The War on ‘Unwanted Behavior’ Hits the Sidewalks
Distracted driving has been this age’s boogeyman for quite sometime. Once the public campaign against the behavior gained traction, it ended up prompting state lawmakers across the country to pass distracted law bills and ordinances throughout most of the United States. But as studies prove that restrictive laws tied to phone use behind the wheel are actually making roads less safe, many carry on with the belief that things will only get better when we start passing even more laws.
In New Jersey, Democratic State Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt has been under the spotlight for trying to penalize pedestrians who walk while looking at their phones. The ban on texting while walking would reportedly cost pedestrians $50 per citation. Offenders could also be required to attend classes on highway safety.
Since the proposal was allegedly mocked by several publications in the state, Watchdog.org reports, Assemblywoman Lampitt was forced to pull the bill from consideration. The backlash was so powerful that it’s nearly impossible to find anything official on the bill in the state legislature’s website. But according to Watchdog, if the bill had seen the light of day, repeating offenders could end up in jail.
In a statement reproduced by NJ.com, Assemblywoman Lampitt is quoted as saying that “like distracted drivers,” distracted walkers are endangering the lives of other drivers. But what is catching the attention of many skeptics, is how proponents of such ban believe that, because distracted walking presents a danger to those using their phones while walking, the enactment of a ban is justified. Is that good enough?
To Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at Cato Institute, US lawmakers have embraced the tyranny of good intentions, creating generations of Americans who are dependent on the government for their every need. To Bandow, “emotion and intention seem to have become principal determinants of government policy,” and the results are tragic.
When politicians claim to be acting for the public good, Bandow wrote, they often ignore the consequences. But “consequences are critical.” Ignoring how certain laws written to criminalize particular behaviors have unwanted consequences won’t make the potentially negative ramifications go away.
Instead of creating a situation in which lawmakers have to address the negative consequences of bad policies down the road, politicians should focus on taking a closer look at how their current proposals may affect people in the long run before pushing new bills.
Thankfully, laws targeting pedestrians with smartphones don’t seem popular in New Jersey. But such restrictions could become popular elsewhere over time, and the trend to push other states to join the prohibitionist mass will only increase.
Being proactive about our safety doesn’t equal lobbying the government for further restrictions. Instead, responsible drivers and pedestrians must lead by example, showing others that they have chosen to put safety first. Passing laws against phone use will only force people to find new way of doing what they are already doing so law enforcers won’t catch them.
Are we really willing to pretend we care by simply leaving it all up to the government and walking away, or are we willing to prove that only personal responsibility—and vigilance—will keep us safe by standing against this type of policy?