By the beginning of 1986 all but three states had taken some action on a mandatory seat-belt bill. The seat-belt debate is one manifestation of the concern over the relationship between lifestyle and disease, and has raised some of the most fundamental questions of politics and political philosophy: individual versus public responsibility in health promotion, and freedom versus compulsion. This article examines the debate from both a domestic (New York, Illinois, Oregon) and crossnational (Great Britain) perspective. It identifies several issues which arose during the debates, but concludes that the critical issue involved the libertarian objection to government mandating more prudent personal behavior. The article concludes that while the British conservative tradition of “benign paternalism” allowed some conservatives in that country to accept restrictions on personal freedom, the absence of such a tradition in the United States makes acceptance more difficult.

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