Thirty-nine million Americans were expected to drive 50 or more miles from home this Fourth of July holiday weekend, according to the American Automobile Association. Millions more were set to hit the road in Canada for the Canada Day holiday weekend.
So that there might be some measure of safety on the highway - achieved partly by holding down drunken driving - many state, provincial and local law enforcement agencies set up traffic roadblocks. Police check drivers' identities and see whether they have been drinking alcohol. This helps reduce the historically high number of traffic fatalities - nearly 34,000 in the United States in 2009, of which about one-third involved drunken drivers. So, this would seem to be a good thing, no?
So one might think. But, of course, no good deed goes unpunished. A Wisconsin-based group called the National Motorists Association complains that the U.S. government pressured Apple and Research in Motion to ban apps showing where roadblocks are set up, bragging that their organization has forged boldly ahead and continues to list these locations on its Web site, so that drivers can avoid them.
The organization links its position to the whole idea of political independence, which its executive director explains thusly:
"This type of harassment seems ironic, given the onset of the Fourth of July holiday, a natonal celebration of our country's independence and enshrinement of individual freedoms. I don't think that being grilled by armed strangers, or having your personal effects scrutinized and searched by government personnel under the presumption of guilt rather than innocence is quite what the signers of the Declaration of Independence had in mind in 1776.''
Doing 80 miles an hour in a motor vehicle may not have entered into the Founders' thinking either. And "armed strangers''? That's one way of describing law enforcement.
Personally, as a survivor of a traffic accident two years ago brought on by an intoxicated 20-year-old - who was speeding and driving drunk at 5 o'clock in the afternoon - I am grateful that law enforcement is on the job and trying to reduce highway mayhem. Fortunately, I survived this sudden and frightening crash, as did my wife, who was at the wheel and driving responsibly. The medics who promptly arrived on the scene put my wife on a gurney and into an ambulance and drove her to a hospital for observation. She emerged without serious injuries and was released that same night. The drunk driver was arrested - those darned armed strangers again! - and ended up paying us a small amount of money for damaging our car, which spun out after we were clipped from behind at speed.
When I read rants like the one I quoted above, I don't think of powdered wigs, quill pens and 1776. I think of my wife in an ambulance, an IV hooked to her arm and me on the phone to her grown daughter telling a shaken woman that her mother was hit by a drunk driver and is in the hospital. As for enjoying the "enshrinement of individual freedoms,'' you have to be alive for that. Ironic, isn't it?