Perspectives: Seat belt laws and slippery slopes

OPINION – Beware the slippery slope. A slippery slope argument is an informal logical fallacy in which it is claimed that if a particular event happens, then it will open the door to another specific event that will inevitably happen later. Therefore, the first event should not be allowed to happen.

A classic example of this fallacy is the way some individuals argued against the relaxing of Utah’s concealed carry law in 1995. If average citizens were allowed to carry guns, we were told, pistols would be brandished every time there was a disagreement. Shootouts would erupt over parking spaces. Blood would run in the streets. Consequently, it would be better to not allow people to legally carry a concealed firearm.

And yet, 18 years and hundreds of thousands of permits later, the hysterical predictions never materialized. But those who invoke the slippery slope aren’t always wrong.

This can be seen in the current push to make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense in Utah. When Utah’s seatbelt law was first enacted, opponents expressed concern that the law would eventually become a pretext to allow law enforcement to stop motorists. But legislators were adamant that the law was only to promote safety behind the wheel and would not become a primary offense.

SB114 seeks to make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense on Utah roads where the speed limit is higher than 55 miles per hour. Currently a person can only be ticketed or warned for not wearing their seatbelt as a secondary offense after being stopped for some other reason.

It turns out that some slippery slopes really are slippery after all.

The problem with seat belt laws is that they are a gross misuse of state power. To illustrate the unreasonable nature of such laws, we must answer a couple of questions. If an adult chooses not to wear a seatbelt yet arrives safely at their destination, has a crime been committed? If so, who is the victim of this crime?

When collectivists claim that a crime requiring state intervention has occurred, yet no one has been objectively injured, their claim is blatantly false. Laws that purport to punish non-crimes are nothing more than coercive dictates that exist to increase the state’s power over us.

While fearful children may prefer living under the watchful gaze of the nanny state, responsible adults don’t need a bureaucratic overseer whose violence can only be prevented by the forced payment of tribute.

Making a seat belt violation into a primary offense sidetracks police officers from actual crimes involving real, not imaginary, injured parties. It invites the state into our lives for reasons that have nothing to do with protecting our rights or promoting justice. Given the increasingly intrusive nature of the state, the less contact we have with members of its extractive branch, the better off we are.

Sadly, there is little that lawmakers won’t attempt to regulate once they’ve succumbed to the siren song of “safety” as justification for their meddling.

The irresistible urge to meddle, appeals to both liberals and conservatives who are willing to embrace petty statism. For example, it was state senator Evan Vickers, who ran as a self-styled “Reagan conservative” in District 28, who helped advance Democratic senator Luz Robles SB114 in committee. Both senators fail to see the faulty logic in their support for this so-called safety measure.

C.S. Lewis perfectly described this quirk of human nature when he wrote, “Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Seatbelt laws are bad. But that doesn’t mean that seatbelt use is unwise.

Those who use their seatbelts are utilizing a safety device that may very well save their lives, though even safety devices are not a panacea. It’s not unusual for police officers to have to unbuckle dead bodies from car crashes.

On the whole, choosing to wear a seatbelt measurably improves our chances of surviving a crash. But that choice should be the result of an adult voluntarily exercising responsibility for his or her own well-being. It should not be a decision made under duress for the sake of humoring the well-meaning busybodies leading us further down the slippery slope.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.


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  • mark boggs February 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    I certainly agree with the idea that slippery slope arguments are tenuous. Like the idea that allowing gays to enjoy marriage rights (the same as heterosexuals) will lead to the decline of Western Civilization. More probable though, the demise of the Republican Party.

  • mark boggs February 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    On topic though, I agree with your sentiment. The issue that might arise would be the responsibility society, i.e taxpayers, have to support the injured and their families after an accident in which the injured or deceased was wearing no seat belt. And just how invasive or penal could an insurance company get to make sure that those who chose not to wear their belts were charged a significantly higher insurance rate?

  • Curtis February 22, 2013 at 5:24 am

    I suspect that for many of our Lords and Masters in SLC there is no reason to be a legislator unless you can use the police powers of the state to force people to live, act and behave precisely as you want them to.

  • pete February 22, 2013 at 7:18 am

    when that police officer does unbuckle that dead body, and that previously living person was forced by the state to wear this so called safety device, and died from it, the blood is on the states hands.

    i would say i bet this rarely, rarely happens, but its that one time, someone forced by the state to do something, and dies from it, who is responsible for that death??? you telll me.

  • Ron February 22, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Refreshing to see Bryan acknowledging the fallacy of the slippery slope since, unless I’m mistaken, his libertarian position would be that banning the sale of assault rifles will lead to confiscation of all privately-owned guns and that the Patriot Act (which, for the record, I don’t like at all) is a first step toward a totalitarian state complete with concentration camps for dissenters.

    • Bryan Hyde February 23, 2013 at 7:21 am

      Yes, the slippery slope argument can be abused, but when we study history, we can discern patterns that have emerged. For instance, there is a common component that relates to every government-sponsored genocide of the 20th Century. In every instance, the targeted populations were first subjected to laws that disarmed them. Sometimes this legal disarmament took place incrementally, often it was years after the gun control laws were enacted before the extermination began. But in every case, genocide was preceded by laws which rendered the victims unable to resist.
      The point here is that laws that move us in that direction should be questioned because there is a clear pattern of what can happen when governments seek a monopoly on force.

  • Roy J February 22, 2013 at 9:14 am

    For some great reading about slippery slope laws you might be interested in the works of G.K. Chestergon. He wrote numerous articles and short stories on the dangers of giving doctors and psychiatrists too much free reign in regards to lunacy laws in England before and during WWI; this was also in many ways the inspiration for his novel ‘The Ball and the Cross’ (1910).

    • Roy J February 22, 2013 at 9:44 am

      oops, meant Chesterton…woot!

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