge.

In recent years, doctors and transportation safety advocates have argued for a stronger law. But their efforts have been stifled on Beacon Hill.

In 2001 and 2003, the Legislature debated similar bills, but both times the legislation died in the House after rare tie votes. The 2003 vote elicited last-minute drama and emotional debate, with some legislators railing against the erosion of civil liberties and others telling stories of constituents who died because they were not wearing seat belts.

The Senate generally has been more supportive, approving the measure by a voice vote in 2001 before it failed in the House.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts also opposed the measure, contending it would provide police officers with too much discretion and would potentially allow racial profiling. Carol Rose, the ACLU's executive director, could not be reached yesterday for comment.

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The Boston Herald
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Boston Herald editorial
Know-it-all pols drive this debate


Whatís that old saying? "If at first you donít succeed, try, try again."

Well, when it comes to the Legislature, itís more like, "If at first you donít succeed, then you fail a second time, and the voters oppose it but surely you know better than they do, keep voting until you get the result you want."

Not exactly sampler material, but itís the attitude lawmakers bring to the debate over primary seat belt enforcement, which rears its ugly head again this week.

The House plans to vote on Thursday ó for the third time in five years ó on a bill that would allow police to pull a driver over for failing to buckle up. Currently a driver can be ticketed only if pulled over for one of hundreds of other offenses.

Itís true, for some inexplicable reason, Massachusetts has the second-lowest rate of seat belt usage in the country ó at 65 percent, we lead only Mississippi. Supporters use that figure to bolster their argument that primary enforcement would encourage compliance and save the state millions.

But how to explain Arizona and Nevada, neither of which has a primary seat belt law, and their 95 percent usage rates in 2005? Or Colorado, at 80 percent? The list goes on and on.

In fact, outreach and education on the benefits of wearing a seat belt may do as much to increase compliance as putting another law on the books ó one voters oppose, mind you. From 2000 to 2005, seat belt usage in the Bay State increased by 15 percentage points. "Click It or Ticket," it seems, is working.

Oh, but lawmakers always know better than the voters, donít they?

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