Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

The Best Intentions, but Not the Best Laws

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

The Best Intentions, but Not the Best Laws

Article excerpt

COMMENTARY

A web search will confirm what lots of people have argued for years -- that laws inspired by crime victims and dead people are often bad ideas.

Laws inspired by a tragic accident or fatal crime and intended to protect others from the same fate are often passed by lawmakers reacting to an emotional plea from a surviving family member. There is a groundswell of sympathetic response egging them on, whether it makes practical sense or not.

The bill may not be well designed to help much. But lawmakers who realize this often keep quiet for fear of looking unsympathetic to the deceased and to the grieving family campaigning for the bill as a memorial of sorts. The usual study and debate is all but bypassed as if in bad taste.

I have argued that Florida's Move Over law is an example.

Being extra careful is important when you pass a parked police or emergency vehicle on the road shoulder with lights flashing. Slowing down and giving room is a good idea.

But the law now adds fear of a ticket, which can make people needlessly hit brakes too hard or change lanes too fast. The result, I keep saying, could be a chain reaction of swerves that increase the danger for the officer on the roadside.

The bill passed easily.

Roadside deaths of law officers and other emergency responders are infrequent enough that they don't make for easy statistical study of the impact of such a law. And with no solid proof either way, everyone remains free to guess.

The Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, named after a local man killed by a red-light runner, is an equally debatable example.

It was good that state lawmakers sought to standardize red-light camera requirements, because traffic lights in some cities were being set up with shortened yellow lights to increase violations and raise money with camera-based fines. …

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