Thoughts on a Traffic Stop (1): Backstory

I got stopped the other day in Raritan, New Jersey by the local police department, my first traffic stop in awhile. I regard every interaction with the police as a learning experience, and this one was no exception, so I thought I’d write up what happened, and what I learned from it.

Until recently, I owned two cars, call them Silver and Blue, both insured by Geico, an insurance company for your car and other associated headaches. I generally tended to drive Silver rather than Blue. In July, Blue was driven to Canada by another driver and, in August, was totaled by that driver in an accident in Toronto; it was then towed from the accident scene and taken to a Geico-affiliated inspection site near Toronto, where it sits to this day, awaiting judgment from Geico as to an insurance payout. Recall that the Canadian border is closed due to the pandemic,* so I couldn’t have retrieved the car even if it was drivable, and even if I could have afforded the time and expense of the trip. At any rate, the car isn’t drivable, and I can’t afford the trip. So there we go–three strikes against driving up there, putting the car in my backpack, and bringing it home. Continue reading

Skidmarks on My Heart

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.
 
Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the belovèd’s bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.
 
–Percy Bysshe Shelley

This weekend is, for me, a tragic anniversary of sorts. On Saturday, October 11, 1986, I got the news that my cousin Waseem Toosy had died in a traffic accident in Saudi Arabia–on his way, ironically enough, to medical school. Waseem had periodically lived with us while he studied here in the States; he was like a brother to me. He was, I think, 18 or 19 when he died; I was 17. In yet another irony, his late father had been an orthopedic surgeon, and his brother Naeem ended up becoming an emergency-room physician. Continue reading

Cancellation and Miscancellation

One of the worst features of “anti-cancel culture” is the strange moral indiscriminateness that lies behind it. Cancellation is merely a tactic or technique. Unless a tactic is somehow intrinsically immoral, or so transparently unjust that it couldn’t serve any legitimate end, you’d think that the value of a tactic was determined by the value of the end or ends which it served. Continue reading

“The Reason That Makes You Afraid of It”

The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in a while: “Why do you use the word ‘selfishness’ to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?”

To those who ask it, my answer is: “For the reason that makes you afraid of it.”

–Ayn Rand, “Introduction,” The Virtue of Selfishness

Apropos of selfishness, a snippet from my Phil 100 class today, devoted to discussing J.W. Davis et al, “Aggressive Traffic Enforcement: A Simple and Effective Injury Prevention Program,” Journal of Trauma 60:5 (May 2006). Continue reading

Stop, In the Name of Dog (Before You Break Your Leg)

I just saw some guy walking two beautiful golden retrievers down Witherspoon Street in Princeton, New Jersey. He crossed the street without really looking where he was going, then nearly collided with a car turning into the intersection. I repeat for the nth time that if American crosswalks were designed like the crosswalks of Barcelona, none of this would ever have happened. But they aren’t, and no one ever listens to my pro-Barcelona urban planning rants anyway.* Continue reading

Cashing the Check of Justice (1)

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity in this Nation.

So we have come to cash this check. 

–Martin Luther King, Jr. , “I Have a Dream” (1963)

I just got home from nearly three weeks abroad. Waiting for me in the mail: final judgment in my favor on my Superior Court appeal against Bedminister Municipal Court. But the case is not over. Continue reading

DUI, Refusal, and Procedural Rights

Here’s a question (or two, or a bunch) for the lawyers out there, particularly anyone specializing in traffic law, especially DUI in New Jersey, assuming that any of them read Policy of Truth:

I don’t drink, much less drink and drive, so I’m sitting here in a calm moment with no legal issue at stake trying to understand New Jersey law (NJSA 39:4-50.4a) on DUI testing and prosecution for refusal. It just amazes me how poorly drafted even the simplest and most ubiquitous law turns out to be. Continue reading

Drivin’ and Cryin’: Bumps on the Road to Pot Legalization

I’m all in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana, indeed for the eventual legalization of recreational pot use, but the closer we come to achieving that goal, the greater the number of practical quasi-dilemmas we’ll have to face that we’d never had to consider before. These quasi-dilemmas may not be conclusive considerations against full legalization, but they can’t be minimized, either.

It’s common for advocates of legalization to compare pot with alcohol: if we accept recreational alcohol consumption, why not accept recreational consumption of pot? In many ways (it’s plausibly argued), alcohol is worse than pot. If we overlook the problems with alcohol and allow recreational alcohol consumption anyway, it seems inconsistent to fixate on the similar problems with pot in order to ban the recreational use of pot. Continue reading

Police Tailgating as Entrapment: A Comment and Query

I live a fair distance from work, so I spend a fair bit of time driving on interstate highways. Because I do, I have a fair opportunity to observe the rather unfair doings of the New Jersey State Police on our interstate highways. This is the kind of behavior I see just about every day:

And this is the kind of behavior I’ve seen more than once (albeit by local police, not by state troopers):

I once saw a Glen Ridge police officer tailgate and then crash into the car he was tailgating, in part because he was lighting a cigarette while doing so. Having crashed into the car in front of him (at a red light), he called in backup, surrounded the victim’s car, then aggressively interrogated her at the scene–presumably for the crime of his having crashed into her. (This despite the fact that liability for rear-end collisions is almost always pinned on the car in the rear.) I wish I’d recorded it, but I didn’t have a cellphone at the time.   Continue reading

Heading Out to the Highway (with David Brooks)

The ethics of driving is a topic dear to my heart, having lost my two closest childhood friends (and the wife of one of those friends, who was also a friend) to traffic accidents, and living as I do in north Jersey, where every day’s commute is a near-death experience. I hate cars, I hate driving, and above all, I hate driving in New Jersey, so I’m always open to anyone who’s willing to trash the way “we” drive, ascribe it to “our” moral failings, and demand that “we” do better. (I hijacked a presentation on the Aristotelian virtue of eubolia at the Felician Ethics Conference this past fall to insist that in the modern world, eubolia is a virtue best exemplified by virtuous drivers.)

This anti-driving (or anti-bad-driving, or anti-ubiquitously-bad-driving) attitude competes with another downer sentiment of mine: I can’t stand David Brooks. Just to be clear: I can’t fucking stand David Brooks.

So I opened up this morning’s New York Times, turned to the Op-Ed page, and faced a bit of a dilemma. Here was David Brooks trashing the way “we” drive, describing Jersey drivers as people who “treat driving as if it were foreplay to genocide,” acknowledging that “driving means making a thousand small decisions” (internalized eubolia, anyone?), and getting a few things right. But like so many so-called dilemmas, this one wasn’t an instance of that fabled entity, the irresolvable ontologically-based moral dilemma, and collapsed before long. Because as per usual, Brooks managed to snatch polemical failure from the jaws of success, re-confirming my hate for everything he writes.   Continue reading