No one knows when it really started, the often laughed about “nanny state” we live in; maybe it goes as far back as seatbelt, motor cycle helmet laws, but it is certainly seen today in everything from bans in schools, court cases that make headlines for their absurdity then make an equal number of headlines when judges, people with decision making power fall for it, the McDonald’s made me fat notion or the Twinkie defense. We see it in printed warning labels, online listings that begin with the words I’m being arrested for what; we see it bans on clothing to be warn in public, bans on dancing, law trying to impose someone’s vision of morality. We see it in new technology rolled out on the newest models of cars rear driving assist to help people parallel park, collision sensors to override the driver in case of an impending crash, discussions about technology to keep people from confusing the gas and the break, as it’s an alarming cause of accidents, injuring people, destroying buildings. But unlike bans on things in the name of keeping children safe at school, avoiding problems or at least lawsuits, unlike GPS-ing kids in case of kidnapping or getting lost, unlike monitors for your kids driving, cellphone, internet usage, adult nanny state mandates don’t carry the same credence. While there is a public safety issue with drunk driving, driving under the influence of illicit drugs, while abusing prescription medication, while we can somewhat foresee the need to print exhaustive warning labels on products, not only as a legal disclaimer but as a tool for foreigners, others who have never used common products before; there is a distinct difference from a public danger and a personal danger. Everyone attests to how many lives saved by seat belts and motorcycle helmets, but then again, in a nation based on freedom, don’t the people have a right to be stupid in their choices once they are of age? Bringing us to the logical conclusion that there no reason for the new Fort Lee New Jersey law banning texting and walking, aside from alleviating annoyance.
Yes we’ve all had that maddening experience of watching out for people so engrossed in their smartphone they miss everything going on around them, we’ve seen them on YouTube and gotten a laugh, heard all about the lady who fell into a mall fountain she was so caught up in what she was texting, the man who nearly ran into an escaped bear roaming a neighborhood, people running into things, falling down. What is no joke are the three deaths in the New Jersey town prompting them to crackdown on jaywalking pedestrians glued to their smart phones and walking right into oncoming traffic, resulting in a fine of $85, probably more for repeat offenders. As fines for jaywalking go that seems pretty light considering some can be over $100, even close to $200 or higher depending on where you live. The problem, surely every street in Fort Lee doesn’t have a crosswalk telling people when to walk and when not to; another issue, it assumes everyone walking into traffic is inattentive vs. being new to a larger city never having used a crosswalk before. A similar situation happened in a mid-western town with the addition of roundabouts to the city to ease traffic in certain areas; at first they caused accidents and frustration because unless you were fresh out of driving school, had just passed your practical driving test, you had no idea how to use it or had to cope with others who didn’t. What about texting and walking in places where jaywalking doesn’t apply coming out of a department store for example, the number of people pushing grocery carts, leisurely walking out bags in hand who don’t even look to see if there are cars before continuing to the parking lot; who simply expect the oncoming car to stop no matter how close it was before they stepped out, no matter if it defies the laws of basic physics, forcing drivers to slam on their brakes, be extremely vigilant, many times still being ticketed or changed in connection to the injury of a stupid person who just didn’t bother to check before crossing the street.
One irate person who was ticketed for the same offence in a different area of New Jersey shrewdly asked who the majority of spaces are for, pedestrians or motorists, indignantly implying we give the right of way, the consideration to people who drive rather than people who walk. And in many cities they are absolutely correct; an astounding number of cities large and small lack sidewalks, crosswalks, safe ways for those on foot to get where they want and need to go, leaving them to dart across traffic wherever they can, discriminating against the working poor who must get around by foot. Others find it angering because they see it as one more shameless attempt at revenue generation by cities, states who can’t manage a budget, the hard but doable task of every family in America. New Jersey is perhaps the epitome of exactly that doling out drastic cuts to everything in the state education, civil service, raising taxes, dismissing several hundred police, firemen since controversial governor Chris Christie took office. Making it more contentious is the governor’s advocacy that his state be a model for dealing with the nation’s debt issues. Aside from that however are the practical problems, without the same number of cops, potentially even adding to the traffic division in Fort Lee, how do they expect to keep up with all those tickets; further, with their limited resources, do they really have the ability to track down people who don’t pay their fine, do they even have enough people to process the influx of the new fines? Plus New Jersey on the whole has seen a spike in violent crime, has some of the roughest streets; the line, and this is what you have your cops doing, comes to mind? Of course one could guess it would be expected from a guy who called a fellow gay politician numb nuts then shook his head at the fall out completely missing someone might find it offensive not only to the target’s stated sexual orientation but offensive to the office of governor an official they elected resorted to high school name calling, seems to have no higher vocabulary to express himself.
Next more damage to property and possible loss of life is connected to an alarming trend of drivers mixing up the gas and brake pedals, hitting the gas when they need the break or those infamous stuck accelerators, owing to too many computer components running the inner workings of our cars, makers opting for elaborate pedal configurations rather than keeping it simple. Hints technology on newer cars providing a brake override this along with improved mirrors to correct blind spots in cars, SUVs, minivans show a key difference from even collision sensors, rear parking assist; the former being improvements to help drivers see better, make better judgments, compensate for mechanical issues, vs. trying to make vehicles, everything idiot proof. Dealing with flummoxed drivers simply going for the wrong pedal is a little more difficult; an ABC news investigation found the majority of people suffering from pedal confusion are women, individuals over the age of 76, proving a need for something to be done to address older drivers on the road. Several states have enacted provisions stating that at age 70 you must retake and pass a driving test to help combat the problem, but not all. Similarly having had their license so long there are things older drivers are bound to forget, subtle changes in the rules of the road, yet there is no national mandate forcing older drivers to traffic school, insisting they reread and retake the practical driving test in a case where the public safety is on the line. In that same vain, no matter the age of the driver, professional driving instruction is rare depending on where you live; most are taught by their parents, an older relative, a friend with their license so they drive like they person who taught them weaknesses and imperfects as well, leading to more potential hazards on the road. Not that formal driving instruction will end up meaning much; you could easily get a bad teacher, an incompetent one and you are also out the money you paid to receive such tutelage
Returning to our texting and walking people who could very easily end up dead randomly walking into traffic; reality is we can’t protect everyone from their own stupidity, nor should we, something that should be reflected in our court system. No longer should a driver who hit someone be automatically assumed guilty of negligence; if witnesses, accident reconstruction demonstrate to a large enough certainty that the pedestrian failed to look before crossing the street, parking lot, crosswalk, the driver and their insurance is not held criminally or monetarily responsible period. Person ends up dead, that’s sad; let it be a lesson. On the flip side if you are the driver and you’re texting, otherwise inattentive you are held responsible. Not protecting stupidity is likewise something that should be projected in our social fabric and technologies; drinking and walking, get injured, learn something; we shouldn’t step up drunk and disorderly arrests, public intoxication arrest to protect people from ending up in the ER because they couldn’t hold their liquor, nor encourage them to drive drunk to avoid arrest or ticketing for the other minor offenses. We don’t need front collision sensors and other applications to jar sleepy drives from their stupor because they were silly enough to drive that way, too stupid to pull over, get them to stop playing with the music directory, Bluetooth we have shoved into vehicles, we don’t need rear parking assist to help people parallel park. If you can’t parallel park, you don’t get a license; if you are too old or inexperienced to be able to find the gas or brake pedal when needed, then you don’t need to be driving, end of discussion. If you’re of age and you choose not to wear a helmet on your motor bike, a seatbelt in a car that should be on you, no matter how upset ER physicians are by what they see, no matter how many erroneous lawsuits, cases for damages are brought before the courts
Unfortunately the extended jaywalking law in For Lee is so new odds are they have no plan to deal with repeat offenders to accomplish the laws ultimate goal, safer, smarter pedestrians; people who will simply pay the fine and go on doing the same reckless behavior until they are maimed or killed. Since it is not a traffic violation involving a vehicle applying points to their license would only anger the public possibly lead to a ballot measure to repeal the law that much faster and does nothing for individuals who do not possess a driver’s license. Sadder still initiatives like this don’t work; we have laws against drunk driving, people still do so to the peril of themselves and others, we have laws that say you must wear a seatbelt, people still don’t and are ejected from their vehicles every year. Motorcycle helmet laws vary by state but in states where you must wear one people don’t and suffer head injury or death. Texting and driving has been outlawed in some areas along with the use of so called hands free devices; people still use both potentially causing accidents, damages to guardrails, roadways. Are we seriously going to further overcrowd our jails with people who walk and text, for their own safety; is that where this is leading because of our instant communication culture? And before you blame the current crop of tech savvy teens and 20 something’s, think how many of us are glued to our phones in one way or another to please our boss, to keep up or try to get ahead at work, how many of us feel we have to be on call, have to be within constant contact to keep our jobs? That is the part of our culture that needs to change first not laws centered around gadgets.