The limousine crash in Schoharie earlier this month that left 20 people dead has inspired a discussion about regulations and safety, a discussion that too often dissolves into hostile political rhetoric with little chance for compromise, let alone significant action.
Among the various divides in our nation is the substantial one between those who are convinced that we already have too many regulations that are doing more harm than good and those who believe that we need better regulations for our own good.
In the wake of the tragic crash, you might think that the argument in favor of more regulation would get some respect. There are many questions about the safety of the limousine and such vehicles in general, about the training and licensing of those drivers, about the company that provided the vehicle and others. There is the element of surprise that even New York, known as a state with more regulations than many others, could have allowed this vehicle, this company, this driver to be on the road with such deadly results.
And you might assume that this tragedy would make a difference. But you might also be very wrong. As the Gannett News Service reported just a few days ago, there was a similar response when four people died in a limo crash on Long Island in 2016. A special grand jury investigated the crash and came up with a 156-page report full of recommendations about laws and regulations that might have prevented that crash and, as we now realize, might have prevented the one in Schoharie as well.
In the end, most never made it into law and we saw how deadly that can be.
Those who lost loved ones in the Long Island crash and watched as the recommendations to improve safety went unheeded are hoping that this new attention will finally move the state or federal government to act. But already there are hesitations being voiced with questions about whether states or the federal government should be responsible. And as with any other discussion about regulations, there is a built-in reluctance to pass more laws because those who vote for them will be vulnerable to political challenges from those who regularly criticize what they say are too many laws and regulations already on the books.
This shows up most often in the vague phrase “unfunded mandates,” a regular complaint about the tendency of the state to impose requirements on local governments without providing the funding that is necessary for implementation. It has become a catch-all phrase for candidates who know they will appeal to voters who are facing an unfair burden with the state’s heavy combination of taxes but who would be better served by a bit more honesty.
We do need more regulations when it comes to vehicle safety. We now have two deadly examples. So we also need elected officials with the intelligence to support the regulations we do need. And we need candidates and officials who will explain why they are against those mandates, many of which have broad public support, and how they propose to fund them in a different way.