Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Safety, trust and a tale of questionable intelligence

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Last month, I wrote about safety as it pertains to the elimination of the Harriman awards. Safety is again at the forefront, this time thanks to legislation introduced to the Illinois General Assembly.

Last October, Illinois State Sen. Matt Murphy, who represents the 27th legislative district, which is the one I vote in and call home, introduced SB2504. As the synopsis reads on the Illinois General Assembly’s website, the bill “amends the Illinois Vehicle Code.Provides that a pedestrian may traverse over a pedestrian walkway crossing a railroad track in order to reach a waiting train, provided that the waiting train is stationary and no other trains are approaching, the pedestrian does not cross the same track as the waiting train or a railroad employee indicates that it is safe to cross the track.”

You read that correctly. Sen. Murphy wants to give Illinois residents, specifically commuters, permission to ignore warning signals and gates if they feel they can safely get across tracks in order to catch a train. At this point, I hope all of you are slapping your heads a la Homer Simpson and exclaiming, “D’oh!”

The Daily Herald is a Chicago-area paper that mostly covers suburban news. One of the paper’s marketing slicks reads, “with suburban stories you can’t find anywhere else, the Daily Herald always delivers,” and that proved true with a story published in mid-January titled “It’s safety versus personal liberty on revising rail crossing law.” To the best of my knowledge, it’s the only Chicago-area newspaper to cover this issue.

In the story, reporter Marni Pyke writes that Sen. Murphy’s legislation was carefully worded at the suggestion of a Palatine commuter. The commuter is quoted in the article as saying, “What bothers me (about the current law) is that it is so parental. We can’t trust our citizens to think so we have to write a law that makes it illegal. It really puts an unnecessary inconvenience on the commuter.”

Please excuse the inconvenience but, no, you can’t be trusted. Why? As a fellow Palatine commuter and as a fellow human, I have erred in my judgment. Some of those errors have been small, bringing home red onions instead of yellow, while others make me take a step back and think about how I will never attempt them again.

Operation Lifesaver, Metra and Union Pacific have all come out against this bill, which is currently with the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee and it could very well die there. However, the bill serves as a reminder on a number of issues. One is to always remain informed and involved, whether on a state or national level. We use our best judgment to elect reasonable people to represent our best interests. Sometimes, they need a little push about what those best interests are.

The second is to remember we are not perfect. While safety can be legislated to a point, I’ve written many times in this column that it is also a personal responsibility. Until we, as humans and, for the purpose of this column, as commuters, become infallible, there are laws to help us out. One of those laws is that you do not ignore flashing lights and lowered gates at a grade crossing. They are called warnings and not suggestions for a reason, capisce?

And to those commuters and elected officials who feel this kind of legislation would help them get to where ever they need to be, allow me to make my own recommendation that will not require any state code changes and still keep everyone’s safety intact: Set your alarm five minutes early.

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