December 11, 2009

Weeping for the Future

Justin Katz

In the comments to this morning's post on Bush's reviving poll numbers, Mike Cappelli expresses his concerns, generally, about the attitudes and worldviews of up-and-coming generations. It brought to mind something that I've noticed, as if all of a sudden, over the past year: This texting thing has become a real problem on the construction site. It's as if the younger guys feel some obligation — a compulsion — to respond when their phones buzz at their hips. Add that to the strange argument that I've heard, around here, that legislation against texting while driving was an assault on the young, and I'm not ashamed to admit being a fuddy-duddy of the sort who just doesn't get it.

I can't imagine stopping work on a regular basis to send quick messages to my friends, wherever they might be. Frankly, if I run another project in the near future, I'll have no tolerance for it. Similarly, I can't imagine being caught texting while driving and not feeling as if I've done something wrong.

Obviously, I'm a fan of information technology and connectedness, but some of the effects are going to have much broader consequences than we currently comprehend.

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If we actually cared about people's safety and the integrity of our judicial system (a very big IF), there would just be a catch-all "reckless operation of a motor vehicle endangering the safety of others" law that would cover all of these situations. With jury trial available to the accused, no exceptions.

Texting, eating, DUI, and especially speeding can all be done in a safe fashion under certain circumstances, or if certain precautions are taken. Per se limits are just misguided and prone to gross over-inclusion and abuse.

Speed limits are by far the worst and most abusive laws on the books today, as they effectively turn everyone in our society into some sort of criminal or pseudo-criminal, and are used as an excuse for law enforcement to pull us over, search us, and extort a hidden tax from us on top of the taxes we already pay. Nothing has done more to erode respect for law and the role of law enforcement in this country than speeding laws. It's turned the police into armed tax collectors.

Texting and eating are kind of the same situation, there are safe ways to do them and unsafe ways to do them, all of which should be subject to a jury's review instead of a kangaroo traffic court. Non-jury trials are unconstitutional in my opinion.

DUI is probably the most controversial topic, suffice it to say that not everyone is drunk at the same BAC and some circumstances of operation will pose zero risk to others e.g. why should it be illegal to carefully drive your car at 15MPH all of 2.0 miles down a country road to your home at 1AM when nobody else is on the road just because you are slightly buzzed at 0.09? Certainly at 0.09 some individuals are safer drivers than others sober.

Rigid per se laws have exactly the same effect as zero tolerance policies in schools, they erode respect for law and authority and lead to absurd results.

On the courtesy side of things, I have no idea why some people have the need to text and receive texts at every moment of the day. Usually it's just nonsensical "lol, wut" -style banter anyway. Unless somebody is dying, whatever it is can certainly wait half an hour until the work or real-life conversation at hand is finished. Besides being extremely rude and disruptive, I'm convinced that on a psychological level it's giving people some kind of environmental ADD.

Posted by: Dan at December 11, 2009 3:11 PM

Justin, I'll be even more fuddy-duddyish and add cell phone use to that. I still don't like how people feel as if they have to pick up their cell phone--or even leave them on--in the middle of other things. But I think were the last age group that will remember when there was a time when pay phones were the only option!

Posted by: Marc at December 11, 2009 3:13 PM


I tend to agree with you that speeding laws have changed the relationship between law enforcement and citizens in the US, and not for the better.

Posted by: Andrew at December 11, 2009 6:13 PM

When a caller on WHJY, complained to Gov Carcieri about the cost of a speeding ticket. Gov Carcieri response was "don't speed".
And he is right, I am 59 years old and have never received a speeding ticket, I set my cruise control at the speed limit, whenever I can, or I just drive at the speed limit.


Posted by: James at December 11, 2009 9:16 PM

James, if you think that you have never committed a traffic violation in your life, or accidentally "sped" due to a sudden drop in the speed limit (they're called speed traps for a reason), then you are either extremely arrogant or misguided.

Just because you personally haven't been hard hit by the "driving tax" doesn't give you the moral right to beat others over the head with it, as entertaining as it may be to claim some sort of superiority over your fellow man for following arbitrary and silly laws (laws which, far from being moral absolutes, are constantly changing).

I received a ticket for going 34mph in a 25mph zone earlier this year, on an open two lane industrial road in clear conditions. I suppose you think I was endangering people? Give me a break.

I'm getting pretty tired of the "don't do the crime" mantra that is the statist's answer for all legal policy complaints. Why not just make all traffic laws punishable by $10,000 or 10 years in prison by that logic. How heartless and irrational can one be?

The SPEED KILLS slogan is as brainless as the GUNS KILL slogan.

Some acts of "speeding" are safe, while others are not. Just like some gun uses are unsafe, while others are not.

Posted by: Dan at December 11, 2009 9:57 PM

"This texting thing has become a real problem on the construction site. It's as if the younger guys feel some obligation — a compulsion — to respond when their phones buzz at their hips."

A contractor came to one of my jobs this week to do some work. They had arrived and were setting up when I happened to pass the back of their truck on my way to an errand. The contractor's assistant (a young man!) was there with the doors open. I thought at first he was pulling out equipment. At second glance, however, it turned out he was standing there staring intently at his cell phone or palm pilot thingee.

They did a good job but it was the first time I had ever seen a member of a contractor's crew distracted that way.

Posted by: Monique at December 11, 2009 10:34 PM
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