Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dumb ideas

"This US healthcare business is so boring." Thus Susan to me the other night, as we watched Jon Stewart dutifully mocking the president's wavering on the public option.

She's got a point. It's beyond irritating, how that "debate" is spilling out to the rest of the world.

Fortunately, New Zealand politics is livening up a little - as tends to happen in the first term of a new government, while there are still some fresh ideas. This month sees the frankly embarrassing referendum on the thorny question "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

I don't know if there's any official worldwide record, but I'd like to nominate this as quite possibly the dumbest question ever put to a national vote. And certainly one of the most dishonest. ("Parental correction" isn't illegal, it's discipline that is.)

I voted Yes, because I figure that's the answer more likely to irritate the referendum's initiators. But I have no illusions about the outcome.

The bright side is that the prime minister, John Key, is so mortified by the whole thing that he's felt impelled, in the closing days of voting, to make a real effort to deflect the headlines.

Yesterday, that effort took the form of a 60-page document from the Ministry of Transport listing 62 ideas to make our roads safer. A selection at random: raising the driving age to 16, raising the driving age to 17, lowering blood alcohol levels, making signs clearer, encouraging bikers to wear reflective gear, lowering speed limits, compulsory third-party insurance, ever-increasing anti-speeding/anti-drink-driving/anti-cyclists-and-pedestrians-as-targets publicity campaigns...

Much of this I'm all in favour of. But there are some truly dumb ideas in there, presumably on the basis that "everyone who's talking about this, isn't talking about That Bloody Referendum".

Making "driving while fatigued" an offence, for instance. Just what form would a roadside "fatigue test" take? The report mentions that in New Jersey, if you've been awake for 24 hours and then get in a car and kill someone, you can get 10 years in chokey. But there's a world of difference between "driving while fatigued" and "killing someone by driving while fatigued". The latter is relatively easy to detect - corpses on the road tend to draw at least some attention fairly quickly, even in New Jersey.

Then there's an idea to make child seats and restraints compulsory for all children under 148cm (4'10"), regardless of age. It's bad enough that when you drive your teenager and her short friend together, one of them will have to endure the humiliation of a booster seat. But even some adults are shorter than that. Do we have to strap them in, too? And who's responsible for that - the driver, or the adult? Can we expect to see taxi drivers turning fares down for being too short? Will short people be required to sit at the back of buses? Can we look forward to identification cards being issued to people who look kinda short, to certify that they are in fact at least 149cm tall?

All of these distractions I leafed past, in my hunt for the change that the new government hinted at last year. It's not attracting much attention right now - but it's in there, at number 17: "Change the give way rules for turning traffic". (Page 22 of the ministry's document (PDF), for completists among you.)

Not a minute before time, as the present rules make less sense than a musical about cats.

Oh wait...


HiStandards said...

I'm not sure about driving while fatigued, but I'm tempted to request a "no driving while stupid" law here in Houston. Might that fly in your country? How would we test for it?

vet said...

I'm thinking the only way to decide things like that is by peer review. An idea I've fantasised about before:

- Every car has a paintball gun fitted in front. Only one gun per car, and it has to be limited to one shot per minute.
- Each gun uses paint of a unique composition. So you can tell if two shots come from separate guns.
- When you don't like another person's driving, you hit them with a paintball.
- Anyone driving a vehicle found to have been hit by more than 20 different cars should have an automatic fine.

Of course you can pay to have the paint cleaned off, or do it yourself, but that costs money and/or time. (Once you get to 20 hits, you'd have to clean it off, as the car is now deemed un-roadworthy.)

It's like a tax on bad driving.

Somehow I can't see it taking off. And if it does, I can see it backfiring badly. But I still like to dream... :o)

Cian said...

I love stupidity taxes!! In my fantasy dictatorship, I would want a ministry for Stupidity. The hours of fun to be had coming up with ways to tax the stupid. Hmmm! but then again I might want to rid my country of stupid people so it may have nothing to do.

But also on Page 22 was this: 'The second proposed rule change is to require all turning
vehicles at intersections with no traffic lights to give way
to pedestrians crossing the road the vehicle is turning

I rather like that idea (as a pedestrian) and I think that it has a lot of merit. But I can see drivers being annoyed and wanting to mow them down. Just when there is a gap to turn right there is a "slow" walker crossing. Grrr!

vet said...

Cian, I don't mind stupidity per se. It's like having an annoying laugh. People can't really help it.

What they need is careful and consistent training - conditioning, if you like - in how not to annoy the rest of us too much.

HiStandards said...

Love the paintball idea, vet. LOVE IT!!!

Deadlyjelly said...

I would support a referendum to introduce your paintball plan, although I you should sort out the paintball gun backfiring glitch first. Where's the petition?