The Daily Rant
Rant archives
RSS feed for The Daily Rant RSS Feed
Streaming Daily Rants
Podcast/MP3 Daily Rants
About me
Home Turf
Pave the grass
My news clips
Contact me
Pa. gambles
Pa. pay raise
Pa. papers
Pa. poliblogs
Pa. columnists
Pa. AP news
N.J. papers
N.J. AP news
Good reporting
White House
GAO news
Iraq war
Peak oil
For Men
News feed
Warp Stock
Site map

as seen on phillyBurbs.com

Click it or ticket?
Pa. drivers need tougher laws, not slogans.

"Watch out," Bob Bauder called out.

Some how in the dusk of that late summer evening years ago, Bob, my fellow reporter at the accident scene, had seen what I could not on that lonely stretch of country road.

I was about to step in the boy's brains.

He had flown out the passenger window of a sports car after it had struck a pickup truck head-on. The body of his buddy, the driver, was several yards in front of the wreck, having exited the windshield.

"Ejected," cops would clinically call it later on the accident report, making it sound like the teens had been kicked out of a baseball game.

They had been playing a game all right - drag racing another teen's car on that straight, but hilly road - and did not see the pickup coming until it was too late. The truck's driver, a high school teacher, was impaled on the steering column and died instantly.

His wife, who was wearing her seatbelt, survived and was shouting for police and firefighters to cut her free.

I was reminded of that tragic scene last week when Kathleen Smith e-mailed me after reading my column on the proposed repealing of Pennsylvania's motorcycle helmet law.

"If the helmet law is repealed because it is intrusive, how can they possibly mandate the wearing of seat belts?" Smith wrote. "Thanks for including Gov. Rendell's e-mail (in the column). I have posed this question to him as well."

The short answer, Kathleen, is that seat belts are not mandatory for adults, but they should be.

Despite the "Click it or Ticket" campaign bombarding the radio and TV airwaves around here, Pennsylvania's seat belt law is considered a "secondary law." That means that as much as they would like to, cops can't just pull you over because you're not wearing your seat belt.

But if you get pulled over for anything else - running a red light, swerving in traffic, a broken tail light, whatever - you can get an extra fine for failing to wear the restraint.

I'm of the opinion, after years of going to accident scenes like the one mentioned above, that the law should do more than simply provide revenue for the state.

The mere threat of a fine has been enough to get 75 percent of us to buckle up, according to the latest PennDOT statistics. But to get the other 25 percent to use the belt - one theory claims they're smokers - the Legislature should make the law mandatory.

Of course, then the lawmakers potentially could face the same sort of backlash that prompted them to vote for repealing the motorcycle helmet law in the first place.

Smith wasn't the only reader to respond to last week's column, in which I joked that the Legislature deserved a Darwin Award for its decision.

Harley-Davidson rider Bill Farne, an active member of Bucks County HOG, thought I used poor taste.

"Don't make a joke about riders killing themselves," Farne wrote. "A lot of us are not thinking clearly about this matter. I personally will continue to ride with a helmet that is DOT approved. Unfortunately, bikers will be killed by stupidity, but most of the time it will be someone else's. I would hope that riders would consider all their options on this matter and remember that their families should be a part of the consideration."

Fellow biker Harold Comfort agreed. "I would not move a motorcycle or even ride a bicycle without a helmet.  I predict that in time you will hear the public screaming for reinstatement of the law [as they have done in other states that enacted a no helmet law] once the medical cost for treatment of head injuries start rolling in. Regardless of the 'knowledge you have in your head,' accidents happen! Hopefully Ed Rendell is listening."

Alan Jay Mazer, who described himself as a "safe motorcycle rider for over 30 years," disagreed with me.

He argued that the federal Department of Transportation's minimum standards for motorcyle helmets "do not perform as well in crash situations" and "that even at 25 mph, DOT-approved helmets will NOT prevent head or brain injury on direct contact."

"Add to that the loss of peripheral vision, hearing impairment and the improper use of helmets [loose or poor fitting, worn or defective straps, etc] and it is obvious that giving a rider the 'option' of wearing head protection makes more sense than requiring them by law."

Larry Boyd, of Delanco, N.J., also applauded the helmet law repeal, arguing, "Who should we be to stand in the way of someone wanting to prove Darwin right?

"As long as that adult doesn't hurt someone else while riding without a helmet why should any state legislate what he/she may do to themselves?," he added. "Step back enjoy the freedoms, maybe someday the government will abolish that one rule that really gets your goat!  Maybe they will lower taxes, increase school funding, cut government bloat and find the Loch Ness monster, too."

Until that happens, folks, buckle up this July 4 and be safe.

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at  or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

June 30, 2003