Childish Behavior Is Behind 'Nanny Laws'

GETTING THERE

April 20, 2009|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,gettingthere@baltsun.com

Three cheers for the Nanny State! Long may she live.

This affirmation is inspired by a comment on the Getting There blog. It came in response to my report that the parents of Heather Leigh Hurd, a young woman killed in a crash by a truck driver who was text-messaging at the time, plan to return to Annapolis next year to seek a strengthening of the watered-down bill that passed this year.

The commenter wrote: "With all due respect to the Hurds, this won't do anything. More 'nanny' laws won't help bring their daughter back or prevent accidents from happening in the future."

I'll grant the commenter the first part. No law is going to bring Heather Hurd back. And I'm reasonably sure Russell and Kim Hurd are aware of that every day of their lives.

But there is every reason to think the law the General Assembly passed - weakened though it was to allow reading of text messages - could prevent needless deaths. And if a "nanny" law is what it takes to save a life or two, so be it.

"Nanny state" is an epithet meant to cut off all discussion and to stigmatize ideas before they can be reasonably considered. Too frequently, the phrase is used as a way to ridicule common sense.

But what the heck is wrong with nannies anyway? They work long hours, frequently at low pay, and in some cases treat children better than their parents do.

Children are supposed to outgrow their nannies. But as I observe the behavior of people on the state's roads, I'm not so sure.

Drive just about anywhere in Maryland and you'll observe adult motorists behaving like spoiled children. They are texting while driving, chatting on cell phones while weaving from lane to lane, refusing to let others merge, speeding and tailgating and otherwise acting out juvenile impulses.

These people need a nanny. They need somebody with the proverbial "eyes in the back of her head" to be watching them.

If some spoiled children - be they 16 or 60 - are tempted to indulge in driving while texting, they ought to have a little nanny in the back of their heads nagging them to put their little electronic device down and pay some attention to the road. And if they persist in that behavior, they deserve a virtual paddling in the form of a traffic ticket.

Why? Because you or I or the people we love may be in the vehicles they put in harm's way with their self-indulgent behavior.

(Some credit ought to go to a key figure in passing the texting bill in a credible form. I gave him a hard time a few weeks ago on another matter, so it's only fair to point out that Del. James E. Malone, chairman of the House subcommittee that worked on the bill, did one heck of a job building a consensus in favor of a texting ban. Not only did the Arbutus Democrat do so, but he got his skeptical panel to go along with making driving while texting an offense for which an officer can pull over a motorist without another reason.)

DWT offenders are not the only ones who need a little nanny care. So, too, do the people who speed through work zones and in the vicinity of schools. Unfortunately, there are so many of these bad boys and girls that there aren't enough police officers to protect our highway workers and school kids from their childish behavior. So the General Assembly, in a wise and courageous move, gave local governments permission to deploy electronic nannies - in the form of speed cameras - at work sites and near schools.

These nannies haven't been given the authority to impose harsh punishment. They don't hand out points, and the modest fines they impose are more a gentle reminder than an onerous burden. And unless the children are behaving very badly - as in going 12 mph or more over the speed limit - they turn a blind eye to the offense. Mary Poppins would never have let her charges get away with that.

It would be wonderful if we could all live in that Libertarian La-La Land where all grown-ups made adult decisions. Unfortunately, extended adolescence seems to be the norm on the roads.

Don't look to me for a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. If the so-called adults of this state want the Nanny State to go away, there's an easy way to make it happen:

Grow up.

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