Listening or using an electronic device while crossing a street is now officially a major safety concern approaching epidemic proportions in our country. Really? Well, according to Senator Carl Kruger, representing New York's 27th District in South Brooklyn, the situation has become so critical that only a new law restricting iPOD and other electronic devices, including the ubiquitous and much-beloved Blackberry, can solve the fatalities occurring between driver and the pedestrian user of such devices. And, though the Senator says his objective is not punitive in nature, a violator could face a stiff
$100 fine, and would have to appear in court. Sounds rather criminal to us.
On its face, this is a law in search of a problem, with the more obvious danger coming from reckless or irresponsible drivers that should acknowledge that big cities are full of congested, time-pressed people just trying to make living and get from point A to point B. Of course, drivers can have the same urgency too, but with obviously more protection and speed on their side, the driver should be more liable. Hence, the sensible "yield to pedestrians in crosswalk", signs restricting the driver.
According to a staff member in Sen. Kruger's office, the bill is currently in limbo awaiting a hearing by the transportation committee within the state Senate. And judging by the reaction of most internet bloggers, news reporters, high-tech websites, and the average Joe Citizen, that's where it should stay.
To his credit, Senator Kruger has promoted and helped pass legislation that was good for public education, and tough on violent offenders. And there is, good intentions of preventing senseless fatalities, along with pleasing his constituents, behind this proposed bill. But, as many have noted, legislating behavior that has become second-nature to most, is both annoying and insulting to our intelligence. Were rather proud of our ability to multi-task with high-tech gadgetry while navigating our way through the day.
Thomas Jefferson in his Inaugural Address said "A wise and frugal government is a government that shall restrain men from injuring one another which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits." Could the Kruger law apply here? Well, punishment for illegal firearm use in public spaces, physical assaults, and wanton destruction of property is fairly obvious examples of Mr. Jefferson's intent. However, assigning blame is not always a clear choice, and clearly our techno-world has presented humans with new and creative ways to cull the gene pool that our fore-fathers could not have imagined.
But consider this, public law assumes, that laws can be used to create conditions that allow people to lead healthier lives and that the government has both the power and the duty to regulate private behavior in order to promote public health. Okay, maybe not Jeffersonian in spirit, but getting close enough to justify passage of this law. And to be sure, some public safety laws have been statistical winners when it comes to saving lives. Both the U.S. and Taiwan have shown that mandatory helmet laws do reduce fatalities, and in the case of Taiwan as much as 14% over a one year period. Closer to home, a majority of Americans believe the government has the right and should be legislating against companies that market junk-food to our young to slow the growth of obesity.
The question asked by many is "do we need more legislation to protect us from ourselves?" In some cases it seems clear we do from the examples above. But, many times we can and do solve the problem ourselves, by people just doing the right things at the right times in relation to what others are doing. Going slower than the posted speed limit can cause accidents just as going too fast. Judgment and common sense should be our true guide. If we fail to do this, government will, and probably should, pass a law.
So, to answer the opening question, can they do this? It may not be likely, due to the lack of enough statistics indicating a true epidemic, but in the future-yes laws such as these could come to pass. All it might take is a ground-swell of public sentiment or leaving the call to your senator for the other guy to do. New York was, you might remember, the first state in the nation to ban handheld phone use while driving, and which has spread to other states as well. Can the iPod and Blackberry be far behind?