Friday, August 14, 2009

The worst laws money can buy

Sometimes it seems the only advantage of a small democracy is that the corruption is more transparent. This morning's news: New Zealand has joined the shameful list of countries that ban cellphone use while driving, unless you're using a hands-free set.

All commentators agree that the evidence is quite unambiguous: hands-free cellphone use is just as dangerous as handheld. Yet no-one seems to question that part. In particular the ACT party, which makes a lot of noise about opposing government interference in private lives, is saying what a great idea it is.

Because ACT, like most right-wing "liberal" parties, couldn't care less about government interference so long as there's an option to buy your way out of it. Take away the hands-free clause, and they'd be yapping like an abandoned Pomeranian.

Memo to all governments everywhere: Good laws are ones that are just as inconvenient for rich people as they are for poor people. If you can pay to get away with something - that's not a law, it's a corruption.

Cellphone operators are in favour (well, naturally - it expands the cellphone-accessories market). Police are in favour, although their motives are less clear. After all, there's already a perfectly good law against careless driving. Talking heads are spouting incredulity that some people actually have the nerve to text while driving, taking their eyes off the road for up to five seconds at a time! What are they thinking?

Well, I've done that. If I'm sitting in a traffic jam, with no prospect of moving at all for 30 seconds or more, why exactly is it dangerous for me to take my eyes off the road for a few five-second intervals?

But does the law take account of traffic conditions? Does it hell.

It could be worse. In New South Wales, apparently it's now illegal to cross the road while wearing earphones.

Now, I'm walking to work these days. 25 minutes each way. It's some quality iPod time. In the process, I have to cross five roads. Only one of these crossings is at all hazardous; of the other four, one is at a zebra crossing, and three are extremely quiet roads - I can just look both ways, then stroll across with no moving cars in sight at all. But in NSW, I'd have to take the earphones out and interrupt my enjoyment of my podcast.

Five times. Each way.

Way to incentivise me to get back in my car, guys.


Anonymous said...

Is there any room to define "driving"?

For instance if you are stuck in traffic that hasn't moved in 15 minutes, can it be termed "driving"?


vet said...

I dunno if that might be a loophole. I doubt it, though. I consider myself to be "driving" even then. Certainly you wouldn't get off a drunk-driving charge on those grounds.

Besides, just because you haven't moved in 15 minutes, doesn't mean you won't move very shortly. That's why I only claimed to be able to predict the next 30 seconds with any real confidence.

Nodressrehearsal said...

If it's a "hearing" thing, are deaf people not allowed to cross with the zebras?

vet said...

If it's a "hearing" thing, then obviously deaf people shouldn't be allowed to cross the road at all.

You don't have zebra crossings in the states, do you? It's an arrangement of black-and-white stripes painted across the road, on which pedestrians have the right of way. If there's a pedestrian on the crossing, even if they're way over the other side of the road, all drivers are supposed to stop and wait until the pedestrian is safely back on the pavement.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing so intrusive as "nanny government". Zebra crossings are a matter of safety. Banning Ipod use is questionable. Seat belt mandates are a step over the line.

But once the government is given license to monitor behavior, they don't recognize limits to that license.

vet said...

I'm not so sure. I think there are quite a lot of things every bit as intrusive as the nanny state.

Insurance companies, for instance. (No government has ever asked me whether I keep my car in a locked garage at night, nor have they asked me how many units of alcohol I consume. Insurers ask me questions like these on a yearly basis. And while in theory I don't have to answer them, there's a cost to refusing. Just like there's a cost if you're fined for not wearing a seatbelt.)

But this is New Zealand, which is even now in the midst of a referendum on the vexed question of parental smacking. (The Prime Minister, in his bid for political stardom, foolishly allowed himself to become one of the architects of the present law - and now it's coming back to bite him.) The "nanny state" argument is on a whole different level here.