Critics of a proposed Galveston ordinance about how drivers should behave in proximity to bicyclists, pedestrians and other users of the roads are absolutely correct in arguing the rules would be hard for police to enforce.
The question is whether that’s enough reason for the council to reject the proposed ordinance, which it’s scheduled to consider Thursday.
Many similar rules also are difficult to enforce. You can start the examples with the speed limit, which probably is the most widely ignored and under-enforced law ever enacted.
Similarly, if Galveston police issued a citation every time somebody blew through a Stop or Yield sign, the city would go broke buying ticket books.
Nobody’s arguing that we’d be any safer driving if the speed limit were repealed and all the traffic lights, signs and corollary rules were rescinded.
All laws requiring people to use turn signals, seat belts and child-safety seats and to refrain from texting while passing through a school zone, also are extremely difficult to enforce and for the same reasons that the proposed ordinance would be.
It would be amazing to learn that anywhere near one percent of any such infractions resulted in citations, but those laws still provide a societal benefit.
People ought to oppose the creation of useless laws, but difficulty enforcing a law doesn’t make the law useless, render it without effect.
As much as anything else, laws are clear statements from society about what’s acceptable and expected behavior, and what’s not.
Critics of the proposed ordinance also are correct in arguing that education efforts would achieve more toward making the roads safer for the bicyclists, pedestrians, maintenance workers, people on horseback and on motor-assisted wheelchairs, who proponents hope would benefit from the proposed ordinance.
But clear statements from society about what’s acceptable and expected behavior, and what’s not, can be an important part of those education efforts.
Not too many decades ago, automakers argued laws mandating seat belts would put them out of business because nobody wanted cars with seat belts.
Today, automakers sell safety, virtually everybody wears seat belts and demands vehicles with airbags and all sorts of other features meant to prevent and mitigate the harm in crashes. That’s not true only because of the laws, but the law was part of what caused the shift in popular thinking toward better sense, and public behavior toward improvement.
The argument that the proposed ordinance is flawed because police must either witness an infraction or rely on statements of witnesses won’t hold air, much less water; nor does the argument that enforcement would be stymied by uncertainty about who was driving a car that committed an infraction.
Police don’t witness crimes against most laws they enforce and Galveston cites cars, rather than drivers, for parking violations every day. The council ought to think really hard before it validates the “my car, but not me; case closed” argument.
There might be a good reason to reject the proposed ordinance, but nobody has made it yet and it’s clearly not that it would be hard to enforce.
• Michael A. Smith