Too many people assume (wrongly, in my opinion) that laws are put in place to protect them. In practice and in reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. Laws do nothing to protect you from the actions of anyone who willfully or ignorantly violates the law.
Laws against murder do not prevent people from being murdered, laws against robbery do not prevent people from being robbed, laws against drunk driving do not prevent drunks from driving, nor does all manner of traffic laws prevent people from being involved in all manner of traffic incidents. In short, don’t count on laws to save your sorry ass.
The primary purposes of any man-made law are to protect those who have power from those who have none, and to provide a means for those in authority to apprehend and punish those who violate the law. Another function of law is as a revenue raising device, whereby governments and corporations extract money from ordinary citizens in the form of fines, permits, legal fees, taxes, etc. Each time legislators pass a new law, they create a new class of criminals, thus lending support to the ever-growing bureaucracy of the criminal justice system.
I raise the issue of laws because of an incident last Sunday evening in which two pedestrians were struck by a car as they started to cross S.E. Foster Road in a crosswalk. One young woman was killed outright, the other critically injured.
Elly Blue, an editor for the BikePortland blog, posted an article about this incident on Monday, and Jonathan Maus, BikePortland’s founder and editor-in-chief, followed up with another article on Friday. Together, those articles generated more than 100 comments (as of this writing) from interested readers. Sadly, a large percentage of those comments expressed the idea that lower speed limits, stricter laws, harsher punishments and better enforcement might somehow, magically, reduce or altogether eliminate serious injuries and fatalities in, on, or about our common transportation infrastructure.
Sorry to pop your bubble of self-delusion, but you’re dreaming if you think that laws do anything more than provide a means for dealing with a bad situation after the fact; laws have never been able to regulate personal behavior on a reliable basis. Regardless of legalities, rights-of-way, blame assessment and all the rest of it, expecting someone else to look out for your well being when you do not is suicidal under the best of circumstances. Abdicating responsibility for one’s safety to others is beyond comprehension.
Keep in mind that the laws of man can be (and often are) broken, but that natural laws—physical laws—cannot. If you’re on foot or on a bike and you tangle with a car or truck, you lose by default (I’m pretty sure that e=mc2 has something to do with it).
Please, people, maintain a high level of situational awareness; pay attention to your surroundings and all that’s going on around you, and disabuse yourselves of the notion that laws are a good substitute for good sense.