Civil liberties be damned

Every day, in supposedly caring, sensible Berkeley, I see people do incredibly stupid things while driving. They turn suddenly in front of oncoming traffic. They pull out from a side street without warning. They fail to stop at a pedestrian crossing. The majority of the time, they are chatting away on their cellphone.

Astoundingly, it isn’t illegal to talk on a cellphone while driving in California. I don’t know whether legislators have failed to catch up with the growth of a comparatively new technology, or whether they have decided on a course of wilful neglect. The evidence of cellphone use impairing driver attentiveness is indisputable, which is why many other countries (like Britain) have banned their use.

So a part of me welcomes the proposal in Britain to expand the use of surveillance cameras to catch those using their cellphones while driving, or not wearing seatbelts. When the law changes here in California, and I’m certain it eventually will, it would be nice to have an effective enforcement mechanism.

The other part of me, with the steady erosion of so many civil liberties in mind, shudders at the thought. There’s a lot about the US polity that troubles me, but I think it would be impossible to imagine the final sentence of The Guardian’s coverage if it were transposed to the US: “A spokeswoman for Liberty said increasing the use of cameras to catch drivers breaking the law would not be a curb on their civil liberties.”

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