As the government continues to trample on the civil rights of people by insisting we wear masks or other PPE and get vaccinated so we don’t inadvertently kill ourselves or others by accident, the pushback by some in our society on wearing masks has been mind-boggling but nothing new or surprising. We have a history of fighting compliance and all you have to do is look back to 1966, a time when life was filled with surfing, psychedelics, and muscle cars. Driving our cars along the highway or main drag, untethered to the seat with the top down, commuting with nature, the wind in your hair with the music cranked up was a birthright or so we thought. This freedom was about to be dealt a major setback when congress passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Act.
This new act was a response to the horrible year of 1960 when 93,803 deaths from unintentional injuries were recorded, and 41% (38,459 human lives) were associated with motor vehicle crashes just like the one that took James Dean in 1955. Other high-profile accidents continued to add fuel to the fire such as Comedian and TV personality Ernie Kovac in 1962 who plowed his station wagon into a power pole and without restraints wound up being thrown halfway through the passenger side. In 1963 Country music singer Jack Anglin died in a car crash on the way to Patsy Cline’s funeral. 1964 race car driver Glenn Dunaway died when he crashed into a train at a rail crossing. Then in 1966, we saw the trio of celebrity car deaths beginning in April with musician Richard Farina killed in a motorcycle accident, and then in August, both playboy model Tonya Crews died in a car crash as well as JFK assassination witness Lee Bowers when his car veered off the road. Then came 1967 when we lost Jayne Mansfield when her car hit the back of a big rig and Rockin’ Robin Roberts left us in a head-on collision and he wasn’t even driving. So as you can see, death by car doesn’t discriminate, but it makes great headlines.
The new act created what is now the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) which put forth the first seat belt law. May I introduce federal law Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, which took effect in 1968? The federal law put the burden on car manufacturers by telling them to include seat belts in all new vehicles. Ah, but would they get used?
The use of seat belts didn’t actually become mandatory until each state in the U.S. took its time to establish its own seat belt laws, with New York leading the way as the first state to mandate that drivers use a seat belt in 1984. It only took 18 years between when the law took effect and the first seatbelt law. Over the next eleven years, 48 other states would institute seat belt use laws and along with hours of Public Service Announcements, courtesy notices, and massive crackdowns by law enforcement with high penalties, people accepted wearing seatbelts as gospel. Even today, if you don’t click it you may be pulled over in a crackdown. However, in New Hampshire, where they “live free or die” they do, as they remain the only U.S. state without a seat belt use law for drivers.
To make matters worse in the area of personal freedoms the first universal motorcycle helmet law was enacted in 1966 as well. In their ever so subtle way of coercion, the federal government offered incentives to states to increase helmet use by enacting state helmet use laws, in the form of payments to certain federal safety programs and highway construction funds in their state. Universal helmet laws were in effect a lot sooner than seatbelt laws in 47 States and the District of Columbia by 1975. However, after Federal penalties were eliminated for States failing to have a universal law, about half the States repealed their laws. Several States have enacted or repealed helmet laws since then.
A similar history for workplace safety as congress established OSHA under the Occupational Safety and Health Act signed into law on December 29, 1970. Fifty years later companies still try to cut corners on safety putting human lives at risk just to save a few dollars they can put in their pocket. And here we are, today, still arguing over compliance and our personal freedoms. Compliance is such a funny concept and is mishandled in this beautiful country of ours. When a law is made to protect people and it’s not working, instead of looking as to why, we make more laws with stiffer penalties the fact is if we had enforced the current laws on the books as we should have in the first place, the problem would be gone but yet, full compliance is not achieved, so new tougher stronger laws are needed, not.
So here at his workplace, Zeke is an outstanding employee. He’s never missed a day of work and he operates his large complicated machine like no one else. In fact, no one else has ever produced as many widgets on a shift as Zeke. Zeke is a mean widget-making machinist. However, Zeke has decided that he finds wearing hearing protection unnatural and violates his right to not wear it and go deaf but he wasn’t worried about going deaf as he’s sure he’s immune to deafness and refused to wear the mandatory ear protection. 80% of the manufacturing companies out there would have disciplined and/or terminated Zeke for noncompliance. Rightfully so. Sad that 20% would look the other way for such an outstanding performer. Zeke was terminated and of course, sued to say that his termination was not for noncompliance but for being a practicing Druid.
What’s the big deal, Zeke was only hurting himself, no one else and he did such a great job! When Zeke can no longer hear the sound of a human voice, the sound of a spring day, or the sound of his grandkids will he blame his beliefs or his employer? We often think about how something affects us today, but we don’t often look 20 or 30 years down the road. You don’t know how over time your body responds and changes to stress, repetition of movement, exercise, or lack thereof, and medications. The goal as I’ve been told by my Grandfathers and Grandmothers and Parents is to live as long as possible. So if the word compliance is something you can’t live with, let’s call it love. You want to love and be loved and wearing a mask demonstrates your love for life. Please be kind and mindful of others and stay safe.