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Jeers to lawmakers for making seat belt use mandatory

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,

Up stairs and down stairs in his night-gown,

Tapping at the window, crying at the lock,

Are the children in their bed, for it's past ten o'clock?

For some reason the old nursery rhythm by William Miller comes to mind when we think about the new mandatory seat belt law passed this session by the Minnesota Legislature.

In this case, the part of Wee Willie Winkie would be played by legislators eager to make sure the children -- that would be the rest of us -- are always safe, snug and doing the right thing.

The law, which went into effect Tuesday, requires everyone in a vehicle to buckle up, and makes failure to do so a primary offense.

For a number of years now it has been a secondary offense: You could get a ticket for not wearing a seat belt, but only after an officer pulled you over for something else.

Wearing a seat belt is a good idea. We heartily recommend it. No doubt the new law will save lives and prevent serious injuries.

It's hard to argue against it -- we suppose that's why it finally passed. But we can't help but feel that there's something galling about being forced by the government to wear one.

Maybe it's because we're losing a freedom. It may be just a little one -- the freedom to move around when you're in the car, to hop in and out unrestrained if you're making a lot of stops, the freedom to decide for yourself if you want to wear a seat belt.

Maybe it's the feeling that there are an awful lot of good ideas out there, things that are hard to argue against, and if the government decides to legislate them all, the loss of all those little freedoms will add up to something substantial. A big loss, maybe?

It's natural for legislators to want to protect people, but they need to remember that some laws -- usually the best-intentioned ones -- chip away at freedoms.

And freedom is a limited commodity. We wouldn't want to run out.