The 1977 movie “Smokey and the Bandit” is truly an American classic. The plot was simple enough.
A couple of Georgia politicians needed 400 cases of their favorite beer for a shindig, the catch being that Coors was only available west of the Mississippi at the time. The politicians, known as the Enos brothers, offered to pay a hefty price if the beer could be fetched from Texarkana, Texas, and delivered to Atlanta, Ga., within 28 hours.
A glorious, gas-guzzling Pontiac Trans Am V-8 ran interference and distraction for the 18-wheeler, which hauled the beer. (Totally unbelievable to the environmentally indoctrinated culture of today, but nobody even considered purchasing carbon credits to offset this copious carbon-consuming caper, but I digress.) There were numerous car chases and wrecks that occurred as the Trans Am and the beer-engorged 18-wheeler neared their sizeable payday in Atlanta. Throughout all of these scenes other truckers who wanted to help the car and truck achieve their goal were able to communicate via their CBs (aka, citizen’s band radios.)
One of the after effects of this movie was an explosion in the number of people, other than truckers, who purchased CBs for their vehicles. CBs allowed people to communicate in real-time similar to smart phones of today. Retailers strained to keep up with demand for CBs in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The sheer number of people using them overwhelmed the permitting process, which wound up being curtailed.
While researching the CB radio fad of yore, I did not come across any articles calling for their banishment due to increased distraction while driving. Were the truckers and CB enthusiasts of that day compared to the population at large uniquely qualified to handle the multi-tasking of driving while shooting the breeze? Was there a special training course that prepared them for this dexterous feat? The answer is "no" to both questions. The inconvenient truth is that the "nanny state" mentality had not yet claimed a plethora of policy makers. This was especially true in Montana where the relationship between personal responsibility and personal liberty was part and parcel of our western heritage.
Fast-forward to the year 2011 in the city of Havre, Mont., and you will see the concept of rights and responsibilities crumbling before your very eyes. A 2010 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all. It does not matter if the motivation for Havre's Ordinance 879 is well intentioned or just to feed the self-righteous busy bodies amongst us; the result is we are losing more and more of our freedoms under the guise of protecting the "greater good."
Why do we need the “Electronic Communication Device While Driving Act”? Is it disbelief in the ability of citizens to navigate the many dangers of life itself disguised as more paternalistic "feel good legislation"? The mortality rate for citizens involved in motorcycle accidents versus those in cars is four times as high, according to U.S. Department of Transportation 2001-2002 statistics. Furthermore, 65 percent of motorcycle fatalities occur when helmets are not worn. If safety is the raison d’être for Ordinance 879, then why not require helmets or ban motorcycles altogether? While we are at it, wouldn’t it make sense to ban dogs in cars, especially those small ones that sit in drivers’ laps? Surely they are a distraction! What is next, banning iPods from pedestrians who walk along public sidewalks? Life is not a riskless proposition.
Will more laws protect the citizens, or will a return to common sense and personal responsibility be more effective? If left unchecked, we will inevitably legislate away all of our freedoms. Regardless of your opinion, please consider attending the Havre City Council Meeting on Monday at 7 p.m.
William F. Buckley Jr. once said, "The best defense against usurpatory government is an assertive citizenry." All we really need to learn is one simple CB phrase, "Keep the shiny side up and the greasy side down" translated: Drive safely.
Join the convoy of assertive citizens who are peacefully petitioning our duly elected officials. Over and out.
(Rick Dow is a freelance writer from Havre. Dow's opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Havre Daily News.)