Saturday, March 21, 2015

Law Enforcement...By the People?

       The main problem with any law (after getting it passed), is enforcement. Some people simply aren't aware of laws, or choose not to abide by them. This is certainly the case with the vehicle idling laws present in a number of states. Idling, as you may know, is when a car is left running when it is not in use, thus spewing excessive amounts of carbon dioxide and other harmful substances into the air. Vehicle idling is a practice that poses major threats to not only environmental, but also human, health, and many state governments (including Connecticut's!) have tried passing legislation to limit it.

        New York City, as one of the nation's most populous, faces this problem on a great scale, and has one of the strictest idling limits in the country; three minutes max in the street, or one minute in front of a school. Due to the great size of the city, enforcement is consequently not consistent or easy; in 2014, for example, only about 200 tickets were given for idling. On Wednesday, two NYC Council members, Donovan Richards and Helen Rosenthal, proposed a possible solution; putting the task of enforcement into the hands of the common man. With their proposed bill, New Yorkers would be able to videotape idling cars (license plate & all) and send the footage to the Department of Environmental Protection, in return for up to half of the paid fine (which this bill would also hike up from $220-$1000 to $350-$1500 for offenses after a first warning).

        I found this proposal for citizen enforcement of vehicle idling laws to be very interesting. On one hand, I feel it a bit sad that people have to be given an incentive to help stop common and easily preventable actions that are harmful both to them and to the world around them. Realistically, however, this probably isn't something that many ordinary people would be willing to do otherwise, especially when they are unknowing of the harm posed by vehicle exhaust in the air, and so in that way, I feel that this bill would probably be effective. With so many people owning smartphones today, stopping to take a video wouldn't be a problem for most, and certain measures have been taken to ensure legitimacy and safety; people have to first attend training classes by the DEP, and are required to identify themselves when submitting videos. In a way, I think that this law would increase awareness of actions people do everyday that harm the environment. It will be interesting to see how the New York City Council responds to this proposal, and to see other moves taken by state governments in the near future to decrease vehicle idling.

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