Sometimes when it comes to bright ideas, it seems as if politicians and government officials don’t think things through properly, or they ignore common sense until it’s pointed out and they have to backtrack.
On Thursday Transport Minister Alexis Vafeades found himself in this position after details of a new bill were made public that would allow authorities to fine drivers who flashed their lights at other motorists to warn them that traffic cameras were ahead. The fine would be up to €5,000.
The minister tried to point out that the bill was only to deter those who interfere with traffic cameras or use anti-radar technology to foil them. But despite his explanation, the text of the bill was clear. It also applied to those who “inform in advance any person of the existence of the cameras”.
If the goal is to get a driver to slow down, which is the point of the cameras, and there are supposedly official advance camera warning signs, then what’s the difference if the offender reduces speed after being flashed ahead of time? All it suggests is that authorities don’t actually want drivers to know there are cameras ahead and would rather catch them in a speed trap. Perhaps it is proving lucrative for state coffers.
Apart from that, and most absurdly, how would it be policed, and proven in court, that one driver was flashing another about the cameras? Technically wouldn’t it also be true that the flashing motorist was both committing a crime and preventing a crime?
All this belatedly occurred to the minister after the inevitable media storm. Most people would agree traffic cameras are a good thing and people who interfere with them should be punished.
Vafeades has already warned that those obstructing the operation of the cameras are essentially endangering all other drivers and he is correct, but the provision targeting other motorists for flashing their lights should not have been given the go-ahead by the government.
Another knee-jerk proposal was mooted this week by opposition Disy, seeking to ban face coverings at demonstrations and large gatherings, claiming that “disruptive elements” infiltrate such events by becoming unrecognisable.
While the sentiment is sound in that it was clearly related to far-right mobs that recently attacked migrants, the proposal could have wider implications. How do you force disruptive elements to reveal themselves while protecting the rights of peaceful protesters not to be identified if they feel a justified fear of retaliation?
They could be an Iranian dissident who if identified may put their family in danger in Iran, or they could be a doctor who spoke peacefully at a demo against Covid restrictions, which happened two years ago, leading to his arrest. Would it also include someone wearing a medical mask and sunglasses for health reasons?
Without further consideration, such a proposal could come across as anti-democratic and could undermine the right to peaceful protest by tarring all demonstrators with the same brush.
More thought must be given to the preparation of bills. Sometimes, common sense is a better advisor than a deep knowledge of the law.