They say you can't legislate against stupidity, and that is true. But rules strictly enforced can at least discourage careless and irresponsible behavior.
Fortunately, the Utah Transit Authority has several laws and ordinances it can use to deter people with ordinary intelligence from doing deadly stupid things, such as using headphones and cellphones at TRAX crossings and paying more attention to the music or conversation on those devices than to the warning crossbars, whistles and lights meant to keep them alive.
The UTA, which has authority to act something like a political subdivision a city adopted an ordinance in March prohibiting "distracted walking" in areas near railway tracks, crossings and stations. "Distractions" in the ordinance include using cellphones to talk or text and using headphones.
So far, UTA has issued only one citation under the new ordinance, to a pedestrian using headphones near the 2100 South TRAX station. According to UTA reports, that person "ducked under the arm gate ... and ran in front of a train." The conductor had to hit the emergency brakes to avoid slamming into the "distracted walker."
The violator got a $50 citation and a stern warning.
Most pedestrians who take chances because they aren't paying attention or because they are so distracted they don't realize the seriousness of the danger are not being cited, however. UTA officials say transit police are using the ordinance mostly as a basis for handing out verbal warnings and educating the public about the danger.
We agree that type of education should be on-going, but at some point sooner rather than later, we hope irresponsibility will no longer be tolerated. The most impressive lesson will come when people waiting to board a train or disembarking at a station see transit police stop someone who is oblivious to the dangers of on-coming trains and write him or her a ticket.
After all, the purpose of most laws is to deter crime. In this case, the "crime" of not paying attention all too often carries its own punishment: severe injury or death from an encounter with a moving train.
Fortunately, UTA officers have been issuing tickets under older laws for trespassing into the TRAX right of way and for jaywalking, crossing tracks or streets against the lights or outside designated crosswalks. Those laws carry substantial fines, recently raised to $300 for a first offense and $500 for a second.
It's a kind of necessary tough love punishment to help keep someone safe and alive. And strict enforcement is key.