Using the law to regulate driving

Just as states talk to manufacturers to persuade them to design safer vehicles, they also want to encourage individual drivers to be more careful. In a perfect society, everyone would see the benefit of driving well. They would all pay special attention during lessons and be extra careful until they were experienced. More generally, states shouldn’t need laws. Everyone should just do the right thing because that’s what their conscience tells them is right. Well, you all know that doesn’t work. That’s why there are more laws than you know what to do with. So governments pass laws on who’s allowed to make vehicles to drive and to regulate where you can drive, what conditions you have to meet to get a license, what speed you can drive at, and so on.

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Most of our cities are laid out on a grid of roads. So if everyone was free to drive however they wanted, getting through one of these junctions without a crash would be a work of art. That’s why there are stoplights and there are laws laying down penalties for those who ignore the lights. This leads to big disputes. This particular junction is in San Jose and California has problems when drivers feel their privacy is infringed and their civil rights are violated. Drivers are particularly upset when red light cameras catch their faces as they drive through. Since there’s no defense in court because of the video evidence, the drivers complain to their local politicians and some cities like Glendale are removing the cameras. The politics of law making and enforcement can be difficult.

It’s the same with deciding when young adults are old enough to sit behind the wheel of a powered vehicle. This is left to individual states to decide — no big federal government should be allowed to tell people when they are safe to drive. Local politicians accountable to local voters should decide. So if you live in South Dakota, you’re ready to hit the roads (but not other vehicles) at fourteen. But New Jersey says the young must wait until they pass seventeen to get a license. It’s the same when it comes to deciding who can teach the young to drive, whether they have to go through formal training, whether curfew laws apply, and so on. The result is a patchwork of different laws spread across America which can make it interesting when a young driver holding a valid license crosses over a state line to a set of laws which say he or she’s not old enough.

Then we come to all the mandatory laws on insurance. It would be so easy to enforce these laws by having a central database for all vehicle registrations, driver licenses and auto insurance records. That way, it would be quick to see which vehicles were not insured and contact the registered owners to collect unpaid amounts. Except many politicians have described this routine approach as collecting a tax from poor people to drive on the roads, and refuse to fund local law enforcement. It’s pretty much the same with speeding.

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In the days when CB radio was really catching on, you might remember The Rubber Duck in a Convoy spotting Bears. Songs like this were a powerful political weapon to encourage drivers in their fight back against active law enforcement. No matter which law you pick on, whether it’s minor or relating to the death of someone on the roads, there’s always controversy stirred up by the more Libertarian activists who feel no one should be allowed to tell them how to carry out their God-given right to drive however they like.

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