When enviro-consciousness and nanny-statism collide

It’s illegal to erect billboards in Vermont, but it’s Click It or Ticket time and state officials want to warn drivers that they’ll get a ticket if they don’t buckle up. What to do? Put up billboards in other states:

[T]he Governor’s Highway Safety Program in that state took its seat-belt safety campaign to New Hampshire and Massachusetts. A sign on Interstate 293 in central New Hampshire at least 70 miles away from the Vermont state line tells drivers, “Buckle-up in Vermont. It’s the law.” It’s part of the state’s “Click it or Ticket” campaign. “We bought billboards in New Hampshire and Massachusetts as close to the Vermont border as we can get,” said Charles Satterfield, public information officer for the Governor’s Highway Safety Program in Vermont. “The reason we did it is because Vermont’s lowest belt use is (along) the New Hampshire and Massachusetts borders. Those two states have among the lowest seat belt use rates in the country, and they affect the belt use rates in Vermont.” Another reason: In New Hampshire, there’s no seat belt law for adults.

And Massachusetts has a secondary enforcement law, which from a safety-pusher’s point of view is better than having no adult seat belt law, but still nowhere near as good as having primary enforcement, where cops need no other reason than an unused seat belt to pull you over. For example, this Massachusetts paper wants the tougher law. Here’s the justification:

As a result of increased awareness and police enforcement, the overall national seat belt use in 2004 was 80 percent, an all-time high. While seat-belt use in Massachusetts has been on a steady climb, the commonwealth is not setting any speed records. Only 63 percent of Massachusetts residents wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a vehicle.

Yes it’s smart to buckle up, but too much talk about seat belt use rates can obscure the bigger picture. CIOT supporters tell us again and again that this effort isn’t about writing tickets, it’s about saving lives. But based on that measure, seat belt rebels like Massachusetts and New Hampshire are doing very well. Massachusetts has the second-lowest highway fatality rate in the nation and New Hampshire has the fourth-lowest. Vermont, which does not have primary enforcement either, enjoys the nation’s safest roads.