Monday, April 3, 2006

April 3, 2006 I have the right

Consider This for April 3, 2006--I Have the Right?

The number one topic in the more than 4,000 e-mails I get each week is what people think they have a right to do.

People have a right to drive without a seat belt. They have a right to smoke in any public place. They have a right to do anything within their imagination.

I normally ask the person to read the Constitution of the United States or that of Colorado and show me where they can find that particular right. It is not there.

It is the responsibility of the State Legislature and all elected officials to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of all the people. To do this we need to have laws that restrict unhealthy or unsafe behavior. It is easy to understand if you take the time to read the law.

If you do not want to understand, then no explanation is possible.

During the smoking debate, one of my fellow legislators commented that your rights ended at the tip of his nose. In other words, your smoke imposes a health hazard once someone who is not smoking inhales it.

Seat belts should be easier to understand, but it seems to be more difficult for some. When someone is not belted in and his or her car goes out of control, it puts everyone on the road in jeopardy. The driver is bouncing around inside the car and cannot hang on to the steering wheel.

In the past couple of years there have been several accidents in which vehicles have crossed into oncoming traffic because the driver was not belted in.

One person actually sent me data indicating that no one has ever been saved by a seat belt, and in fact people are killed by seat belts. I was a police officer for over forty years and coroner for eight of those years, and I never saw anyone killed by a seat belt but many people saved by wearing them.

There has been a law in Colorado for many years requiring seat belt use. For the past couple of years a bill has moved forward requiring a primary seat belt law. This law would allow police officers to stop you for not wearing your seat belt. Under the current law you have to be stopped for another offense before you can be charged for not wearing your seat belt.

Statistically, states that have a primary seat belt law have had a 10% reduction in the fatal accident rate. In Colorado that would result in 50 fewer deaths each year.

I do not believe that is a number anyone can disagree with. Especially if one of the 50 happens to be your child or other loved one.

There is concern expressed that this law might lead to racial profiling: Police officers could use the primary seat belt law as an excuse to stop black or Hispanic drivers. My retort is that there are thousands of other laws a police officer could rely on to stop a person without a primary seat belt law. This argument reminds me of the “any port in a storm” argument. If you can’t find a good reason, you can always make one up.

I have always lamented the loss of civics classes in our schools. I know that there are some places where civics is taught, but there are many citizens who have never studied government or our legal system. They get most of their information from the Internet and listening to talk radio, neither too reliable (regardless of your political bent).

Life goes on regardless. With this new law, life will go on for more people for much longer than before.

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