Happy New Year, fellow Californians, we are now subject to 750 new laws. Added to the hundreds of new laws imposed on us in 2010, 2009 and so on back, there are countless opportunities for us to be in violation of something. Likely, we are all guilty of exercising some freedom or personal choice that is no longer allowed by law — technically, making us criminals.
While some laws are good and necessary for the general welfare and for an orderly society, the sheer overwhelming volume of new laws spewed out by our government overlords each year, in their insistence on micromanaging our lives, are too often intrusive, parental, and sometimes just boneheaded.
While rational minds applaud the new state law that reduces possession of small amounts of marijuana to an infraction subject to a $100 fine, those minds understand that this retrenchment in the persecution of freedom is a reaction to the crushing reality that laws criminalizing freedom of choice in drug use are so broadly broken that government cannot process all the new criminals it has created. Courts and prisons are being inundated with artificial criminals guilty of nothing more than a victimless personal choice.
This is the same reality that makes speeding an infraction rather than a felony. Anyone who drives California’s highways knows that the vast majority of drivers do not adhere to speed limits. The state could not build enough courts and prisons to handle all the violators. It is curious why we accept laws that so many of us, maybe even the majority of us, do not obey. Government, meanwhile, loves these laws because they are a source of ready revenue. If the treasury needs an injection of cash, there are thousands of speeding tickets that can be issued any day of the week on any highway. It’s like spear fishing at a salmon run.
Increasingly draconian drunken-driving laws also provide government a great revenue opportunity through the use of sobriety checkpoints. Fourth Amendment concerns aside, these checkpoints net few drunken drivers but many fines and confiscations for other violations. A UC Berkeley study found that in 2009 1,600 sobriety checkpoints in California netted $40 million in fines, $30 million in overtime pay for cops, 24,000 vehicle confiscations, but only 3,200 arrests for drunken driving.
And what defines drunk?
Drunken driving is a legitimate danger to society and justifiably illegal, but as with laws prohibiting certain drugs use, drunken-driving laws are enforced with an irrational intensity. An arbitrary .08 blood-alcohol level condemns any driver to severe legal punishment that can include $10,000 in fines, loss of driving privileges and compulsory reprogramming classes. But, not everyone who has a drink or a .08 blood-alcohol count is drunk. The danger to society is driver impairment, not drinking.
Many things cause greater driver impairment than a .08 breathalyzer reading, including sleep deprivation, eating, adjusting the radio, cell phone use (even hands-free), and kids in the backseat. Those will probably be criminalized next year, right? Reckless driving is the danger that needs to be addressed, not specific behaviors that might result in reckless driving. In a just legal system, citizens cannot be found guilty for potential crimes, but that is what we allow when we bust drivers who blow a .08 regardless of how they were driving.
Reckless driving is pretty obvious to any observer. Rather than divert 20 cops from regular duty to man a roadblock to detect people who have had a drink, we might all be safer if those cops were on patrol for reckless drivers.
It is a continuing disappointment that in a nation proudly founded upon individual freedom so many citizens succumb to tenuous justifications for restricting freedom and for criminalizing those whose victimless life choices we are told endanger society. We are great at creating criminals.
— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.