Monday, June 21, 2010

Profiles in Freedom(TM): The Freedom to Drive and Die

Stonewall Emmer talks a good game about Freedom(TM) from oppressive govmint regulations. And despite his assertions of being an outsider to the political process, his six-year career in the Minnesota Legislature gives shape and definition to what Freedom(TM) means to him. I mean, just look at all of the oppressive laws he's voted against!

This Spring, there was a terrible amount of carnage on the roads involving young drivers, the most extreme example a head-on collision involving a car full of teenagers. Six lives were lost in this accident. The driver had received her provisional license three weeks before the accident, was in violation of the terms of that license, which prohibited driving after midnight and having more than one teenage passenger. These restrictions were adopted by the Minnesota Legislature in 2008. Not that Stonewall Emmer thought it was a good idea - he voted against these restrictions. His campaign manager (Rep. Mark Buesgens) agreed: speaking on the floor of "the long arm of state government taking the rightful role of parents."

And this, ladies and gentleman, is what Freedom(TM) looks like.

It's true that this accident occurred despite of the passage of the graduated license provisions in 2008. It's a graphic and sobering reminder of the consequences of careless disregard of a law that is reducing the number of teenage driver crashes. Studies in other states also indicate this is an effective approach, and that stronger penalties and heightened enforcement adds to their effectiveness. In the wake of the April crashes, some legislators suggested doing more, such as adding stricter penalties or increasing the nighttime restrictions on teen driving. But as the Star Tribune noted, it took twenty years to get any new restrictions on teen driving passed - thanks to the thought process of people like Emmer and Buesgens, who think that teenage driving is exclusively a parenting issue. The family members of the other drivers involved in these crashes might think it is a public safety issue, but what do they know? They must hate Freedom(TM)!

The same thought process applies for Stonewall Emmer when it comes to primary seatbelt laws. We know that seat belts save lives, we know that primary seat belt laws increase the use of seat belts. But dammit, says Emmer, this is just another example of the govmint telling me what to do! It's part of his Tenther schtick - the federal government has no business attaching conditions to federal money that require states to adopt seat belt laws.

Stonewall Emmer's version of Freedom(TM) relies on a paranoid fantasy of a creeping fascism that starts with telling 16 year olds that they shouldn't drive between midnight and 5 A.M. and ends with Stalin's gulags. But on a practical level, what he sees as restrictions on personal freedom are sound public policies that are saving lives. And the adoption of common-sense traffic safety measures, including .08 BAC DUI laws, primary seat belt laws, and graduated license provisions for teen drivers resulted in a 2009 road death toll that was the lowest in recent memory. No thanks to Tom Emmer, who voted against nearly every one of these life-saving changes in the name of Freedom(TM).

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