Jun 11, 2013

Seat Belts and Privacy Laws

1955 “green” Ford Station wagon, exactly like my parents’

One of my clearest memories from five-year-old-child-me is coming out of the drugstore on Kearney Street in Denver, getting into our new car and hearing my mother say “Goddamn it, those kids put seat belts in our car.”

I had two older sisters who were of driving age so that was my mother’s knee jerk reaction, but thinking about it now, what teenager would ever voluntarily put a safety element in a car, especially back then?
The key to the mystery was that the car we had gotten into was our neighbor’s car, exactly like ours —- except with seat belts.  Ford began offering seat belts in 1955 as an option.  A few spaces down the street we found our car, right where we parked it, without seat belts.   Although in her dotage she peaceably put on seat belts, anyone who knows my mother knows that she would not voluntarily put a restraint on anything.
In those days, people didn’t lock their houses or their cars, and my mother lived that way until she died.  Luckily, her karma was phenomenal.
Hawai`i’s recent passage of back seat belts for all got me to thinking about seat belts and when they became a fact of life and it brought me back to Denver and the gall of my sisters putting them in my mother’s car.  I have been one of those happy resisters who does not put on seat belts when in the back seat and now I,too, must comply.  What about the people who ride unbelted in the back of trucks?
Ironically, seat belts are still a source of controversy, and from one state to another, the laws are inconsistent.  33 States have primary seat belt laws which allow an officer to write a ticket just for failure to wear a seat belt.  16 states have secondary seat belt laws, which means you cannot ticket for failure to wear a seat belt unless you have pulled the person over for another reason. (“citable infraction”).   Live Free or Die New Hampshire has neither a primary nor a secondary seat belt law.
For a long time, seat belts were one of those things that “nobody could tell [one] what to do,” and now they have become a part of our lives.  They are a nanny state government intrusion, but we accept them, not just because of the fines but because it has been incontrovertibly proven that we are safer with them than without them.
Which brings me to the Patriot Act and spying on Americans and whether we are better off with these intrusions or without them.    In a different but similar way with seat belts, are we safer because of this truly awesome intrusion into our private lives?  We will never know.  It is not like seat belts, where the evidence is clear.
Now a 29 year old kid who was being paid too much money by a government contractor has decided that the government has gone too far … and that we need to know that we have all become persons of interest.  Some call him a hero, some call him a traitor.  Neither the answer to what the government is doing nor to the actions taken by the young Mr. Snowden is clear cut.
Early of the proponents of the internet  lauded that it made information free to everyone, which of course it doesn’t, but given that technology can give that freedom (under law, to the government) are we eventually going to have to accept this kind of activity by our government as the status quo?  For freedom, we must sacrifice some level of security.  And for security, we must sacrifice some level of freedom.  But which and how much?

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Gloria. Circa 1955.

Gloria. Circa 2012.

Other than working for the American Red Cross in Korea for two years, Gloria Garvey has lived in Hawai`i since 1971. Her opinion and other writing has appeared in: The American Philatelist. Honolulu Weekly, The Honolulu Advertiser, The Honolulu Star Bulletin, The Star Advertiser, Hawai`i Reporter, Pacific Business News, Island Scene, The Design Management Journal.

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