I am sure that we have all seen the ads where some highway safety department or another attempts to threaten the citizenry into compliance with some set of traffic laws or another. The Federal government spends about a billion dollars a year promoting these ads in the form of grants to state agencies, and then the states spend an additional sum themselves which, God only knows how much that figure is (I am not sending a FOIA request to all 50 states to find the answer and I can’t find that anyone else has done the same). A fairly representative sample of of the finesse and grace of these ads can be found here, from my home state of Tennessee:
I guess at first blush, people might think, who could be opposed to reminders that drinking and driving and speeding are bad things? But the very nature of the question indicates in the first place that the ads are completely unnecessary. Are there really people who do not understand that if a cop catches you drinking and driving or speeding, that you will be arrested/get a ticket? If these people exist, do they have the functional intelligence to turn on a modern television and comprehend the English words in these ads?
Whatever you think about the growing presence of the police state – even if you’re largely in favor of more cops cluttering the highway administering stops of dubious constitutional validity and padding their budgets with abusive civil asset forfeitures and speeding ticket quotas – it ought to be offensive to the sensibilities of almost everyone that the government takes our money and then uses it to flatly intimidate us in this hamhanded and obvious Big Brother manner.
To me, the efficacy of these programs is beside the point. The point is whether this is legitimate government activity in the first place. Presumably, the government could effectively reduce the incidence of any number of behaviors if it just stopped caring about bothersome principles of freedom and limited government.
Certainly a billion dollars in the scheme of our behemoth Federal budget is a relatively small expenditure and it might well be argued that no one is getting hurt by these ads. But it concerns me that we have become so docile and diffident especially where law enforcement is concerned that blaring television ads featuring glaring cops flashing their best war face in aviator shades barely even registers on our indignation meter. Where is the willingness to say that we are not children, we understand how speed traps work, and we don’t need to just be threatened out of the blue by the cops while we are watching our Sunday afternoon football?
If this is a legitimate activity of government that is worth spending $1 billion of Federal tax dollars annually (and an untold number of extra state tax dollars), it’s difficult to see what what isn’t a legitimate activity of government that is worth cutting. Cutting waste has to start somewhere and this frivolous campaign to scare us about things we know about already is as good a place to start as any.
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