In Fights Over Face Masks, Echoes of the American Seatbelt Wars

In Fights Over Face Masks, Echoes of the American Seatbelt Wars

Alan S. Tolz, a former producer of Mr. Williams’s show, said the host devoted most of his air time in that period to encouraging people to petition against seatbelts. “It was a long civics lesson,” he said. “I think he was looking at this as a libertarian issue — ‘I am an adult, I will wear a seatbelt, and you don’t have to force me to.’”

“And that is how we won,” Mr. Ford said. “I used that argument in every debate, every talk show.”

The law was repealed in 1986, making Massachusetts the first state to do so.

Mr. Williams, who died in 2003, credited what he called the “rag-tag band of citizens who understood what the American Revolution was all about” for the win.

A second law passed in 1993, and Mr. Ford, who went on to testify against seatbelt laws in other capitals, gave up on fighting the Massachusetts law when his effort to repeal the new law failed.

“I washed my hands of that issue and moved on to others,” he said.

But not government-mandated masks. Mr. Ford says he does not see a libertarian parallel with today’s mask mandates, because their purpose is to prevent harm from spreading to others.

“You choose to wear a seatbelt, and you are only hurting yourself if you make the wrong decision,” he said.

More than 30 years ago, David Hollister, a legislator representing Lansing, was working on budget and social services issues when Richard H. Austin, the secretary of state and chairman of the Michigan Safety Council, asked him to work on the state’s first seatbelt legislation.

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