Should Preemptive Legislation Be Considered Before A New Tech Takes Off?

In September 2015, the federal government plans to issue its first drone permits for domestic use. I was reminded of these plans the other day when my New Jersey newspaper ran a story about our local politicians’ concerns and how they are gearing up to legislate these new craft in advance.

In just two years’ time, the skies around us may get a lot more crowded. Drones have received a lot of attention lately, thanks to military operations overseas and matters of congressional oversight. In September 2015, the federal government plans to issue its first drone permits for domestic use. I was reminded of these plans the other day when my New Jersey newspaper ran a story about our local politicians’ concerns and how they are gearing up to legislate these new craft in advance.

My first reaction was to roll my eyes and wish lawmakers would get to work on the economy and hopefully keep the infrastructure from crumbling while resisting the urge to get involved with a nascent technology like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Lately, however, it seems that every time I scroll through the news that lands in my inbox, and read a tech blog or a mainstream publication’s tech section, the march of technology seems so dizzying either because of all the disruptive potential or because of how frequently I learn about new advances. All of a sudden, preemptive legislation doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Perhaps we need to get ahead of our advances.

Recent personal events have me wondering about distracted driving. While I’ve written columns in the past calling for better engineering of infotainment features in automobiles — designing in safety features first and foremost rather than wait for motorists and their passengers to lose life and limb before lawmakers get around to the issue — I can’t help but wonder whether proactive lawmaking could have made a difference for all the victims of distracted driving.

What if a driver only has to worry about the footpedals and steering wheel with nothing else to look at except the road? When cell phones became affordable, did anyone really think people would refrain from using them behind the wheel? I sure didn’t. We all have the inclination to say “I’m a perfectly safe driver/cell phone user – the other guy’s the problem!” But In 2011, 3,331 people were killed and 387,000 injured by the other — I mean a distracted — driver1. Sure, the world will always have its lawbreakers, but there’s a reason for the expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

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