Fire Away! by Dee Jay Gude
Next month I may be writing this column from jail.  I'm actually kind of excited about it, because it gives me the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is in regards to standing up for what I believe in.  That and I spent my teen years being a goody-goody who only had pleasant encounters with the law and I'm imagining the look on my folks' faces when I tell them I'm in the slammer.

What did I do, you ask?  Nothing to get excited about - in fact, I'm going to have to make up a better crime so that my bank-robbing cellmate doesn't think I'm a wimp.  Here's the scenario:

I'm driving on the beltway in the middle of rush hour in the second lane.  Suddenly a cop pulls in behind me and flips on his lights.  Ever try pulling over two lanes of traffic in the middle of rush hour on the beltway?  So I finally get onto the shoulder, cars and trucks are whizzing by me at breakneck speeds, irate commuters are darting in and out of lanes, cutting people off and showing them the manicure on their middle finger.  The cop saunters over to my window and informs me that he pulled me off the beltway, through two lanes of road-ragers (did I mention it was in the middle of rush hour?) because...he noticed I wasn't wearing my seatbelt.

Yes, folks, it is now a "primary" enforcement law if a cop catches you operating your own vehicle while not properly restrained.  Before the cops could only stop you for seatbelt infraction if they also observed you breaking another traffic law, such as speeding, broken taillight or plucking your eyebrows at a green light.  Now all they have to do is notice that you have no shoulder harness connecting you to your vehicle and they can stop and ticket you.  PS, this is a $25 fine.

This law took effect on October 1, 1997.  What I would like to know is this:  Where was I when this was decided?  Governor Glendening and the Maryland Legislature took it upon themselves to concoct a law that is frivolous at best and certainly violates my right to privacy.  Charming Parris thinks that I, a normally law-abiding grownup taxpayer, am too stupid to know what's good for me and therefore he must protect me from myself.  None of us got any say-so when this law took effect, nor did we even realize it happened.  Our "representatives" snuck it in when no one was looking.  I certainly would have voted against it if I had had the choice, which I didn't (so much for "Government of the people, by the people, and for the people").

The media hounds say "seatbelts save lives".  That's bull.  The stats are that 68% of all traffic fatalities were unbelted at the time of their crash.  So what?  Do we know for certain that any of those 68% would have survived if they had been properly restrained?

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Vice President Jacqueline Gillan said, "We congratulate Governor Glendening and the members of the State Legislature who support this bill. Too many Marylanders are needlessly dying on our roads and something must be done."   Well, thank you, Jacqueline, for your concern.  My suggestion to you is get a job or find a hobby and mind your own business.  That's the problem with these people - they have too much time on their hands, so they form a group and find some pet cause to "do something" about.   Before this incident, I had no violations on my license - no speeding, no reckless driving, no DWI.  I think that, as an adult, I can make my own decisions about whether I want to wear a seatbelt or not in my own vehicle that I pay for on roads that I have helped fund with my tax dollars.  I have a perfectly good Mommy and Daddy and don't need Congress trying to parent me.

So what was at first an absurd infraction has turned into a cause for me.  I have no intention of giving the State of Maryland one penny of my money for this trumped up silliness.  I have opted for a hearing, and when the judge finds me guilty (which he certainly will because, well, I WAS driving without my seatbelt), I will inform him that the law violates my civil rights and that I'm not going to pay the fine.  My new husband (who is used to my rantings) assures me that he'll bring me a cake with a file baked in it, just like in the movies.

I had a better idea:  Alert the press.  Those bleeding-hearters at the Washington Post will have a field day with a young mother of four who owns her own business and has never been in trouble with the law before, sitting in jail with murderers and thieves because she didn't wear her seatbelt.  I have already prepared my speech for the judge and my soundbites for the media!

Knowing my luck, though, I won't get to make my speech or deliver my soundbites because the officer who stopped me won't show up for court.  He'll be too busy enforcing other stupid laws that make criminals out of people who aren't hurting anyone else or even themselves.

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