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Are seat belt laws constitutional?

Much of the Constitution is geared around guaranteeing the personal freedoms of people in the United States.

As such, it has been argued that seat belt laws are unconstitutional. Shouldn't people have a right to decide for themselves if they want to wear a belt or not? Isn't it merely a personal safety issue? Doesn't a person have a right to privacy in his or her own car? What right does the government have to tell a person in a private vehicle what he or she must do to stay safe, and what right do police officers have to hand out tickets and fines for a violation?

While these questions come up repeatedly, the reality is that seat belt laws have ended up in court in numerous states to test whether or not they are constitutional. Time and time again, the courts maintain that they are.

The grounds for these rulings typically reference the fact that the state has the ability to wield its power to keep people safe and protect the welfare of the people in that state. The seat belt laws are considered reasonable and in keeping with this legal theory. The states argue that they are just trying to save people's lives, and that doing so is worth it even when freedoms are restricted as a result.

It is important to note that two cases were petitioned to the Supreme Court, but neither one was picked up, so the highest court has never technically weighed in on the issue.

Even though the laws are constitutional, that doesn't mean there is nothing you can do when facing legal ramifications for an alleged violation. Be sure you know all of your options.

Source: OLR Research Report, "Constitutionality of the Mandatory Seat Belt Use Law," James J. Fazzalaro, accessed March 14, 2018

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