The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Perfect and Safe

Reuters reports that the Obama administration has proposed federal legislation to ban mobile phone usage by drivers of automobiles. States can choose to do this (some do, others don't), but the feds? Naturally, this leads to a complementary debate about government intrusion into our lives. The question is this: How much control does the federal government have over our day-to-day use of technology, and how much does a concern for “safety” trump all other aspects of our lives?

There’s little question that talking on a mobile phone (or far worse, texting) will distract some drivers. But so does manipulating the car’s entertainment system, removing your morning coffee from its cupholder, or simply talking with a passenger. Where do we draw the line?

This debate goes beyond mobile phone usage because if taken to the extreme, it will lead to a damping of new technologies that may have to potential to "harm" some users. Frank Fleming [sorry, no link] poses an intriguing example when he writes:
Imagine if cars hadn’t been around for a century, but instead were just invented today. Is there any way they’d be approved for individual use? It’s an era of bans on incandescent bulbs; if you suggested putting millions of internal-combustion engines out there, you’d get looks like you were Hitler proposing the Final Solution.

Even aside from pollution, the government wouldn’t allow the risks to safety.

“So you’re proposing that people speed around in tons of metal? You must mean only really smart, well-trained people?”

“No. Everyone. Even stupid people.”

“Won’t millions be killed?”

“Oh, no. Not that many. Just a little more than 40,000 a year.”

“And injuries?”

“Oh . . . millions.”

There’s no way that would get approved today.

Driving is basically a grandfathered freedom from back when people cared less about pollution and danger and valued progress and liberty over safety …
We live in an imperfect, sometimes dangerous world that regulators and activists want to make perfect and safe. This fantasy desire for perfection and absolute safety can't stand up to the harsh light of reality. But that doesn't stop the people who think that government always knows best.

It’s hard to argue with a concern for safety, but every new regulation and law that purports to increase the safety of the population must be carefully weighed against the degree to which it erodes our freedoms.