Mark D. Roberts

According to the New York Times, lawmakers in several states are trying to limit the use of earbuds by . . . not drivers . . . but pedestrians:

“In New York, a bill is pending in the legislature’s transportation
committee that would ban the use of mobile phones, iPods or other
electronic devices while crossing streets — runners and other exercisers

Not to be outdone:

“In California, State Senator Joe Simitian, who led a successful fight to
ban motorists from sending text messages and using hand-held phones,
has reintroduced a bill that failed last year to fine bicyclists $20 for
similar multitasking.” (Photo: This earbud-using jogger is taking her life into her hands. Of course she is also running in the middle of a highway.) 


The New York bill, introduced by State Senator Carl Kruger, “would apply only to cities with populations of one million or
more. But Mr. Kruger would like to expand the bill to cover even smaller
cities. Violators would face a civil summons and a $100 fine. “This is not government interference,” he said. “This is more like
saying, ‘You’re doing something that could be detrimental to yourself
and others around you.’ ”

I wonder what Mr. Kruger has against people who live in smaller cities and towns. Does he think it’s okay for them to engage in behavior that is detrimental to themselves? Why should the government protect only those in larger cities? Or does he think people in larger cities have worse judgment than their small town rivals.  Hmmmm.

So that do you think? Is this something the government should be doing? Or is this one more instance of Big Brother invading our personal lives?

Or do our governments simply have nothing more important to do? When I last checked, New York and California were in a mess of trouble. 

I am in full agreement with the basic concerns expressed by Mr. Kruger, Mr Simitian, and other leaders in other states who are introducing similar legistlation. When I walk or jog in a city, I do not use earbuds because I do not feel safe when doing so. I think people who plug up their ears while sharing space with cars are foolish, just asking for trouble.

But should the government make such foolishness illegal? And if so, where is the limit of the government’s paternalistic concern? What about the health risks associate with earbud use in general? I have read that such a practice can contribute to deafness, especially if the users turn up the volume too high. And who under 25 doesn’t crank it up when listening to music through earbuds? I wonder how much money it will cost our society down the road when millions of former earbud blasters need medical help because they are hard of hearing. So perhaps we should also outlaw listening to earbuds with the volume turned up.

Are the earbud laws just a more sophisticated form of helmet and seatbelt laws, laws meant to protect us from our own stupidity? Or are they an example of government intrusion into our private lives? When is it okay for the government to let its citizens act foolishly?  

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