Here’s a question to start us off: how do we judge the failure to act? Let’s say, for example, we’re walking along the banks of a river and see a child drowning in shallow water. It would be no danger to us to wade out into the river to rescue this child although we would get our shoes wet. Yet we choose to walk by as if this tragedy is nothing to do with us. Most people would agree this is morally unacceptable behavior. Yet the law takes a slightly different view. It says the reluctant rescuer is only liable if he or she has a duty to intervene. So if the spectator is employed as a lifeguard, he should wade out and, if necessary, apply artificial respiration when the child is carried on to dry land.
Let’s now come to sovereign states. In principle, they can make whatever laws they want to apply within their territorial boundaries. For example, they could make it an offense not to wear a seat belt whether as driver or passenger. Why should they do this?
Because there’s very clear evidence the number of serious injuries and deaths are reduced if seat belt laws are in place and enforced. In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates more than 12,000 lives were saved. So what do we think of states that decide not to make the wearing of seat belts mandatory? Curiously, only one state refuses to criminalize failing to wear a seat belt. That’s New Hampshire. Surely we have to believe these lawmakers want their citizens to be exposed to the risk of injury. The failure makes these lawmakers reckless. Except, of course, politicians are driven by how they believe their voters will react if laws are changed. It seems drivers in New Hampshire will vote their representatives out of office if government tries to force them to wear seat belts. Nothing should get in the way of their freedom to maim and kill themselves.
To answer the question in the title, there’s a new report on road safety. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety looked at fifteen different laws in each of the US states including:
• restricting teen drivers;
• criminalizing texting while driving;
• requiring car seats and age-specific restraints for children as passengers;
• allowing police officers to issue seat belt tickets without having to make a stop for another moving offense; and
• mandating helmets for motorcycle riders.
The eleven states marked in red have the most dangerous approach to writing laws and enforcing them. South Dakota had the worst record. Illinois and Oregon had the best records.
The most dangerous failure to protect other road users and the relevant drivers comes in the refusal to raise the age at which teens can obtain a driver’s license. When there’s such clear evidence young people maim and kill themselves in their first years of driving, the failure to force them to wait until they are more responsible is reprehensible. Perhaps lawmakers think culling the young is good for the overall health of the community.