10 June 2007

Pollution-Free Cars

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

The latest trend in the American Nanny State focuses on banning adults from smoking in cars if children are present. According to a recent Associated Press article, pending legislation in California and New Jersey “dovetails with a national movement to limit children’s exposure to smoke. New Jersey, Maine, Vermont, Texas, Oregon and Washington have banned smoking in cars containing foster children, said Regina Carlson, executive director of NJ GASP, or Group Against Smoking Pollution. Louisiana, Arkansas and Puerto Rico have banned smoking in cars with any child inside.” The San Francisco Chronicle says that at least 16 states are consider similar kinds of laws, while the same AP article quotes New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak as saying “‘It’s child endangerment,’ ... ‘We need to set an example with this law.’”

This is a classic instance of America’s legal and health-and-welfare systems failing to reach the true moral high ground; it is, in fact, of an utter failure of the American imagination. After all, if New Jersey’s Lesniak or California’s Oropeza (sample quote: “‘This measure goes a long way toward ensuring the health of our children and includes an education campaign to raise public awareness,’ the bill’s author, Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, said in a statement.”) or any of the other politicians around the country really cared about America’s children – and truly found second-hand smoke such a danger to child welfare – they would take entirely different legal action and establish a wholly-other set of protections.

They would jail any parent who smokes. Period.

Children would be put into foster care – and fortunately, given the absurdities of our great nation, in New Jersey, Maine, Vermont, Texas, Oregon and Washington, those foster children would already be protected against second-hand smoke in cars by law. One wonders how it is that foster children have already received such protections in states that have not yet seen fit to pass such a bill affecting parents’ own biological or legally-adopted children. Perhaps the existence of those laws merely point to foresight on the part of the various state legislators, who must have recognized subconsciously that removing children from dangerous, smoking parents simply must be a long-term national goal.

Jerry Falwell may be dead, but Pat Robertson (he of the 2,000 pound leg press) and the Reverend Dobson should be speaking out on this issue, arguing for the protection of children against immoral parenting. Gentlemen, consider it a wedge issue: once you have established the precedent of removing children from smokers’ homes, you can expand such processes to cover getting children safely out of the homes of the flag burners, liberals, and others endangering their moral well-being! The moralists among our 2008 Presidential candidates – from Romney and Brownback to Clinton and Edwards – should be on this bandwagon too, pushing the edge of rhetorical campaign flourishes in demanding that America protect its most important resource for the future. Surely Hillary would agree that it only takes a village to stop cars and forcibly remove parents who are smoking with their kids inside. If Iraq can have roadblocks in every village, surely Indiana can, too! Americans are lucky: distinguishing smoking parents from non-smoking parents is likely to be a lot easier than differentiating between Sunni drivers and Shia drivers over in Iraq.


If you made it this far and you are still confused, you have clearly missed the point.

According to a variety of sources, the number one cause of death for American children is “unintentional injury” from a car, in accidents either where the child was killed while in the car, or where the child was hit by a car. The second largest cause of death (and first among diseases) is cancer. Safekids.org parses the numbers this way: “In 2001, 5,526 children ages 14 and under died from unintentional injuries. In addition, each year more than 92,000 children are permanently disabled. Each year, one out of every four children (a total of more than 14 million children ages 14 and under) sustains an injury serious enough to require medical attention.” Compare those facts to smoking-related risks, where even the American Cancer Society – no friend of smoking – is forced to categorize the 35,000 second-hand smoke-related deaths each year as an estimated number. After all, there are plenty of pollutants in our air beyond those that come from second-hand smoke, making it a little more difficult to be precise about the cause of death from respiratory ailments, as opposed to the blunt-force trauma caused by a car.

Still, and despite those numbers, no state or federal legislative body has yet proposed banning children under 16 from riding in cars at all – let alone trying to reduce the overall number of cars on the road, or increasing the scope of driving test requirements. No state has passed one of those laws-named-after-a-child-who-suffered to make the penalty for killing a child with a car as harsh as life in prison. No one has introduced incentive programs to get kids (and their parents) to use mass transit, even though this would be better for child safety and national air quality. And no one has proposed a law that would, over a period of (say) five years, remove from the road (and prohibit the sale of) every car that does not have front and side-curtain air bags, to offer the best (child) defense in case of a crash.

There are untold problems in American society, from healthcare and social security challenges, to the shocking degree of violence that pervades our culture. The U.S. Senate has just failed to pass any kind of meaningful immigration reform, and Congress as a whole has spent the last six years bowing unyieldingly to the (absurdist, morally-off-course) will of President George W. Bush, of which the fiasco of the Iraq war is only one small example of their combined malfeasance. Oh, and despite the nearly six years since President Bush invaded Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden remains a free man, conveniently allowing one and all to use Al Qaeda as a persistent bogeyman to threaten the nation, even as our port and border security remains little improved.

In other words: we Americans have a lot of work to do. I do not condone parents who smoke near their kids, and no doubt smoking in enclosed spaces like a car is worse for everyone involved. Of course! But that’s hardly the point – because the point is that such “feel good” laws are a waste of time and resources, human or otherwise. The legislators who should be working to fix the more serious problems facing our communities are, instead, grandstanding about this brilliantly-obvious ban. The police, who might be out there tracking down serious dangers to society are, instead, adding another nuisance to their already-long list of ticket-able violations.

Moreover, there are all sorts of other things parents do that are potentially damaging to their kids, about which we as a society to little-to-nothing. We still permit corporal punishment, sometimes even in schools, and divorce continues despite the emotional and psychological damage it has been known to cause. There are no national child food standards, to punish parents who take kids under 16 to eat the fat-laden junk of McDonald’s, Burger King, and the like, nor are there penalties for buying and serving kids foods that are filled with chemicals and fats, from mac-and-cheese to soda.

Maybe all of these things should be prohibited, but more laws really are not the answer. People should be able to make choices, for better and for worse – because they will anyway, regardless of the law, and one only has to look at the statistics for violent crimes in states with capital punishment to see how little such laws matter. Never mind that our sense of risk, and tolerance for it, is badly skewed. Instead, what we need is more common sense, as a society and as individuals, and more thoughtful, systematic education to encourage the right choices (and discourage the wrong ones), without trying to legislate against every behavior we don’t like.


Anonymous little hands said...

Hi, my name is Little Hands, I am writing a paper on whether or not children under the age of 14 should or shold not be tried as an adult if they are charged with a crime. I would love to hear your opinion. I love this blog. my email is adanforth7806@yahoo.com thanks

2:46 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home