Mike Kueber's Blog

December 8, 2012

Why doesn’t government do something about drowsy driving?

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 9:42 pm
Tags: , ,

The title to this post should be facetious, but it is not.  It is a play on the old libertarian refrain that Americans, whenever faced with an unfortunate event, have an unfortunate tendency to say, “The government should do something about that.”

But do something about drowsy driving?  Yes, according to an article in the NY Times last week about a nationwide effort (including FL, NJ, and TX) by government officials to prosecute individuals who get in accidents when driving while drowsy.  . The Times article, which was prompted a Bronx bus driver apparently falling asleep at the wheel and killing 15 people, reports that, “the shift from polite chiding to prosecution follows successful efforts to criminalize other dangerous driving habits, like speeding, drinking alcohol, and using cellphones.” 

The Times article does a good job of describing the pros and cons for criminalizing drowsy driving:

  • The prosThe push toward the courts has been supported by traffic-safety advocates, researchers and lawyers who say that when it comes to, say, driving without seat belts or driving while texting, educational efforts alone are rarely enough to change human behavior. “The threat of criminal prosecution can go a long way to heighten driver awareness,” concurred Daniel Brown, a lawyer who is on the board of the National Sleep Foundation, a scientific and educational group in Washington.
  • The cons.  In most other states, driver fatigue can be prosecuted under broader, existing laws for reckless or negligent behavior, legal experts said. But efforts to go further and specifically criminalize driver fatigue have failed. “There was a concern that government again was encroaching into people’s day-to-day lives,” said Jonathan L. Bing, a former New York State assemblyman who sponsored an unsuccessful bill on drowsy driving in 2004.  The reluctance to take a harder line on drowsy driving also stems from a perception that driving tired — unlike driving drunk — may be an unavoidable consequence in a modern world, in which people have busy schedules and may work long hours or more than one job. Some legal experts said there was a sense that it could happen to anyone

That last comment is interesting.  I remember when people said the same thing about driving while drunk.  In fact, many of my friends still say that.

I recently blogged about criminalizing texting while driving and suggested that government was getting too blood-thirsty in response to ordinary negligence, so you can guess how I feel about drowsy driving.  I often drive 24-hours straight between Texas and North Dakota, and although I sometimes get drowsy, I don’t think I am recklessly endangering my fellow travelers.    . 

More importantly, I agree with Assemblyman Bing’s comment about government encroaching into people’s day-to-day lives.  Government is getting too judgmental about how people should behave and shows little tolerance for contrary opinions.  One day it tells us how to save for retirement, the next day it is how to raise our kids.  Next year it tells us to buy a health-insurance policy. 

Seat belts, texting, drowsy driving; when does it end?  As the libertarians say, it ends when people quit expecting government to prosecute or legislate or regulate whenever something bad happens.

p.s., yesterday, the NT Times reported that the Bronx bus driver, after two months of trial and two weeks of juror deliberations, had cleared the driver.  This confirms a point that I made in my blog post about a jury being our strongest shield agains government overreaching.  Unfortunately, the driver had to spend the last 14 months in jail.  

The Times article ended with another point I made in my blog post – i.e., the difference between civil negligence and criminal negligence:

  • David P. Kownacki, a lawyer representing Ren Xiang Yao, the man who lost both arms, said he was confident that Mr. Williams would be held responsible for the crash in a civil case. “Running a bus off a highway might not be a crime, but it’s certainly negligence,” he said.

 

 

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1 Comment »

  1. mike, lots of driving problems will go away in the next 10 to 15 years. by 2015, most new cars will have automatic stopping (in fact i had a meeting with toyota and they told me every car they sell by 2015 will have auto stopping). further, the google car is actually an appliance and in addition to several self-driving cars on the road in california, there are now 9 toyota’s equipped with the google appliance driving themselves in nevada. the google executive said “if you can’t buy a self-driving car by 2020 i have failed in my life”. at this point the self-driving cars have accumulated nearly 1 million miles without causing an accident (and that is in high traffic density areas like san francisco). one of them was actually in an accident, but the human rider was driving at the time…

    by 2020, many people with drinking problems, extreme elderly, and the disabled may well be on the road in their self-driving cans and be less risk than the rest of us…

    Comment by q — December 9, 2012 @ 4:50 pm | Reply


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