Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It's The Law...Full Stop

There are any number of laws that I don't particularly like or even agree with. But, they are the law, and my full compliance is required. I don't get to pick and choose which laws I'll obey fully and which I will fool around with when I don't think I'll get caught. I have the choice of contacting various public officials and lobbying to have those laws changed which I don't like. But until or unless those laws are changed or eliminated I MUST obey them.

The last few weeks have presented us with two tragedies, tragedies that occurred because two young people went against the law governing their behavior in the situations they found themselves in. In the first case, an 18-year-old girl was texting while driving her car, against the law in NY, and hit and killed someone. In the second case a 13-year-old girl died when she was a passenger in a van being driven by a 16-year-old who was speeding and driving without an adult licensed driver in the car, in violation of his permit and the governing law.

Now granted, young people are not renowned for their maturity and logical thinking in many cases at many times. Both of these accidents might have been about an individual just plain not thinking correctly at one given time, with disastrous results all around. It is possible that these were both just isolated incidents. And it is also possible that these incidents were exemplars of a systemic disregard for the law on a pick and choose basis.

If I had just a nickle for every time I've seen a driver on the road using a hand-held cell phone or texting or operating other devices that occupy that driver's hands and mind, I'd be retired and living the life of Reilly in sunnier climes. Such drivers create an unsafe driving climate for all of us. And the law is clear and well-publicized--the mentioned activities are illegal. Let one of these (frum) drivers have an accident or get caught by the police and a brouhaha erupts that the police are unjustly targeting these people, the law is coming down unnecessarily hard on these people, and, after all, "everyone" does it so why be so harsh in punishing the ones who are caught? There's one answer for that question that says it all: it's the law, full stop. If you break that law, be prepared to suffer the consequences.

Re the 16-year-old driving without an adult licensed driver with him, 16 may be young, but I'd be willing to bet that any 16-year-old with a driving permit is quite aware that he/she is NOT allowed to drive by themselves without adult supervision. It's breaking the law to do so. And I would also imagine that the law was the last thing on this teen's mind when he offered to drive home his friend and his friend's sister. After all, what could possibly happen on a short trip in the neighborhood? Well, that unthinkable happened, and a young girl died. Not only was he driving without supervision, but he was going twice the posted speed limit, also against the law. And then there was the issue of the killed passenger not wearing a seat belt. Not answered but a question that many have is did the driver's parents know that he was getting in the car to drive, and did they allow this?

I am not trying to pour salt in the wounds of the young people and their families involved in these two incidents, and yes, I cry for what the outcome might be for those arrested , but I am also concerned about the implications community wide. There are far too many people who look at the law, any law, as a maybe I will or maybe I won't obey it situation. The news media have been full of coverage about those in Klal who have been caught violating any number of laws governing money/business practices. The recent discussion about alcohol being provided for those who are underage on Simchas Torah and at other times clearly points to violations of the laws governing alcohol use. People jokingly discuss openly how they've managed to get around the law on reporting income or paying taxes. School administrators, legally mandated to report abuse of children in their schools, routinely cover up those abuses.

There seems to be an attitude on the part of some members of Klal that if it is "their" law we can take it as only a suggestion rather than a requirement. That our own halachah also governs many of these actions, which are clearly against halachah, seems to be besides the point for too many people. They "simply" interpret the halachah to match what they want to do. We are forbidden to engage in enterprises that are clearly a sakonah. How are the two incidents described above anything but a sakonah?

I wouldn't have thought it necessary, but it clearly is, that parents and schools and shul rabbis need to stress that the law is the law and we all have to obey it. Parents and adults in the community need to set better examples for our children by themselves obeying the laws of the land, and they need to do a better job of supervising their children and stressing that breaking the law has serious consequences, so we don't break it.

The result of breaking the law can be deadly literally, and we surely do not want to have to mourn any more children whose lives have been tragically lost because of an attitude that obeying the law is optional.


Tuvi said...

This is a problem across society, not just in the frum world. But you would think that frum people, who are governed by strict Jewish law from when they get up in the morning until they go to sleep at night in every area of their lives would be more aware of obeying laws instead of less aware.

A real tragedy for those who died and for the teens who broke the law and caused the accidents. These kids lives are now changed forever. And the whole thing could have been avoided if they had just followed the law.

Allan said...

I'd like to believe that these two accidents will serve as a wakeup call to other teen drivers that driving a car is a serious business. I'd also like to believe that the accidents will serve as examples as to why the law is what it is. And maybe they will, and maybe they won't. And maybe short term some drivers will watch what they are doing while driving. And maybe short term some parents will take the extra time to make sure their teen drivers know what the law is and know that they can't break it. But long term? I'm not that optimistic. We humans have a habit of thinking that accidents are what happen to the other guy, and the law applies to them, not to us.

tesyaa said...

But you would think that frum people, who are governed by strict Jewish law from when they get up in the morning until they go to sleep at night in every area of their lives would be more aware of obeying laws instead of less aware.

Most Orthodox Jews obey Jewish law because they believe it's commanded by God, not because the laws are sensible or helpful. So they have no special reasons to obey traffic laws.

JS said...

I'll start off by repeating what Tuvi said that problems of law-breaking exist throughout society. I think the specific problem you're addressing is the fact that in the frum community the law is often broken in a self-righteous fashion. Namely, that people go through mental contortions and gymnastics to PROVE that it is not only okay to break the law in this instance, but it's a mitzvah to do so (Sure it's against the law to traffic in organs, but I'm saving people's lives!).

It's that attitude that is truly abhorrent. My frum coworker who refuses to wear a seat belt because "I'll decide issues of my own safety, not the government" or "I didn't grow up with seat belts and the government can't make me wear one" is simply an idiot. He's an idiot like all the other idiots who don't wear seat belts thereby breaking the law. But, those who break the law with righteous indignation that the secular authorities even have a right to govern their behavior are the real problem.

I'd add that this same kind of picking and choosing what laws to follow is going full-steam in all of our frum communities. It's hard to say which came first - picking and choosing religious laws or picking and choosing secular laws; it's a real chicken and egg problem. But, it's well-known that if you show up to shul in a suit (checked for shatneiz) and a black hat, attend a shiur, and keep chalov yisroel, no one will care if you happen to speak lashon hara, cheat on your taxes, lie to the yeshiva's scholarship committee, and judge others unfavorably. The guy who pays extra for a "mehadrin" lulav and etrog set is somehow more frum than the person who is nice to everyone he encounters. There are too many examples of this type to even count.

It's all part of the same problem.

Devorah said...

I'm not saying it's an excuse but I think that frum kids are so over regulated that they maybe reduce the pressure by choosing the secular laws to fool around with. I don't know if they are openly rebelling against the secular laws but the affect is the same. Maybe if the frum community stopped making so many additional chumras and stopped putting them under a microscope for the tiniest things, like what color shirt to wear or what kippah is frummer then the others or what a girl's hair style should be they might be able to function better with the secular laws.

G6 said...

Unfortunately the problem of texting (and checking email) while driving is not merely a "teen problem".
I've seen many adults do it - often with their children in the car.
I think the problem is that everyone thinks that they are "too good a driver" for this to ever happen to them.
It's a dangerous game.....

mlevin said...

Look text while driving and driving without a licence driver in a car are two offenses far different than wearing a sit belt. The first two put other people's lives in jeopardy while the third one only your own. We live in the over regulated society where government makes all the decisions for us and treats us like children. We are adults and we should be allowed to drive without a seatbelt and swim without a lifeguard and ride a bicycle with a helmet and ..."

Joe said...

Years ago I used to work for a frum company and got a lift home with co-workers from time to time. However, I after noticing that most of the drivers were totally reckless, often going down small residential streets 10-30 miles above the speed limit. It sickened me and I immediately made the decision to shlep home on the subways instead.