A number of burning political issues today have been around for a while. When I was in junior high in Austin in the 1950s, I threw a newspaper route for the Austin Statesman every afternoon except Sunday. As I rolled or folded the papers in preparation for riding my route, I was intrigued by interesting headlines. But I tried not to read any articles until I finished the route, otherwise it could take a long time. 

It was about this time I became aware of conflicts between some parents and the state and local governments. Who should decide whether a child needed a medical procedure or should be treated for certain conditions? 

Did parents always know what was best for their children and even if they didn’t know, should the government intervene and act in the interest of the children? Or, should the government stand aside and let children suffer and even die in the name of personal freedom or parental and constitutional rights?

If a child was born with a cleft palate, spina bifida, or a clubfoot, for examples, some parents believed their child had been born exactly the way God wanted the child to be. Parents with afflicted children who opposed treatments or surgeries supported their beliefs with various quotations from the Bible. 

Most parents today, facing similar situations, would opt for long proven surgeries or treatments ASAP. But 70 years ago, there were a number of court cases involving these issues. I still remember reading about them today. Yet I can’t recall how these cases were resolved. It seems that the parents either finally decided on some recommended medical action or they may have been forced to do so. 

To mask or not to mask children is very much in the news today. The discussions today are just as heated or even more heated because of political implications. Soon there will be the issue of Covid-19 vaccinations for children. 

Certain vaccinations are already mandated for children attending public schools and once a Covid-19 vaccine is approved for children, it may need to be added to the list of required vaccinations. There are, as I understand it, some exceptions made for vaccinations for various reasons. 

Similar to the mask and vaccination issues is the mandate to wear seatbelts in cars. Initially seatbelts were an optional accessory that, if one wanted them, the customer had to pay them for separately. Few in Texas, and in a lot of other states, wanted them. Later a federal mandate required seatbelts as standard equipment in personal automobiles. They were included in the base cost of the car.

When the seatbelts were there in the car, few ever used them. The belts were stashed away somewhere waiting for the next state inspection. Never mind that data indicated seatbelts saved lives and serious injuries. Like Patrick Henry, our freedom was more important than our safety or our lives. 

Mourners probably saw it differently. I wish they had worn seatbelts, some said. 

Finally reluctant states like Texas were forced by the national government to mandate the use of seatbelts or lose their fair share of the 18 cents per gallon motor federal motor fuels tax. 

Laws have always been selectively enforced and for a while we in Texas did not choose to enforce seatbelt mandates. So we didn’t have to worry about a ticket. This eventually changed and today all states have to enforce the use of seatbelts and I’m sure Texas does its token fair share of seatbelt enforcements,

Some Texans still don’t wear seatbelts but enough do so traffic fatalities per mile driven have gone down, down, down. I ask you this: is the loss of freedom from seatbelts worth the declining death rates or even declining insurance costs? Or do we say: Give me death and higher insurance premiums, but seatbelts never. Over our dead bodies literally.

There is evidence that in a very small number of accidents the use of seatbelts have contributed to fatalities. A few drivers and passengers might have survived if they had not been confined by seatbelts. 

While a few have died, many more are alive today because of the enforcement of seatbelt usage. Before there was any seatbelt enforcement my niece was not so lucky. At the age of 17 she was thrown through a windshield and was in a coma for 21 days. She has never recovered and has been physically and mentally disabled for more than 40 years.

Now let’s look at the record for child safety seats. For years data indicated that the use of these seats would save the lives of infants, babies, toddlers, and children until they were large enough to use adult seatbelts. 

Parents in Texas and most other states opted out or if they used one, it was a cheap one that was of little benefit. Gradually, over time, like pulling teeth, Texas parents were forced to confine their children in a sturdy, five-point hitch, child safety seat and then fasten the seat to secure ties imbedded in the back seat. 

Poor Texas babies, now they have to ride backwards and see nothing of our great state of Texas zooming through Texas at 75 and 80 mph. I’m being a little factitious here. 

Now to be serious-- it is a fact that these child safety seats have tragically, but very rarely, contributed to the death of some small children. No doubt about this. A recent story in the news made you want to cry. 

But thousands of children are alive today and thousands more have avoided serious, permanent injuries because their parents and grandparents have purchased these costly child safety seats and they have used them without fail whenever their children or grandchildren were in their cars with them. If seatbelts and child safety seats were optional today, child deaths per miles driven would be much greater and car insurance rates would be much higher. 

Officers of the law investigating automobile accidents with fatalities are required to report if the victims were wearing seatbelts and, if applicable, if a child was in a child safety seat. This is true even when the dead victims were riding in a vehicle where the driver had done nothing wrong. 

On the other hand, it is not surprising to read about drivers and passengers who were all killed in a single vehicle accident. None were wearing seatbelts and if a child was killed, the child was not secured in a child safety seat. For some reason, I don’t think these victims died because they were trying to protect our freedoms. 

They may have died simply because they forgot and the car still goes 75 mph with no one buckled in. We still demand the freedom to operate our vehicles with drivers and passengers unbuckled and thousands die each year defending it. Step on the brake, push the button, put it in gear, hit on the gas petal and the car goes. Ready or not. 

The monuments to these heroes who die every year to preserve our freedom to drive without seatbelts buckled are in cemeteries all over Texas. Meanwhile my car doesn’t move with a dead battery or if I’m out of gas or if there is a computer or other equipment malfunction. Somehow I have survived even when my car won’t go. 

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