If you were to find yourself in a car with me, there are a five simple rules that you, as a passenger, would be obliged to. No yapping on your cell phone, no playing with the radio, no eating or drinking, no yelling out the window, and wear your seatbelt. They're all simple rules designed not for my safety or your safety, but for the safety of everyone else on the road. And their origins are equally simple, and make perfect sense. If you're talking on your cell phone, your conversation might distract me. If you're fiddling with the radio, that too might distract me. You aren't allowed to eat or drink, not only because I don't want you making a mess, but because a spill or dropped food could lead to an improper shift or a deadly swerve. You aren't allowed to yell out the window (or interact with people not inside the car, for that matter) because, again, it can be distracting, and could cause a road-rage flare-up in another driver. And last but not least, you have to wear your seatbelt, the reasons for which we'll get to shortly.
The rules are simple, practical, and make perfect sense, and yet I often hear complaints. "Matt, you worry about the most illogical or unlikely events!" That's true, I do. Somewhere in the annuls of my memory you'll find strategic plans for every possible scenario that I could have ever dreamed up, from a burglar entering my home to aliens invading from space. I like to have a plan for everything that could ever possibly (or impossibly) happen. Why? Because I've seen enough movies in my day to know that it's always the ill-prepared numb-skull who dies first. And while some of my friends might mock this pseudo-extreme level of preparedness, others embrace it, and when the fit hits the shan, I'm sure to be the first person they'll be calling to find out what to do. But I digress... back to the seatbelts.
In the past few years, particularly since President Obama took office, I keep hearing a virtually-identical argument from self-professed defenders of freedom and civil liberty: seatbelt laws are, in their opinion, a significant example of an oppressive government. I mean no disrespect to the people who've deployed such comments, but I can't making this next comment: your point is a moot one.
The argument is often comprised of a person claiming that seatbelt laws violate their individual rights, because not wearing a seatbelt has no effect on other drivers. This is, of course, an ignorant argument, and perhaps the reason they haven't realized this is because, unlike me, they haven't taken the time to consider every possible scenario. Here are a few hypothetical situations where a person not wearing their seatbelt might lead to the death of one or more fellow motorists.
Situation A: You're alone in your car, not wearing your seatbelt, when all of the sudden a furry creature leaps out onto the road. You swerve to miss the animal, jerking the wheel hard to avoid the guilt of murder. But the violent shift forces you to shift away from the seat, and you temporarily lose control of the car as a result. If you have a passenger, or if your car swerves into another vehicle, you might kill another person.
Situation B: You're a passenger in a car, and you aren't wearing your seatbelt. The driver hits an ice patch, a hydroplane surface, a bump, or some other road hazard that causes a temporary loss of control. Your knee or elbow slips and hits the shifter, or your shirt pulls the e-brake, or you sway onto the driver, any of which would worsen the scenario dramatically. In this instance, you aren't only endangering other vehicles, but other passengers and the driver as well.
Situation C: In a high-speed accident, you're thrown from your vehicle onto the pavement. Another vehicle, not having enough time to properly react, strikes your body, and they lose control as a result, causing an accident. This scenario sadly offers the opportunity to cause several accidents as a result of yours.
Situation D: You're alone, driving along without a seatbelt, and you experience a terrible accident involving a fuel truck. Rescue workers arrive on the scene quickly, but discover that your body has slid out of the seat, and you're now pinned under the dash more than you would have been otherwise. Rescue workers struggle to free you, but when the fuel truck explodes, they all perish.
Again, I'd like to point out that these scenarios aren't entirely likely, but they are all fully possible, and with the number of traffic accidents there've been throughout history, I'd be surprised if any of these has happened fewer than a dozen times. In fact, Situation B is based solely on an incident that occured with several of my friends while they visited other friends in California several years ago, though luckily they all escaped with only minor injuries and a few scars which highlight the stupidity of one of those friends, who wasn't wearing her seatbelt. The accident ended up involving three different cars. So the argument that seatbelt laws don't protect other drivers is foolishly naive.
Seatbelt laws cost you nothing. A typical person can secure their seatbelt properly within five seconds, and I would question the safety of allowing a person who can't accomplish that simple feat to operate a motor vehicle. Seatbelts come standard in every modern car, and you aren't paying extra for this most primitive of safety devices. Driving a car is a privilege, and if you hope to enjoy that priviledge, you must obey the rules. It isn't too much to ask, and protesting that shows little more than irresponsibility on the part of the person making such claims.
Seatbelt laws are a non-issue. They're used by people who are desperate to show that the government oppresses their freedoms and civil liberties. In truth, our government is one of the least oppressive in the history of the world. What comes after ridding ourselves of seatbelt laws? Driver's licenses? Vehicle inspections? Automotive insurance? Stop signs and red lights? Drunk-driving laws? Headlights? The slope to stupidity is quite slippery indeed.