Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Observing the Limit, Waiting to Text: Lessons From NY

As I drove to Fed Ex office yesterday, I noticed that once again Orlando’s little blue boys with their techno toys were out on the speed trap that is North Crystal Lake Drive between Washington Street and the Expressway. The officers were standing just out of sight behind the buildings and trees off the northbound lanes just before Crystal Lake curves westward into the intersection at Washington.

Fortunately, I was doing the speed limit, as inappropriate as that limit might be for that stretch of highway. Truth be told, I usually do. Even when I instinctively slow down at the sight of the radar gun peeking out from behind the obstructions, I rarely need to.

But there were some who weren’t so lucky.

As I observed the officers, aiming their radar guns at oncoming motorists as if they were actual weapons  – a stance that communicates volumes in terms of the way these officers seem to see the public they ostensibly are serving -  I was suddenly taken back to my recent trip to visit friends in NY. 

On my journey across the state on the NY Thruway (I-90) I observed a number of highway patrolmen. But I didn’t have to look for them. They weren’t hiding behind bushes and trees with radar guns or just out of sight over the next bridge or hill. Over and over I spotted their cruisers idling in the median of the highway, in plain sight.

Not surprisingly, the traffic around them was all doing the speed limit. Indeed, I saw very few cars being pulled over in the entire stretch from Buffalo to Albany.

Wonder what cause and effect might be observable here?

What Prompted You to Do That?

The question about appropriate law enforcement practice often turns on what ultimate concern motivates that practice, recognizing that for all of us our actual motivations are often largely unconscious. Do we want to punish people? That’s always a good bet in a culture as strongly shaped by Calvinist anthropology as our own. Do we want to collect fines? That’s also a good bet in states like Florida that are socially irresponsible, making up for taxes not levied and tax breaks continually provided the wealthy through fines, fees, tolls, and regressive sales taxes that soak the working poor.

Do we want to trick people and then blame them for their misfortune to have been travelling down the road where law enforcement was engaging in deceptive practices that day? Check your control issues here. And be aware that at least in Florida, engaging in stealthy behaviors is seen as prima facie evidence of criminal intent. (Florida Statue 810.07) Why is it any different when law enforcement model the same?

Indeed, what example do we want our public servants to set for our populace here? Is it respect for the law which encourages its voluntary observance because the public recognizes its value or is it forced observance of a law through coercion with the resentment toward deceptive enforcement practices and contempt for those who engage in them that results?

What if we simply wanted people to slow down for safety reasons and took that seriously? Seems to me, the NYHP has figured out a sure-fire way to do that. I don’t know that NY officers don’t engage in sleazy practices elsewhere. If I’m to believe the television and movies I’ve seen, it would seem like a good bet. But at least the days I was travelling on their interstate highways, I was impressed by what struck me as thoughtful – and effective – law enforcement practices.

It Can Wait – Really, It Can

One other kudo to NY. It is illegal there to even hold any cellular device while driving. That means no talking or texting. First offense can cost up to $300. Repeated offenses begin to incur points against one’s driver’s license. 


Florida has no prohibition on driving while distracted by cell and only a secondary offense for texting while driving (driver must be stopped for something else to be charged). And we have the accident incidence to show for it. Indeed, a number of studies now suggest that cell phone/texting distracted drivers are ultimately more dangerous than those who are intoxicated.

Florida could learn a lot from NY beginning with the encouragement of drivers to wait until they reach designated pull-offs to engage in texting and talking. And we could learn a lot about how to generate respect for law enforcement from the examples of effective speed control practiced by the NYHP. 

In both cases,  the examples set by law enforcement are positive, the results encouraging and thus they offer Florida  valuable lessons: There is a value in following the law. And there are ways of enforcing it that are better than others. Finally, there is a time and place for everything. If you’re on the highway, you must remember that you’re driving an automobile, not a phone booth. Whatever it is, it can wait. Really, it can.  

Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)

© Harry Coverston 2017


1 comment:

Omniryx said...

People do drive over the speed limit here (the site of Harry's recent visit) and you do see people with cell phones stuck in their faces. But not as many as in Florida. Not nearly as many. Plus, the freedom from sneakiness and subterfuge is refreshing. Police actually improving public safety rather than raising money.

Florida is bad at playing Hide The Cop but not as bad as Missouri, where drivers take great delight in flashing headlights to warn oncoming motorists that Kindly Officer Friendly is lurking in the bushes.

Other little niceties: People almost without exception use turn signals. People don't leave shopping carts in the parking lot. And there are very few Honda Civics with coffee-can mufflers and radios going THUMPA THUMPA THUMPA.