By Mike Tront – Support Mike on Patreon
It is far from settled in the libertarian community if it is possible, or advisable, to get government out of the road business. One thing we know for sure is that right now around 30,000 people die on government roads yearly in the U.S. alone. We can argue that many of these deaths could not be stopped regardless of who owns or maintains the roads. However, given the nature of lawsuits and customer relations, I find it hard to believe that private companies, who don’t have lawsuit immunity like the government, and who wouldn’t have the power of a government monopoly, could get away with this amount of deadly service.
Case in point: this article caught my eye and is the inspiration for this post. New York Man Arrested for Cutting Wires to Red Light Cameras After Exposing Government Revenue Scheme.
At first I thought it was just an article about some guy who doesn’t like those pesky red light cameras, so he disables them so we all get less tickets. But the article starts out hitting you right in the face with this:
“A New York man known as the Red Light Robin Hood was arrested again this month after cutting wires to red light cameras where yellow light duration times were shortened by the city in order to generate more citations and revenue.
The shortened durations at the traffic lights generate $32 million for Suffolk County, which is why the county allows the practice to continue despite their own study showing they lead to an increase in accidents with injuries.”
The government, whose sole job is to protect us from harm and protect our rights from being violated, is intentionally causing injury and death to its very own citizens on the roads, when the people have no recourse to use another road company or even sue for damages. The hero in this story isn’t just some guy disabling red light cameras because he feels like getting away with running red lights, he’s risking his life and liberty to save lives and draw attention to the problems of this terrible, government road management.
Originally when I read this article, I was going to use a few quotes from it in my weekly free newsletter “This Week in Hypocrisy.” If you’re not a subscriber please sign up in the form below the article! Every week I pick out some of the best hypocrisy in the news and add in a few sentence commentary. This story, however, requires its own post!
The big take away here is that in this county they are shortening the yellow light time from 5 seconds to 3 seconds in order to generate more tickets. Of course this is only happening on the intersections with the cameras, and there’s some evidence that the cameras are mostly placed in the lower and middle class communities, and not in the upper class part of town. Big surprise, right?
Could you imagine any private company doing something like this and getting away with it? Even when companies have practices that unintentionally cause injuries and/or death they are sued and forced to change their practices. Many times a mistake like this would mean bankruptcy and possibly the end of the business. At the very least it means lost market share. This also signals other companies in the industry to stop the practice and improve their business before they get sued as well.
In this case, the government road owners are intentionally changing yellow light times to generate more revenue. The fact that this also causes more accidents, injuries, and death doesn’t seem to matter. And whey should it? Can they be sued? Even if they could, it’s just tax money they’d be paying out anyway. Is anyone going to lose their job? Ha! Is anyone personally liable? Hell no!
What would happen if WalMart intentionally made their shelves very unstable, thus resulting in the slightest touch causing merchandise to fall down and break? This could then allow them strong arm you into paying for merchandise you broke. That practice alone would put them out of business since customers would shop elsewhere. But what if this policy also caused injuries and deaths from the falling merchandise and shelves? They’d be sued into oblivion.
I’m not saying all businesses are perfect and all business owners are angels who would never have harmful practices and policies. There would certainly be bad road companies here and there. But like all socialized industries, whether it’s public schools, the police, or the roads, we just get worse and worse service and the costs just keep going up and up. No one is personally liable and no one loses their job, their money, or their freedom. In the free market, those bad business owners are liable. They lose money, their business, and possibly their freedom if they have harmful practices.
Meanwhile, in the market place, competition and relative freedom has given us a boom in technology. The quality of technology keeps up, and the prices keep going down.
So why not privatize the roads? I know we can all think of objections like “more potholes,” “more tickets,” “more restrictions,” “more traffic” etc. But the opposite is true.
Owners would have incentive to keep their roads clean, keep traffic moving, keep roads maintained, and not ticket, suspend, or otherwise restrict drivers unless they pose a hazard to other paying customers.
But all that aside, the one thing that matters most is injuries/death. If nothing else gets better under private road ownership, there’s no way we can argue MORE people will die. Every accident that is caused by a pot hole is a lawsuit. Every injury caused by failing to clear ice and snow off the road in a timely manner is a lawsuit. Every injury caused by the road owner knowingly allowing a dangerous driver to us the road is a lawsuit. Heck, even if an accident happens that’s in no way the road owner’s fault, if the owner fails to dispatch the proper rescue team to the scene in a timely manner they could be held liable for injuries or death as a result of waiting.
All these incentives to not be sued and be put out of business would bring out the best innovation possible to give us, the customers, the safest and quickest experience possible while we’re traveling.
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