Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nanny State Pet Peeve O' the Day

One of the few reasonable innovations of the nanny state may be the swinging stop sign on school buses- conceptually, they make sense as a warning to drivers that kids might be running across the road. It's also largely reasonable to penalize a driver who runs such a stop sign when there is a realistic chance that a kid might come popping out of nowhere.

But...even this relatively reasonable rule manages to turn people into unthinking automaton sheep. Such sheep care nothing at all about whether the purpose of the rule is served by obeying it in a given instance, and only about whether they will get a ticket for disobeying the rule.

Case in point: this morning, I was driving in to work on a busy four-lane higway with a sizable median. On my side of the highway was a commercial district with no residences within a quarter mile. On the opposite side of the highway was a day care center at which parents apparently drop kids off before school. As I was approaching this vicinity, a bus pulled up to the day care center on the opposite side of the highway and median; the stop sign on the bus flapped out. Naturally, traffic stopped behind the bus, as it should have.

Not naturally, traffic also stopped on my side of the highway, even though our side of the highway was a good 50 yards away from the bus, again with a median separating us from the bus and with no residences/day care facilities on our side of the highway. In other words, there was less than a zero percent chance that a kid would come running out across traffic in an attempt to catch the bus or due to horseplay while trying to get on the bus. Yet, like sheep, the drivers on my side of the highway ignored the purpose behind the rule (preventing children from getting run over, which again had no chance of happening in this circumstance), and followed the rule anyways.

Perhaps I could have accepted this minor inconvenience if it weren't for what happened once the kids loaded on to the bus. At that point, the driver of the bus decided to have a conversation with the woman from the day care facility in charge of watching the kids. Doing so of course meant keeping the bus door open, which meant keeping the stop sign out, which meant that traffic on both sides of this major highway remained at a standstill during the entire length of the conversation (which was several minutes). Obviously, once all the kids were on the bus, the purpose of keeping the stop sign flap out had become moot. Yet out of nothing but fear of getting a ticket (rather than out of actual concern for the children), traffic remained at a standstill on both sides of the highway for several minutes. Again, this includes traffic on my side of the highway, which was separated from the bus by a good 50 yards and a median. There was simply no logical reason for traffic on my side of the highway to remain at a standstill while the driver and the daycare woman conversed.

As a result of this traffic holdup, caused by nothing but mindless obeisance of "the law" and the chitchat of a bus driver, dozens of commuters were held up for several minutes, resulting in an economic cost of perhaps several hundred dollars (average income in the area is quite high). When even reasonable, even necessary, government nanny-statism like the stop sign flap can turn us into unquestioning sheep like this, what kind of an effect do you think less reasonable or necessary nanny-statism has?