Monday, July 06, 2009

New Laws

On July 1st, a long list of new laws went into effect here in Virginia. I wonder why.

The major new law prohibits text messaging while driving - it carries a $20 fine for the first offense and a $50 penalty for subsequent violations, and drivers can be cited only after being stopped by police for another reason, such as running a red light.

On the one hand, texting while driving is so dangerous that one side of me is glad it's been outlawed. On the other hand, I think it's depressing that we need a law to keep people from doing something so dangerous. It's also depressing to know that the Common Virginia Dumbass (moronus oblivious) will keep on doing it anyway, until he kills himself or someone else.

We seem to have the idea that problems can be solved simply by passing laws. My personal view is that a proliferation of laws breeds resentment and what one might call "law fatigue." I've never believed you can legislate common sense - we can ban smoking in most bars and restaurants (coming here in Virginia on December 1st), and people intent on killing themselves and others by smoking will still find a way to do it; you can ban texting while driving, and fools who think they'll live forever will still do it; you can require motorcyclists to wear helmets, and morons will line up to prove they have granite heads impervious to injury when they come out second in a contest with a fixed object.

I have the same feeling about so-called "hate crime legislation." If a person is murdered because he's black or white, gay or straight, Jewish or Muslim, male or female, or whatever - the crime is murder. Murder has been illegal since Cain slew Abel (unless, of course, you are a radical Muslim, in which case you believe killing infidels is okay). The victim, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, or anything else, is still dead and the killer needs to be punished. Adding another layer of legal obfuscation atop the original crime does nothing except give new ammunition for lawyers seeking to drag out the procedings and make more money.

Paradoxically, more laws can lead to less-lawful behavior as scofflaws ignore them, shrewd lawyers engineer workarounds, and venal legislators legislate exceptions for their campaign contributors. We started out with 10 Commandments...the United States Code alone is divided into 50 separate "Titles," and each state, county, city, and minor municipality piles its own laws on top of those. Each of us can almost certainly be arrested for something.

Common sense isn't so common any more. We've buried it under heaps of laws.

Have a good day. Do the right thing because it's right - not because the law forces you to.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

10 comments:

Amanda said...

I'm surprised you only have that cellphone law now. We had that in Malaysia in nearly 5 years or more ago I think. In fact the police will pull you over if you even have the cellphone in your hand while you're in the car.

BUT, like you point out, having laws like this doesn't stop people from doing stupid things. They're just on always on the lookout for police...adding to another distraction as their driving and texting.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

People that can actually text and drive scare the crap out of me.

Anonymous said...

Bilbo:

You've pointed out something really important, and here's the reason:

There is an old Chinese saying that failing governments pass many laws.

I don't think any further comment is necessary.

Eminence Grise

bandit said...

I assume but am not sure that texting started so that people would not hear whom you are talking to. Whether it be in school, at work, etc. Why is it even necessary in a car unless your wife is with you and you get an urgent text from your mistress.

Question to ponder: If Fedex and UPS merged, would it be called FEDUPS?

Daniel said...

Yah, another person who hates the concept of "hate crimes." The act is the act, anything else is very though police.

Mike said...

We need a law limit. If you pass a new law you have to repeal an old one.

SusieQ said...

Why can't people just keep their hands on the steering wheel and their eyes on the road? I saw a man even reading a book while driving. Imagine that!

But one of the most hazardous cargo you can have in your vehicle while driving are kids. They're dangerous. They can be extraordinarily loud and can shock you by screaming at the top of their lungs at the mere sight of a Daddy Long Legs scurrying about. They can fray your nerves to pieces by fighting with each other over the most insigificant things. I don't suppose though there will ever be a law against having kids in your car while you're driving.

Anonymous said...

Truer words are rare at best, Bilbo. -Casper

Leslie David said...

Unfortunately, some people don't count as much when crimes are committed against them--like those boys in PA that murdered the Hispanic guy. In that case, prosecuting as a hate crime gives a more severe penalty than boys will be boys, here's a misdemeanor, don't do it again. It's too bad that we have to distinguish them as hate crimes. As for texting, I've never done that but I have talked on the cell on a few occasions while driving--it makes me nervous, I don't do it unless the call can't wait and if someone calls me I try and get them off the line as quickly as I can. Some laws are stupid and VA seems to have more than its share of them. If this is so important, why is the fine so low? They hit you more for speeding when texting is more dangerous.

Alex said...

Many of us have enough common sense not to distract ourselves while driving; we don't need the laws. Laws are useful guidance to reinforce good behavior. Unfortunately, those who need the reinforcement are likely not to obey them. Goes the same for someone stealing a candy bar or a car as it does for someone texting while driving.