Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath ransacks the newspapers for stories and issues affecting our freedom.
This week: “Dry motorists should demand compensation!”
One morning recently, I was driving through Masterton on my way to a rest home, where I had been asked to see a sick patient. What should I spot up ahead but a gaggle of police officers, half a dozen of them, blocking the flow of traffic. Up ahead of me, cars were stopped, and police officers were thrusting portable sniffer machines into drivers’ faces, fishing for evidence of alcohol ingestion.
In due course I was stopped by a police officer, asked to wind down my window and to count backwards from five into the hand-held sniffer. Instead of this, I commented that the law that allowed the police to do this was an invasion of the privacy of motorists. The officer did not seem to realise that in earlier days, police or traffic officers were not allowed to detain motorists without just cause -– they could only do so if (for instance) the person was driving erratically, had a light on the car not working, or if the car was obviously not of a safe enough standard to obtain a warrant of fitness. All this officer knew however was that he had unbridled power to stop my car and order me to breathe into his machine, and there he was (ab)using it.
I made my displeasure known to the officer, stating that detaining me without just cause was an invasion of my privacy, and that he had no moral right to interfere with people going about their daily business in peace.
My comments served to inflame him somewhat. Despite finding no alcohol on my breath, this defender of public safety started frantically scanning the windscreen of my car for evidence of missing paperwork –- an expired warrant, or worse: tax evasion via failure to pay road user charges. Sadly for the poor man, all papers were in order, which meant my two-year old car was probably roadworthy, and the IRD had taken their cut. I offered to show him my driver’s licence but he wasn’t interested. I was waved on, and drove away, still fuming. This was 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning. The alcohol from the Emerson’s beer the previous Tuesday evening had been successfully metabolised by my liver into less exciting molecules.
That same evening, I was pulled over again in a different part of town and asked by yet another policeman to exhale into a sniffer. This time I smiled and did exactly as asked. At last, I had won the battle over myself. I loved Big Brother. Well, not quite.
The test was once again negative. I was waved on. Over the next few days I got to thinking about the powers of the police and just what the law allows them to do. In their own words they can stop any car, anywhere, anytime, without the slightest shred of evidence that the driver or anyone else aboard has committed an offence against other people or their property. Innocence is no defence. Unless the fact that you are driving a motor vehicle makes one a carbon criminal. And as carbon dioxide is an end product of alcohol consumption, drinking and driving would thus contribute in two ways to catastrophic global warming.
But I digress. The police can stop anyone randomly with the excuse of checking for one of the many risk factors that cause driver impairment. If one doth protest too loudly, the scope of the examination is widened to include checks for evidence of tax evasion and expired currency of driver licensing and vehicle warrants of fitness and registration.
And why can they do this? Simple – because their masters, the state, own the roads. And this is the same agency that also has the legal monopoly on the use of force. Because of this infernal conjunction of affairs, they can unilaterally set whatever rules they like, regardless of any “buy-in” from those who use the roads, and enforce them in any fashion that they like. They can, and they do, any time they like. They can turn the roads into checkout terminals, motorists into cash cows, the police into de facto revenue officials—and the citizens they were supposed to serve and protect into subjects who made to comply and shell out.
It is time we the motorists fought back against this tyranny of tax collectors. Anyone over the limit with breath or blood alcohol faces a stiff fine and temporary loss of their driving permission slip. I have some difficulty with this, as although people with alcohol in their blood are often impaired in reaction times, co-ordination and fine motor skills, technically they have hurt no-one and have committed no actual crime (no crime in the sense that no-one deserves compensation). They have hurt no-one. They have not damaged property or people. There are already laws that provide for redress when a person wrongfully damages someone’s property or person. Drink-drive laws focus only on one risk factor, and one risk factor only. They are the foot in the door. Only a few steps away are roadblocks where police search cars for cell phones switched on, sources of music and even the presence of passengers, all of whom could possibly distract the driver and make accidents more likely. The principle is the same. Very soon we could have mandatory governors in engines to restrict road speed.
This is not targeting crime; it’s punishing pre-crime.
So, what does this libertarian suggest?
First, to stem the increasing loss in public support for the police because of this kind of jack-booted pre-crime policing, there should be instant compensation for innocent motorists when they are detained at dragnets and screened for evidence of toxic impairment. I’m talking five dollars per driver per stoppage. A tax refund, if you like. But just compensation for the inconvenience of being prevented from going about one’s daily business, particularly when time is money. and a lost opportunity to serve a customer is a net loss for both parties.
Second, take the state out of the ownership equation by privatising the roads by both distribution and sale to competing interests so that motorists can come to contractual agreement themselves with road owners on mutually agreed terms and conditions allowing use of the road in question. If motorists feel the owner of one road is excessively zealous, they may be able to choose to bypass that particular route and contract with a different road owner. If the road owner doesn’t want a particular car or driver on their road because (for instance) they pose a likely danger to others, they can exercise their property right and exclude the car or driver from their land.
The incentive will be to make driving on the road more convenient and thus attract more users in order to maintain profit levels for the shareholders in companies that own and manage the traffic routes. There may be other less intrusive ways of screening for alcohol intoxication and other causes of functional driving impairment than the current roadblocks. The free market has a knack of finding solutions to problems that minimise customer inconvenience. Our boys and girls in blue would do well to remember that. And our elected representatives should also consider implementing a pilot scheme to privatise the operation of some of our highways, especially new ones. Give New Zealanders a tax break and allow tolling of roads so that the user pays. Redirect police back into their proper role of protecting the public. End the harassment of motorists. And compensate those who are harassed.
I reckon five bucks per innocent motorist stopped is fair enough, until the law is changed. What do readers think? It would certainly offer a small incentive not to drink and drive!
“When the people fear the government, there is tyranny – when
the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
- attributed to Thomas Jefferson