Right To Be Left Alone

Do people have the right to be left alone? Or, should others have a right to forcibly impose their will upon us? This question came to mind as I was replacing my garage door opener. The installation was a breeze until it came to installing the "beam sensor", a light beam that when broken stops the door from closing. The idea of the sensor is to protect against entrapment of people or animals between the bottom of the door and the floor. For years, garage door openers automatically reversed when they struck an object; the beam sensor provides extra protection. My first response was to disconnect the beam sensor. That's when I read: "It's the Law: Garage door openers must be provided with an external entrapment protection system such as a 'beam sensor' to help protect against entrapment between the bottom of the garage door and the floor. THIS SYSTEM CAN NOT BE DEFEATED OR BY-PASSED."

For Congress to mandate this kind of safety equipment is nothing short of bureaucratic arrogance. But, because Americans are so timid, gullible and short-sighted, Congress, egged on by busybody interest groups, gets away with micro-managing our lives. You say, "What's wrong with you, Williams, there's no such thing as being too safe. If beam sensors save just one American life, it's worth it!" I agree that people should take reasonable measures to protect both themselves and others against hazards. What's reasonable precaution and what's negligence has been well established by common law. But what about the bromide: if it saves just one life, let's do it?

If we did everything that saved lives, we'd do all manner of foolish things. For example, we could save tens of thousands of lives by lowering the highway speed limit from 65 mph to 5 mph. Additional lives could be saved by a Federal Aviation Administration regulation mandating that airplanes not come within 200 miles of each other and requiring only one plane to be taxiing at a time. That would eliminate mid-air collisions and ground mishaps. Each year many children suffer traumatic, sometimes fatal injuries falling from trees. A law requiring safety nets under all trees would prevent such mishaps. I know that you're saying, "Williams, you're being ridiculous!"

Let's examine your claim with a couple of simple questions. Do you deny that a 5 mph speed limit would virtually eliminate highway deaths? I don't believe any reasonable person would deny that. Next question: if you accept the principle "if it saves just one life", why wouldn't you support a 5 mph speed limit law? You can hem and haw all you want, but your rejection of a 5 mph speed limit boils down to: the lives saved by a 5 mph speed limit wouldn't be worth the inconvenience. In other words, there's a tradeoff between safety, saving lives and everything else.

A case can be made for certain safety regulations such as speed limits and other traffic safety measures because one person's actions can cause harm to another. However, the new garage door regulations are beyond the pale. It's up to me to decide the level of safety for my family and me, not Washington busybodies. Professed concern about safety is little more than a Trojan Horse for tyrants and their useful idiot accomplices to control our lives.

By the way, my solution for the garage door opener beam sensors was to tape the light beams together, so they're "looking at" one another, and put them on the shelf.

Walter E. Williams


March 22, 1999

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