Friday, May 27, 2011

There's a Law for That

Most Texans hate being told what to do.

So it's been somewhat surprising to see our state representatives from both sides of the aisle falling in line behind new legislation banning texting while driving.

The state's House of Representatives crafted a bill in April, and this week, our Senate approved it. Although they tweaked it with some minor revisions that the House needs to ratify, not much stands in the way of the bill becoming law in the Lone Star State.

Still, having Texas come out against texting while driving represents a fairly provocative - albeit dismal - acknowledgement about society. Sometimes, when people in a society don't police their own behaviors, government needs to intervene to protect the rest of us. Unfortunately, this is one of those times.

Yes, it is scope creep for the Nanny State, something that I've already complained about on this blog. But this is what happens when ordinary people fail to make good decisions on a daily basis about their personal behavior. In this case, if you're too selfish and text while you're driving, I'm glad the state recognizes it needs to protect me from you.

Statistics indicate that texting while driving is six times more dangerous that driving drunk. I've seen police officers doing it, and untold number of teens and college-aged folks. One of the state's most influential conservative legislators, Republican Tom Craddick, actually helped to sponsor the House version of this bill after a tragic texting crash in his home district.

Smartphones have been around long enough now for people to have been able to develop and demonstrate responsible use of the devices, but they have not. We fought this same battle when cell phones became popular years ago, and many jurisdictions passed laws mandating hands-free devices. It's more of the same: I need to make my cell phone call or send this text message. I don't care that I'm compromising my safety, plus the safety of everybody else with whom I'm sharing this street. I've completely forgotten that driving is a privilege, not a right. I'm my own little universe.

Multiply this mindset by thousands upon thousands of drivers, and before long, the traffic accident statistics start climbing. And whether you realize it or not, one of the primary responsibilities of government is protecting the citizenry from those without sense, or who display disregard for public safety. From wars fought in our name to legislation that curtails what we consider to be personal freedoms, defending the public good doesn't always look pretty. And little by little, governments get larger, and need more tax dollars to enforce laws that would be unnecessary if we would all voluntarily be accountable for our actions.

One of the saddest facts about the increasing dominance of the Nanny State is that since so many people refuse to adopt safe behaviors with technology, things will probably only get worse. I've already heard some talk about drafting legislation for the GPS computers people have in their cars, because too many drivers refuse to pull into a parking lot and consult their onboard computers for directions.

I'd like to think that our society could realize that we're only bringing much of this legislation on ourselves, repent of our selfishness, and mend our ways. Even cell phone companies have started advocating for responsible behavior by people using their technology. Not that their promotion of public safety is entire altruistic; they're trying to mitigate the need for future laws which would risk stifling their industry.

It's a lot easier blaming big government, bureaucratic control freaks, and pandering politicians for the spider-web of rules and regulations being spun at all levels of society. But who's the bigger culprit? The people making the laws?

Or the people who prove we need them?
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