Roundabouts, Yield Signs and Freedom
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated …” (Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution). Uh huh. Sounds good, doesn’t it? I wish it was as good as it sounds. In the context of being stopped when driving, the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee is pretty much worthless. We can be stopped for violating any traffic offense, which is fair enough. But we can also be stopped for behavior that appears to be “reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity.” This standard is not to be confused with probable cause. The reasonable suspicion standard is a lower level of probable cause than probable cause itself, and allows a cop to pull you for not committing an offense but for doing something like weaving within your lane, which they like to argue is reasonable and articulable suspicion of … of what? Using the lane in the manner for which it was designed? We can be stopped at checkpoints, which I’m sure I’ll rail against in some future post.
So what’s the deal with the title of this post? How many vehicle stops are based on some violation occurring at an intersection? I don’t know, but anecdotally, I can assure you, I’ve represented hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose crime arose from a traffic stop based on some violation at an intersection — not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign when there’s not another car in sight (other than the cop hiding behind the bush spying on us); rolling through a right on red or a stop sign at two miles per hour. You see, it doesn’t matter that you performed the functional equivalent (don’t you love terms like that?) of what’s being asked of you. Never mind that you essentially stopped by slowing down to the appropriate speed and then slowed down even more, made sure it was safe and made your move. No. You must come to a complete stop. Complying with the spirit of the law is not enough. You must comply with the letter of the law.
How tedious. How pedantic. How Orwellian.
I’m tempted to go off on one of my do-we-really-think-this-was-what-Benjamin-Franklin-and-Thomas-Paine-had-in-mind-when-they-thought-of-freedom tirades. But I’ll try to exhibit some restraint. Really, though. It’s governmental behavior like this that should worry us. And the fact that so few of us stop and question this behavior is even scarier. Do people who consider themselves free really allow themselves to be subject to such pedantry, to be pushed around by their government, our government, our servants? Really?
Ok. Roundabouts and yield signs. Listen, I won’t try to hide it: I’m half British; I have a poncy English accent. And I love roundabouts. Roundabouts are great. They’re fun. And they keep the traffic flowing. And they’re easy. Here’s how they work: You go round it to the right. The guy in the roundabout has the right of way. He has his left turn-signal on as he goes around it. He switches his turn signal to the right the moment he passes the exit off the roundabout prior to his exit (this lets everyone know that he’s exiting off the roundabout). He exits. When there is time and room (watching for the other cars’ turn signals to let him know what they’re doing), the person waiting to go into the roundabout should do so; he need not stop or even slow down in some cases if the proverbial coast is clear. He has his left turn signal on (and follows the steps above) unless he’s exiting at the very first exit, in which case he has his right turn signal on. That’s it. Easy, right?
Right. But here’s the real beauty of a roundabout. It replaces what would otherwise be traffic lights. It’s an intersection that the cops can watch all day long and scratch their heads all day long trying to figure out what trivial little thing they’re going to pull us for. And you know what? They won’t find one. There’s no unnecessary stopping that gives them the opportunity to mess with us.
Yield signs? Same thing. Face it, most intersections with stop signs can be replaced with yield signs. That’s why we treat them that way. The law should reflect the will of the people, not thwart it. If the people are treating an intersection with stop signs like an intersection with yield signs, then change the stop signs to yield signs! Don’t use it as an excuse to interfere with us. Isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want to live in a society that requires the least amount of police-involvement in our lives as possible? Isn’t being free from governmental interference in our lives what we want? Isn’t this the position taken by both Conservatives and Liberals? Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians? Isn’t this one of those few subjects that we can all agree on? Who really wants it the way it is? What kind of person wants the government, the police, to have almost unlimited power to detain us? I can’t think of anyone who believes in freedom, who has read the Bill of Rights, who has even a passing knowledge of American history who would not agree with the premise: less governmental intrusion in our lives is better.
Government’s role is to govern. Governments exist for the purpose of carrying out our will so that the rest of us can just get on with our lives. A government’s function in a society is akin to the role of servants in a mansion. We are the people who live in the mansion; they are our servants. When governments begin to behave like they’re the ones in charge, when they forget their place, it’s time to get rid of them. If my chauffeur were to start bossing me around, I’d replace him. If my maid were to start spying on me and telling me that she disapproves of my behavior and even tried to punish me for it, she’d be out the door in a minute. If my gardener rips up my marijuana plants because he thinks I shouldn’t grow them, time for a new gardener. I’m the one who tells them what to do, not the other way round. This is the relationship we are supposed to have with our government. This is the political right we fought for in the late eighteenth century. We – Americans – turned the notion of the governed and the government on its head. We turned it upside down, put the people on top, the government below, and said: That’s Democracy.
So. Next time you’re at an intersection, think to yourself: Couldn’t this be a roundabout? Couldn’t this stop sign be replaced with a yield sign? Do I really need to do what I’m told by the people who are supposed to be doing what I tell them to do? Isn’t it time for a change? Shouldn’t I be freer?