Sunday, December 07, 2008

Click It Or Ticket (Guilty Until Proven Innocent Edition)

Living in a prosperous state like Connecticut makes me envious of states with smaller tax bases and less money to inflict services on their citizens. One service that’s especially popular here is police checkpoints: checkpoints to make sure you’re not drinking, checkpoints to ensure your seatbelt is fastened, checkpoints to make sure your papers are in order, checkpoints to make sure your jacket’s zipped all the way up to your chin. No, wait, that last one won’t come about for another couple of years yet.

A couple years ago, I read a story – I think on CNN – about the ten regions of America with the worst traffic conditions. The Danbury/Bridgeport/Fairfield triangle in southwestern Connecticut made the list; this didn’t surprise me one bit, since I worked there at the time and dealt with miserable traffic every day. Naturally, local officials gave several concerned speeches about how it’s just terrible, the way Nutmeg State commuters have to waste time and money and gasoline sitting in traffic, so we, your elected and appointed officials, are by-God going to Do Something about it.

And Do Something they did: as I drove to work less than a week later, I had to spend 20 minutes idling because the police in their infinite wisdom decided to close the road and hold a “seatbelt checkpoint” during the morning rush hour.

We’ve had more checkpoints than usual this past month, thanks to the national “Click it or Ticket” campaign. So my column in this week’s Bristol Press, Middletown Press and New Britain Herald expresses sympathy for my former junior high school civics teacher, who’s had to write all-new lesson plans because the old ones he used to teach us about things like probable cause are entirely obsolete: he can no longer brag that in America, unless the cops have a good reason to suspect you’re up to something they have to leave you alone.

Jesus. Who would’ve thought I’d ever have reason to miss being in seventh grade?


Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Well, the "arrest 'em, deny habeus corpus, and if all else fails declare them no longer U.S. citizens" approach of the outgoing administration should probably have cause rewriting of civic books several years ago.

That, and the bizare spectre of the Supreme Court deciding an obviously-contested election while the Senate sat on its collective thumbs and twirled...

11:21 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Anne, when I'm feeling especially gloomy, I fear Orwell's "boot on the face of mankind" prophecy is coming true. And I can't think of a single way to stop it.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

In terms of traffic-improvement schemes, however, I think you are onto something: The richer the state, the worse the traffic-meddling. In the state of Illinois, they legislated the Tollway Authority to build and manage a slew of tollways, until such time as enough tolls had been collected to retire the debt.

For several major tollways, this point was reached several years ago. The Tollway authority promptly held an extremely expensive junket, at which the Masters of the Roads decided that the tollways needed ongoing funding for ongoing repairs and unspecified "improvements" - pretty much ignoring and violating the enabling legislation.

They have tollways here in Kansas, too. However, there is a world of difference. In Kansas, you actually do get some travel-time advantage for using the tollway. The tolls are fairly reasonable, and the collection system is designed to keep traffic flowing. You collect a location and time "ticket" when entering the tollway. You blow past as many toll-points as you want, until you reach your exit. You are then billed for the trip at a booth on the off-ramp (out of the flow of tollway traffic).

In Illinois, however, the toll booths sit right across the road, and all traffic stops to pay a toll - often backing up miles. And there is a toll-booth every ten miles or so (maybe more - I never actually measured it). Sure, they have now implemented the "I-Pass" wireless-billing mechanism. But that only works if you can actually get to the special lanes. When the cash-only proles get backed up for more than a mile, the I-Pass lanes are blocked off too.

The end result, durring "rush-hour" (which is basically 8 AM to 6 PM in Chicago) is that the expensive "expressways" are solidly-packed parking lots. But, to make up for it, they were carefully laid down to break many pre-existing thoroughfares, so there often is not really any better street-based alternative.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Jennifer, I was personally amazed when 1984 came and went, and people started chortling about how wrong Orwell had been...when all around them, Big Brother was slowly but inevitably growing more prevalent and entrenched.

Unfortunately, I think that the core of Karl Marx' early work (the part about the evolutionary cycle of social/governmental systems) looks to be more true than not. I fear the only way of stopping Orwell's vision is a catastrophic change in the social order - which I am not advocating - that will most likely lead us into a much worse system.

As I recall, in Marx' scheme a Democracy could "advance" (by popular revolt) into a Socialist system, but was most likely to degrade into a fascist dictatorship. Hopefully, he's completely wrong.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

When they start using asset forfeiture for seat belts, then the end times are in fact upon us.

1:09 PM  

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