During a recent trip to Venezuela, as I was holding on, white-knuckled, to a jeep I was standing up in as it sped around a curvy road, the following hypothesis occurred to me:
The number of enforced traffic laws a country has is positively correlated with how mature the country is.
Allow me to explain... In Venezuela, none of the traffic laws that I'm so accustomed to exist:
For most of the items above, I completely understand and agree with the laws that the US and Spain have to control the situation. From my point of view, the reason for having traffic laws is to prevent other idiots, or criminals, from killing or hurting me or my car. This reasoning justifies speed limits, no passing zones, etc.
After I got over the shock of all the lawlessness in Venezuela, I felt an incredible sense of freedom. Freedom from picky little rules. It's fun to stand up in the back of a pick-up truck as it's doing 55 mph down the highway, dammit! Who's the government to say that I can't risk my life in such a way?
That was about the time that I began to question my assumption of the superiority the "many laws" strategy that I was accustomed to. One of the things that's always really irked me about traffic laws in the first world countries I've lived in is that they are impossible not to break. Therefore, no one is innocent, and anyone that a policeman chooses can be given a ticket. I present the following quotation:
"Did you really think we want those laws observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against... We're after power and we mean it... There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted Â– and you create a nation of law-breakers Â– and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Reardon, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."
- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 1957
On a side note, I would like to commend the Judeo-Christian religions for figuring out this strategy of mass population control long before Ms. Rand. Original sin...genius!
So surely there must be some point at which the government's right to mandate exactly how we drive should be stopped. Or does it just stop in the fuzzy area of laws that exist, but remain unenforced, like eating or talking on the phone while driving. Both are prohibited in Spain, but you have to be really unlucky to actually get a fine. For all the reasons Rand points out, I dislike that solution. I'd prefer as little government control over me as possible. I cannot, however, suggest a remedy.
In the end, it's always going to be the objectively provable, easily measurable laws like speeding and drunk driving that will be enforceable in court. Even though driving while sleepy has been shown time and time again to be at least, or more, dangerous than driving drunk, we lack an apparatus to measure sleepiness objectively, so it can't be enforced.
Doing anything at all, talking, tuning the radio, singing along to the radio, anything other than concentrating on driving lowers your reaction time and puts other drivers in danger. Do you want to be pulled over one day and have the officer say, "Sir, our sensors detected some human voices in your car back there, and I saw your lips moving. Please step out of the vehicle and come with me." My point is that, until we get that teletransportation thing licked, there will always be traffic accidents caused by various lapses in concentration and bad judgement, and I'd like to question the need for so many laws. At some point personal liberty must prevail at the expense of the safety of others. Spain and Venezuela draw their lines at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Back to my original hypothesis. I think that if Maslow's hierarchy of needs could be applied to countries, traffic laws would exist at the very top of the pyramid. Only a very stable, rich, peaceful country that has the general safety and welfare of their citizens taken care of can take the time to act on picky little "we need a law to prevent XYZ from happening on our roads" kind of legislation. No wonder Chavez calls Spain's government fascist.