Legislating good sense

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board June 07, 2013 08:19 am

We’ll start with the obvious: Smoking inside a car when kids are there is dumb.

Among confined spaces, where secondhand smoke poses a health risk, few are more confined than a car.

Oregon legislators, as the makers of law are wont to do, believe this is an issue which requires government intervention.

We disagree.

More the point, we’re skeptical that a pending state law will have a meaningful effect on people who subject children to secondhand smoke.

Senate Bill 444, which the House passed Monday by a 43-15 and which Gov. John Kitzhaber intends to sign into law, would subject violators to a $250 fine for a first offense of smoking inside a car when a child 17 or younger is present.

Subsequent citations would bring a $500 fine.

(Both of Baker County’s legislators, Rep. Cliff Bentz and Sen. Ted Ferrioli, voted against SB 444.)

But here’s the catch: This will be a “secondary” offense, which means police can’t pull you over solely because they see you puffing away while a toddler sits in the back seat.

Drivers can be cited only if they’ve been stopped for a different traffic violation or other offense.

Notwithstanding the occasional creative cop with a keen eye for blown out license plate light bulbs, we doubt many drivers will end up afoul of a traffic law at the same time they’ve got a cigarette dangling from their lips so as to be obvious to the officer in the next lane.

The possibility of getting a $250 fine, however slight, might have a deterrent effect, but we doubt it would be a significant one.

Ultimately the question of whether a person ought to smoke in a car when kids are present is one of common sense.

Well-meaning legislators sometimes convince themselves that they can inoculate the citizenry, as it were, with common sense by wielding the law as the immunizing needle.

Reality, of course, has repeatedly proved otherwise.

Sadly, we expect Oregon’s campaign against smoking inside a car will join that long list of failures.