CLT Update
Friday, April 27, 2001

Buckle up, or be ready for a lockup

I did not ask for this. I did not want it and still don't. I vowed never to look back after voters in 1994 voted not to repeal the second state mandatory seat belt law, voted to keep it despite our warnings that worse would come if it was not repealed.

Back then, when I was executive director of Freedom First, we warned that if the law was retained, it would be only a matter of time before it went from "secondary enforcement" (you must first be stopped for some other motor vehicle offense before given the $25 ticket for not being buckled-up) to primary enforcement, where you can be stopped simply because a police officer believes you're not using your seat belt.

"No, never, not us!" our ballot question opponents howled.

We also asserted that, once primary enforcement was inevitably attained, next the $25 fine would be increased ... followed by a violation of the law leading to an insurance surcharge a driver would carry for seven years.

"No, never, not us!" the champions of primary enforcement like state Senators Brian Lees (R-East Longmeadow) and James Jajuga (D-Methuen) now howl.

"More Is Never Enough!" More never is for them, whether it's our money or our liberty.

59 percent of the voters chose not to heed our warnings in 1994 ... even after we repealed the first state mandatory seat belt law in 1986 with 54 percent of the vote.

Since then, I've felt that the voters have spoken, and now they must live with the consequences of their decision.

In 1996, Freedom First merged with Citizens for Limited Taxation. This merger, most of you will remember, was called Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a chilling decision in a seat belt law violation case brought before it: Police have a right to handcuff, arrest and jail a driver simply for not obeying the seat belt law or engaging in other minor traffic offenses! [See the MetroWest Daily News column by Tom Moroney, below.]

On Wednesday, the phones at CLT began to ring with calls from reporters who remembered my nine-year crusade as lead mandatory seat belt law opponent, including an invitation to appear on a TV program.

I did not want to become identified as a spokesman against Sen. Lee's drive for primary enforcement of the mandatory seat belt law, but ultimately, Barbara and I decided that somebody ought to be there to represent the opposition ... and to remind voters that "we told you so!"

So I accepted the invitation and was a guest on Emily Rooney's WGBH TV-2 nightly program, "Greater Boston." Also appearing was State Police Captain Bird and, at my suggestion, state Rep. Jim Fagan (D-Taunton), who single-handedly filibustered last year's proposed primary enforcement bill to death.

Captain Bird seems to be a decent guy and insisted that we in Massachusetts have nothing to worry about with the recent decision in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista. He informed us that there are only six specific minor traffic offenses for which Massachusetts law enforcement can make an arrest; Rep. Fagan, also a defense attorney, concurred.

Wednesday's San Antonio (Texas) Express-News report of the decision (from a local perspective and in light of pending Texas legislation to restrict the practice that jailed Gail Atwater) stated: "Other states already have laws that limit the power of police to arrest people pulled over for minor traffic infractions." Apparently Massachusetts is one of those.

Of course, this is not to say that things can't change ... like adding suspected seat belt law violations to the list down the road if primary enforcement becomes state law. (Would our honorable Legislature do such a dastardly thing? Need I ask?) Rep. Fagan calls primary enforcement of the mandatory seat belt law another opportunity for a "pretextual stop," at the very least allowing for a cursory search, even if you are found to be buckled-up. I agree.

Our opposition to the law has never been against the use of seat belts; it's always been about government forcing us to. Recently Barbara and I were in a terrific accident returning from a speech she gave in Boston. Hit from behind then smashed into a utility pole, my car was a total wreck. The police and EMTs who arrived at the scene couldn't believe we'd survived and walked away from it. We were very lucky ... but we were also using our seat belts.

Following Tom Moroney's column is a list of key legislators -- both vocally for and against Sen. Lee's betrayal of the voters. If you want to stop his creeping expansion of this intrusive law, contact them and your own state representative or senator.

Chip Ford

The MetroWest Daily News
Thursday, April 26, 2001

Buckle up, or be ready for a lockup
By Tom Moroney
MetroWest Daily News Columnist

I was LWD yesterday -- lucky while driving. I turned onto the Mass Turnpike. In my rear view mirror was a State Police cruiser. I didn't have my seat belt buckled. The cruiser passed. I was not pulled over.

I was lucky because I live in Massachusetts. Had I lived in Texas for this close encounter, I might have been pulled over, cuffed, and temporarily jailed -- all for not wearing the belt.

You think I'm kidding? Gail Atwater was not wearing her seat belt in the Texas city of Lago Vista in 1997 when she was pulled over, cuffed and temporarily jailed.

She was driving her two children, Anya and Mac, home from soccer practice. The police almost took Anya and Mac into custody, too. You see, they were not wearing their seat belts, either. (The little criminals.) But an adult friend of Atwater came by and took the children to her house, just as the mother was whisked off to the pokey.

A subsequent search of Atwater's truck turned up all kinds of shockingly incriminating evidence: two tricycles, a bicycle, toys, a bag of charcoal and an Igloo cooler. After searching the truck, police towed it.

Remind me never to book a vacation for Lago Vista.

Atwater was eventually released and fined $50. But her harrowing experience made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she should have been given a medal for courage under extreme stupidity.

Instead, on Tuesday, the court sided with the cops and told Mrs. Atwater, told the country really, that it was OK for law enforcement to pinch people, make their children cry, and turn their vehicles inside out, all for the grievous crime of driving around with their seat belts unbuckled.

This was the same high court, by the by, that was cheered so wildly by rock-ribbed Republicans when it upheld the Florida recount in favor of George W. Bush.

How happy are the rock-ribbed Republicans now that our nation's bench has declared open season on seat belt scofflaws?

As you might expect, all this is particularly worrisome to Chip Ford. His name ought to ring a bell. He is director of operations for Citizens For Limited Taxation, the anti-tax group started in this state in the early '80s by Barbara Anderson. But from 1986 to 1994, Ford was also director of "Freedom First," a grassroots group of rebels who fought against the seat belt law in this state.

Freedom First put up a valiant fight, but ultimately lost to the ninnies who figure they know what's best for you and me.

As I said, Massachusetts is not Texas. They can't pull you off the road in this state for simply not buckling up -- not yet anyway.

"But the thing that scares me is that anything can happen," Ford was saying yesterday.

He's right, of course. In the current session of the Legislature, there's a bill that would make an unbuckled seat belt a primary offense -- one for which they could stop you.

It's funny, Ford said, recalling all those times he was promised that never, ever, ever would anyone in the Legislature try to make the seat belt law a primary offense.

Hell would freeze over first.

Well, guess what? Satan better go out and buy an overcoat. It's happening right now.

If it passes, if a seat belt violation becomes a primary offense in Massachusetts, how long would it take before it's OK to pull them over and throw on the cuffs?

The truth is, the seat belt issue should be a non-issue. It should not be a law. It certainly should not be a matter for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Apparently the impulse in some people to tell others what's best for them is absolutely irresistible.

It's nobody's business if I wear a seat belt but my own. And, please, spare me the arguments. I've heard them all. Example: If I crack up the car without my seat belt on, then I could be seriously injured. And all the medical care I would require would cost everyone else because, if enough people sustained serious injury for failing to wear a seat belt, the insurance premiums would go up.

I say if you're going to use that argument, then why not outlaw junk food? Doesn't my consumption of Fritos and Ben and Jerry's clog my arteries? And wouldn't that require medical care that could eventually raise insurance rates?

In that sense, isn't eating junk food as much a threat to the public good as driving around unbuckled?

I'm sure the Supreme Court would be interested. Maybe I could get Justice David Souter, author of the majority opinion on the seat belt case, to get behind another equally important judicial measure.

A constitutional amendment to ban Twinkies.

AGAINST  Seat Belt Law Primary Enforcement

Room 146
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-2575

Party Affiliation - DEMOCRAT


AGAINST  Seat Belt Law Primary Enforcement

Room 413B
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-1485

Party Affiliation - DEMOCRAT


AGAINST  Seat Belt Law Primary Enforcement

State House
Room 323
Boston, MA 02133
Tel: (617) 722-1625

District Office 
74 North Street, Suite 604
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Tel: (413) 442-6810

Party Affiliation - DEMOCRAT


FOR  Primary Enforcement - SPONSOR

(Senate Republican Minority Leader)
State House 527
Boston, MA 02133
Tel: (617) 722-1291
FAX: (617) 722-1014

District Office
Main Street 
Indian Orchard, MA 01151
Tel: (413) 543-2167 
Fax: (413) 543-8500

Party Affiliation - REPUBLICAN


FOR  Primary Enforcement

Room 216
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-1604

Party Affiliation - DEMOCRAT

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