Monday, January 30, 2012

Tree, meet forest

In today's opinion headline the unnamed Courier editor exhorts us all to "Hang up, or a law will tell you to," but as his thesis he seems to have cast a handful of random thoughts into the air and printed them as they fell.
   He is of course referring to today's public irritant du jour, the cellphone, and the threat that our clown-car Legislature may pass one of various flavors of law against using one while driving. He cites statistics, then says the statistics don't matter. He recognizes that there are all sorts of distractions that can cause driving hazards, then refocuses on cellphones as somehow exceptional, without an argument to support the idea. Overall he seems to berate the reader to be responsible to prevent a new "restriction on our freedoms," one of which is presumably the freedom to talk on the phone while driving.
   As usual, it's not seeing the forest for the trees. From the perspective of everyone outside that car, it's not the cellphone that's the problem, it's the driver's distraction. Neither the bills' sponsors nor the editor apparently understand that we already have a law in place providing a substantial penalty for distracted driving. There's simply no point making more. This is another case of lawmakers (and the editor) jumping up and down over their pet peeves and skipping their homework.
   This kind of reactionism isn't new or unusual, of course. What's instructive here is that in exercising his knee reflex, the editor demonstrates the helpless simplicity of shouting at traffic. The irresponsible minority will never hear a message like this, addressed to another minority, antiques like me who still read newspaper op-ed pages. People distract themselves while driving because they don't take driving seriously. For this minority, it takes direct acquaintance with serious danger and physical consequences to provide the wake-up call, not laws and not op-eds.