There are perfectly practical reasons to study philosophy. That’s what I told my teenage daughter when she came to me with mild complaints about her reading assignments of Plato and C.S. Lewis, for a unit on free will and virtue. Far from being a luxury for elites with liberal arts degrees, everyday Americans gain from even the most basic philosophical study a reason behind the freedoms they enjoy. Why are you ever free to do anything potentially harmful or dangerous, at all?
In California, a state famous for protecting the freedom to do hard drugs in public and live beneath overpasses or in public parks, State Senator Scott Wiener has proposed a set of bills aimed at reducing traffic-related deaths. The Speeding and Fatality Emergency Reduction on California Streets package (SAFER) would include mandatory speed governor devices that would halt vehicles from driving 10mph over the speed limit.
What makes studying philosophy so challenging is that the examples of good and evil, right and wrong, are often so dramatic that it feels abstract to the point of being useless. But as I was looking over my child’s work and seeing this news about California car regulations, I recognized this as an approachable example of why choice matters in a free society.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Wiener reasoned his bill by saying, “There’s no reason why people should routinely be allowed to drive more than ten miles per hour above the speed limit.”
Wiener just wants what is best for the community as a whole, and the European Union agrees. The EU already passed legislation requiring speed governor devices across all member countries starting this July. Tough luck for James Bond next time the bad guys are getting away.
If passed into law, California would see built-in speed governors starting in 2027. The devices would utilize GPS and exterior cameras to assess the speed limits in whatever area you’re in, adjusting the max speed of the car or truck accordingly.
Senator Scott Wiener’s comments about what Californians should be able to do are important and philosophical in their own right. He goes on to say to the LA Times, “You can want whatever you want. But that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to do it.”
That’s true. You can drive and ride inside a vehicle without a seatbelt if you choose, but it is prohibited by law. If you’re caught, you will be ticketed and fined. New York was the first state to cross this Rubicon in 1984 when it mandated the use of seatbelts in cars. California banned drinking and driving before cars were even common on American streets in the early twentieth century.
There are hilarious videos from 1980s news coverage showing citizens’ reactions to new seatbelt laws, as well as ones against drinking behind the wheel.
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