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Seat Belt Mandates and Paternalism

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
Author:
Jessica Flanigan University of Richmond, flanigan@richmond.edu

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Seat belt mandates seem like a paradigmatic case of justified paternalism. Even those who generally object to paternalism often concede that seat belt laws are justified. Against this near-consensus in favor of mandates, I argue that seat belt laws are unjust and public officials should not enforce them. The most plausible exceptions to a principle of anti-paternalism do not justify seat belt mandates. Some argue that seat belt mandates are not paternalistic because unbelted riders are not fully autonomous. Others claim that the decision to ride unbelted harms other people. Yet these attempts to defend seat belt mandates on non-paternalistic grounds cannot overcome the case against seat belt mandates. I therefore conclude that even seat belt mandates are unjust. With this comprehensive case against seat belt mandates, I demonstrate the more general difficulties in justifying any form of coercive paternalism.

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