The Maryland state trooper parked and hidden in the grassy median must have seen me before I saw him, for within a moment he was riding alongside me in the next lane flagging me to pull over, post-haste. My violation: an absolute failure to be barricaded into my moving vehicle via a lap and shoulder harness, a primary offense in Maryland.
Once I was sufficiently ticketed, the trooper generously offered to run interference for me to enable me to get back out onto U.S. 70 safely. Clearly the act of pulling me over and me attempting to merge with westbound traffic created more of a traffic hazard than my own failure to wear a seat beat — an observation I restrained myself from making in the officer’s presence.
I had 30 days to submit my $25 citation to U.S. District Court in Maryland. I did it in 29.
Maryland, however had already alerted West Virginia’s Division of Highways that I had allegedly failed to pay my fine, and 18 days later West Virginia generated a letter to me threatening to revoke my license. That letter I received a full two weeks later, 20 days after Maryland had already cashed the check it had received from me on April 29. In other words, Maryland had already gotten its tribute from my bank by the time the DOH in West Virginia began threatening its shakedown, now in progress.
Maryland boasts a nearly 95 percent compliance rate with its seat belt law, which was first passed in July 1986, making it among the first states in the Union to approve such a measure. That means before surrendering my residency status there I was among the just over 5 percent who paid tribute regularly for routinely failing to buckle up. My home-away-from-home state of New York was the first state to pass seat belt legislation in 1984, almost two years after I began driving and moved away. West Virginia, whose law is a secondary offense, boasts a compliance rate of about 82 percent. Interestingly, the original “Live free or die” set of New Hampshire remain the only state in the nation not to have passed a seat belt law for drivers (in an apparent tacit admission by Granite State legislators to the merits of the law, juveniles and other minors are required to buckle up, however — go figure).
The issue of seat belt laws still gets backs up among liberty-lovers, with many arguing the laws are nothing more than a revenue boost for states, but that do nothing to improve safety absent better roads and better-trained drivers, both good points. These folks also argue that requiring motorists to be buckled up is more evidence of government being where it ought not to be — they have a right to set their own health and safety standards, they argue. Of course seat belt laws are an infringement on personal freedom. So is every other law.
But from this perennial scofflaw’s perspective, it’s not easy to see as anything but ridiculous a state trooper scooting after me to slap me with a minimal fine for no other sin than not being properly restrained, but that’s the reality at having made such a violation a primary offense, as many states have.
Equally absurd is the man hours now being exercised by the apparatchiks in both states to inform me of my failure to remit payment for my lawbreaking ways, despite it having already been remitted more than a month ago. Who says government doesn’t know how to stretch a dollar?
—Robert Snyder is managing editor of the Spirit of Jefferson. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org