It appears that Big Brother has traded in his binoculars for earbuds. Section 27400 of the California Vehicle Code, effective Jan.1, prohibits a person from biking while wearing “a headset covering, earplugs in or earphones covering, resting on or inserted in, both ears.” At $178, the fine for violation of the new restrictions is substantial, though the realistic repercussions of such an act are not. Wearing headphones while bicycling tends to be a victimless crime, so long as pedestrians remain mindful of their surroundings. Arguably, no one is endangered — save the bicyclist. In this sense, the overreach of the nanny state has gone far enough.
The USC Bicycle Coalition estimates that between 6,000 and 9,000 bicycles roam campus on any given weekday. Mix that statistic with the ever-present tendency for earbuds to be hanging from the ears of college students, and you have countless easy targets for LAPD officers who are more concerned with individuals’ personal lives than helping to prevent real crimes.
Already, some students have already been stopped at intersections by the LAPD on the way to USC for non-compliance with the new earbud restrictions. However, none claimed they had been informed of the limitations on their ability to listen to music or talk on the phone while commuting before receiving their citations.
USC failed to adequately issue a warning about the new policy to the Trojan community, ignoring the thousands of bike-riding Trojans who ride to and from campus every day. In the same way USC makes an effort to inform students of notable incidents of crime and relevant changes in school policy, the administration must also bring changes to laws in California that stand to burden students to the Trojan community’s attention.
However, even with the lack of notice by USC’s administration, the new law shows that we have a long way to go in the arena of basic civil liberties. Yes, we can buy alcohol and cigarettes, vote for the next president, go to war for our country, drive two-ton automobiles and even own guns if we meet certain state requirements. But when it comes to wearing headphones while riding a bike on the way to class, that’s not safe — so says our state government.
The new headphone law reminds us of other overbearing provisions adopted around the country in recent years. A soda tax, adopted in cities such as San Francisco, Berkeley and Philadelphia among others, places the personal choices of American diets into the overreaching hands of big government bureaucrats. A bill introduced in New Jersey back in March aimed to fine pedestrians for walking and texting simultaneously. Another initiative issued by the FDA in June called for reductions in salt content in a range of food products produced in the United States, without consumer input.
It is not up to the government to save us from ourselves. For Americans living in the proverbial People’s Republic of California, overreaching laws, such as this new headphone law, force us to question to what extent we are really free individuals with the right to make our own decisions and take our own actions. The government should not look at citizens as misguided invalids who are lost without policy oversight, and it is time to recognize the importance of personal liberty and agency of the individual in making our own victimless decisions.