Wreck on the highway

When I saw the footage of New Jersey Governor John Corzine’s wrecked SUV, and heard about his injuries, I have to admit that my first thought was “it sounds like he wasn’t wearing a seat belt.”

The vehicle was mostly intact, and it was a big SUV — the kind that’s supposed to stand up well to crashes. Nonetheless, Corzine suffered a broken sternum, collarbone, broke six ribs on each side, cracked a vertebra, and busted a thigh bone in two places.

Because I happen to have a certain twist of mind, I went and looked up New Jersey’s seat belt law. It requires children to be restrained, as well as adults riding in the front seat, but excludes those in the back. Further, the story says that Corzine “does not usually wear a seat belt.” Also, witnesses say that Corzine’s legs were hanging out the front passenger window after the crash.

So, that brings up the question: was Corzine riding in the front seat at the time, unbelted? Alongside a state trooper driver, who should have insisted that the governor buckle up in accordance to the law? Will the trooper be cited?

I don’t like seat belt laws, but I don’t believe in simply ignoring laws you don’t like. I suspect that when Corzine resumes office, he’ll probably become an advocate for seat belt usage and laws. And with good reason.

But the point is simple: the vehicle had the belts. There were laws on the books already that, in all likelihood, covered the situation. (It is possible that Corzine was riding in back and was thrown over the front seat so he ended up with his legs hanging out the window, but that seems very unlikely to me.) And there was a cop literally right next to him who should have enforced the law.

No one, especially a politician as intelligent as Corzine, has any right pleading ignorance about the value of seat belts. I’ve believed for most of my life that anyone who gets into a vehicle and doesn’t buckle up is an idiot, and has little grounds for complaint if they get injured or killed as a consequence.

But I’ve never believed that it is the government’s place to protect people from their own idiocy. Unless you’re putting others at direct risk, the government should do no more than urge you to do the right, sensible, safe thing — but the final decision must be the individual’s. Those of us who are adults deserve the right to make our own choices about our own selves — and accept the consequences of those choices.

Corzine, it appears, chose to accept the risks in not wearing a seat belt. It looks like he had taken that risk for years — but the odds finally caught up with him.

I’m glad he’s expected to survive, and hope this will teach him — and others — how important seat belts are. But I also hope he doesn’t become a rallying cry for tougher seat belt laws.

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