Fairfax Digital radarblog - Friday 9 February, 2007

Don't stop, look or listen to this suggestion

By Dominic Knight
February 09, 2007
Krugerphoto I'm generally a big fan of the nanny state. Seatbelt laws? Good idea. Ban on fireworks? Yep, I'll cop that. But fining people who cross the street while listening to an iPod, as suggested by a New York state senator? Ridiculous. Sometimes the media takes a random suggestion by an eccentric person who happens to have been elected to minor office far more seriously than it should, and that's what's happened here. If we ban anything, it should be paying attention to the foolish utterances of irrelevant politicians.

As ever, Pedestrian Council chairman Harold Scruby has sounded off on the incident. Scruby, who pops up on current affairs shows almost weekly, also finds time in his frenetic schedule of pedestrian-related activism to run Ausflag, another advocacy group without many runs on the board. Scruby suggests that a law might be unworkable, but says Apple and other manufacturers ought to warn consumers.

Scruby is a renowned commentator on such issues, with an extensive CV. He's a Member of the National Road Safety Strategy Panel (Australian Transport Safety Bureau), a Member of the Road Trauma Committee (Royal Australasian College of Surgeons), a Member of the Australian College of Road Safety (Formerly on National Executive Committee), and most significantly, was Formerly Deputy Mayor of Mosman and Chairman of the Traffic Committee for 5 years.

So you'd think he'd be a bit more sensible, really. Who needs Apple to tell them that with a portable music player pumping away in their ears, they won't be able to hear what's going on around them? If that's the level of obviousness for warning labels these days, then Apple might as well go the whole hog and also inform customers that the iPod is not to be swallowed and should not be used as a flotation device.

Scruby says he hasn't seen studies linking iPod use to injuries, but claims "anecdotally, it's obvious". Which surely negates his claim that we should be doing something about it, doesn't it? Because, "anecdotally", it's equally obvious that jumping off balconies is linked to injuries, but no-one requires builders to ensure they warn users against doing so. I wonder whether we shouldn attach a warning to Harold Scruby saying that anecdotally, some of his suggestions may be a little obvious.

I was glad to see the police suggesting that there was no need for a law because you "can't legislate stupidity". Perhaps not, but you certainly can legislate stupidly, and that's what Sen Kruger intends to do. Saying he's a state senator makes him sound on the same par as Hillary Clinton but what isn't reported is that Kruger is just one of 62 state senators, and obviously a bit of a loose cannon. If those who had reported Kruger's proposal so widely had only looked at the guy's website, which hasn't even been updated since 2005, they'd twig that his ideas weren't exactly newsworthy. The innovative policy suggestions of Family First's Stephen Fielding don't make international news, thankfully, and nor should Kruger's.

We humans have removed most of the natural threats in our environment. So, in evolutionary terms, something has to work to bring about natural selection, and this is an excellent candidate. People who need warnings to tell them not to walk in front of cars while using iPods are probably best culled from the gene pool anyway.

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