Today’s Opinion: Living with earplugs

POSTED: 01/31/11 11:59 AM

Carl Kruger, a senator from the state of New York has been on the warpath against iPods and Blackberries since 2007. In the fourth year of his war against these gadgets and their clones Kruger has revived his attempt to get a political majority for a ban on using them while crossing the street.
Kruger is a lone wolf in this battle, and we think he is not going to win it, even though his argument is clear and has merit.
The streets of New York are populated with Blackberry and iPod addicts who live in a world of their own because their earplugs cut them off from the world around them. That’s dangerous, Kruger argues. Recently, a 21-year-old man who was enjoying music on his electronic gadget did not hear a truck that was reversing. The vehicle crushed him and the young man died.
Kruger’s war is just one aspect of a much larger phenomenon; it is not limited to the streets of New York, or to Main Street USA, it also plays out around the globe and therefore also in St. Maarten. The only difference in the local situation is that it is not half as dangerous to cross a street here as it is in New York. Also, we have much less pedestrians, because people are too fond of their wheels.
It is safe to assume that the situation Kruger wants to remove from the sidewalks, St. Maarten ought to remove from vehicular traffic. There are quite some motorists driving around with the earplugs of their music players or their telephones in their ears, and apart from that we have a number of idiots driving around with their music at criminal levels. They all have one thing in common: they won’t hear that reversing truck.
There is a good reason why Kruger’s war is a lost cause. Imposing a ban is one thing, enforcing it is a different piece of cake. Police officers really have better things to do than to tell thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers to take those darn earplugs out of their ears and to start paying attention to the traffic when they cross the street. What does Kruger want? A policeman at every pedestrian crossing?
In St. Maarten the police are facing the same dilemma. We’ve got armed robberies, manslaughter and murder to deal with on an almost daily basis, especially for the first category, so that leaves little time to check all the motorists that jump the red light near the Prince Bernhard Bridge, or the approximately 40 percent that stubbornly refuses to wear a seatbelt.
It is prohibited to use cell phones while driving, but how many people really get caught doing this? Why does the French gendarmerie have these nifty electronic breathalyzer devices to establish whether a motorist has been drinking and the Dutch side has to make do with the so-called dronkemanstest? It’s amazing that local bars have not started to train inebriated customers to stand on one leg or to follow the white line to prepare them for an (unlikely) alcohol, control.
All these things show that it is easy to write something into law (don’t do this, or else) but that enforcing these laws is a major headache. Since this is so, law makers may as well not bother.
That brings us to the social responsibility of our law makers and law enforcers. If something is dangerous, does not the government have a moral obligation to protect its citizens against it?
That’s where we split. We do not believe for a second that this is a government task, because such an approach denies citizens’ individual responsibility for their own behavior.
Every action has consequences, good or bad. If you work hard you may expect a reasonable income. If you steal from your employer you may expect unemployment. If you smoke like a chimney, expect lung cancer down the road. If you drive under the influence, you may cause serious accidents, or get caught by the gendarmerie if you happened to be on the wrong side of the border.
If you live your life with earplugs as a permanent fixture, listening to whatever music you prefer, or conducting phone conversations on the go, the day may come that you won’t hear that reversing truck and suffer fatal consequences.
So what? Should the government be concerned about irresponsible behavior of its citizens? We don’t think so.
Freedom is big, and all citizens ought to enjoy it, but they also have to accept the consequences of their behavior.

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