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Unsafe safety laws

By Ted Lang
web posted January 6, 2003

Three days before Christmas, somewhere between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. that Sunday evening, a horrible auto crash occurred near my home. And of course, the usual suspects and victims were involved. After the initial shock of the loss, and after disbelief is overcome and turns to inquiry, a more powerful emotion settles in. It is that emotion which usually leads to action, and feeds on the need to lay blame.

It is important to understand this progression of emotion and why people become blinded by the subsequent anger and its need to lay blame. This explains why people then participate in the cacophony of public protest demanding: There ought to be a law! And naturally, headline-grabbing, opportunistic politicians eyeing their next election campaign, are more than willing to design legislation to fit the evident public emotion.

It is precisely such emotionalism that contributes to the political expediency of bad legislation; laws created to serve public opinion rather than those created from rational assessment. And it is precisely this kind of legislative debacle that more often than not creates bad laws that contribute precisely to generating just the opposite of the results and outcome intended

Recent examples are two pieces of gun control legislation passed in the same state where the auto tragedy occurred; namely, New Jersey. "Smart gun" legislation, created to prevent the accidental shooting of children, as well as ballistic firearm "fingerprinting," the latter having been conclusively proven not to work in testimony to the legislature before passage, was passed in spite of logical objections.

Small but vocal, emotionally fired-up protest groups, who in no way represent the will of the majority, the latter being woefully ignorant of the facts as well as complacent in assuming logic and debate accompany the passage of such laws, simply accept that such laws are better than none at all, or at least serve the "greater good."

Finishing their Christmas shopping at a local mall three days before the holiday, the five teenaged friends said goodnight and headed for their cars. They were three boys, two aged 17, one 18 year-old, and two 15 year-old girls. One 17 year-old boy had his own car and was driving alone, while the other four got into the other 17 year-old driver's car. But there was a problem, or at least one of the teenage boys thought there was – and of course he was right.

New Jersey State law forbids a 17 year-old from operating a motor vehicle after dark when other under age occupants, the two 15 year-old girls, are in the vehicle. The owner of the car was a responsible well-mannered kid, liked by his teachers and accepted to college for his intended course of study: aeronautical engineering. He was a musician and an honor student. He was a responsible kid.

In fact, he was so responsible that he suppressed the urge to show off in front of the girls, something that becomes very urgent at that age, and handed the keys of his recently acquired Acura Integra to the 18 year-old, the latter who by legislative standards would be more responsible and that more conducive to safe driving.

Witnesses state that the car was doing about 90 mph when it hit a clump of trees after a slight incline and gentle curve in the road where the top speed limit is 45 mph. The auto disintegrated, the engine landing 20 feet from what could only be described as a pile of scrap metal and pieces of junk intertwined with the trees. Both boys were killed, but thankfully both girls survived, one actually crawling out from under a piece of car.

This is a lesson for those who think government and its laws promote well being and safety. Had the right boy been driving, the younger yet more conscientious one as evidenced by his acceding to the laws and demands of politicians, it is most probable he would have observed the speed limit on that stretch of road as well. Perhaps everyone in that small town would have had a merrier Christmas with a little less government, including the two boys whose future was determined by observing one law and not another.

Ted Lang is a political analyst and a freelance writer.

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