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The absurdity of the regulatory state

During my ongoing travels in the USA, I encountered two splendid examples of the idiocy of regulation…


What you see in the above picture, taken a few days ago in Newark, New Jersey, is a steep concrete stairway leading to a carpark next to a roller-skate rink. Now I was rather puzzled to see a bunch of mandated disabled carpark bays next to a roller-skate rink, but the really funny bit was the small curb at the bottom of the stairs with… a wheelchair ramp. Ignoring for a moment the sheer idiocy of the notion someone in a wheelchair would use those stairs at all, somehow I suspect if they had somehow negotiated that imposing set of stairs, they are not going to need a ramp to get over the damn curb at the bottom.

Next for your edification, we have what is in effect a mandated warning posted on a bar at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, taken yesterday…


Yet for some reason the state wants the same people who drink in bars to vote on who gets to put their finger on The Button.

Why do people tolerate being treated like cretins? America is a very strange place sometimes.

32 comments to The absurdity of the regulatory state

  • DJS

    Where in NJ are you? I used to live there. Living in Dallas now. Much, much better.

  • When I explained why this picture was funny to my twelve-year old son (drawing his riveted attention away from your model, of course!), he laughed for several minutes. We have similar absurdities here in California, but I’ve never seen anything like what is depicted in your photo in California. Even here in the state that elected the Governator, we are apparently not THAT crazy, after all. This picture is a keeper. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • We like being strange. It’s part of our national identity.

  • DJS

    Just one of the many, many reasons I left the Democratic Peoples Republic of Newjerseystan. Not enough bandwith here to cite them all…….

  • Chris Josephson

    If you encounter too many of these in one day, you feel like going home and banging your head against the wall.

    These things may look strange and a waste of money to most of us. To those who demand we enact laws to protect people from themselves and enable the physically challanged to have some freedom, these communities were following the letter of the law. Had they not, they could have been sued.

    Read an account of some scum-bag lawyer who makes his living by going from county to county and suing if he finds the county in violation of one one the hundreds of new regulations counties have had shoved down their throats from special groups.

    The counties -or- towns want to ensure they won’t get sued. So we have what you have pictured here.

    The *absolute best* idiotic warning label has to be the label on the foldable car summer windowscreen.
    It’s a device made generally of stiff, thick, coardboard. Folds almost like a map does. You unfold it and place it against your windshield, INSIDE the car. It blocks any sun from coming into you car via the windshield. I’ve tried it and it does make a difference if you park in the hot sun.

    You *can’t see through* this device, it’s solid cardboard and completely covers your inside windshield to block out the sun. A while back (? years), they started to come with warning labels that said, “Remove this device before driving car.”
    Can you imagine having to state that on something you could NOT SEE THROUGH that covered your entire front windshield!

  • ernest young

    Wasn’t the word ‘foolproof’ first used in America?.

  • veryretired

    Both items are the result of an over abundance of lawyers who are relentlessly scouring the countryside for any excuse to begin legal proceedings in the hopes that they may have won the lottery, i.e., started a class action suit which will result in a huge contingency fee.

    The British legal system, which precludes much of this “fee farming”, is much superior. The amount of money and effort the legal eagles in the US expend to prevent any possible tort reform is one of the major scandals of the political scene.

    It is not by accident that a group of lawyers is referred to as a “plague of lawyers”.

  • Jeez….what STOOPIDITY!

    I visited NJ last fall when I went to a wedding there. The roads at night are as dark as they should have been…in the 1930s!
    And there’s no such thing (at least from what I saw) of Left Turn Lanes. You have to make a “New Jersey Left”, that is, make a cloverleaf right-hand turn to get onto the road you want.
    Oh, and no self-serve there.

    Would I visit there again? Maybe. It’s a unique place. Remember, New Jersey is where Frank Lautencadaver…I mean LAUTENSCHLAGER…is from!

  • Duncan

    Where is the sign advising people that drinking red wine will increase their life expectency?

  • Well, I live in NJ and I can’t defend it. Laywers are as bad as they say, and the Mafia has an effect too – mainly on the garbage collection business, which is absurdly expensive. (The “Sopranos” are drawn from real life, so I hear.)

    But the road situation actually has a reasonable explanation. It’s because the roads and their layouts are old – NJ has some of the oldest roads for automobiles in the nation, and they were originally designed for much slower speeds. And “best practices” in road design is the result of experience.

    So on-ramps to limited-access roads are often absurdly short, especially for non-interstates, and jug-handle left turns are common (like on RT 10) because these roads have been upgraded after the fact for higher speeds (by inserting a dividing wall between the oncoming lanes and putting in jug-handles for left turns), *after* surrounding properties and businesses have already been well-established. The jug-handle requires less land area to implement than a proper cloverleaf, and therefore annoys less voters.

    On the other hand, lots of traffic circles have been removed (but some remain) and replaced by lights or interchanges of some sort, which are safer.

    Oh, and NYC roads are worse. Check out the on-ramps on the BQE sometime! 🙂

  • “No self-serve there.” – yes. Apparently it’s illegal in NJ, I’m not exactly sure why. No other near-by state does that – self-serve is the norm everywhere else. It might be some special favor for gas-station labor interests; but that seems sorta thin, since they have no union that I know of. It certainly would seem to be in the owner’s interest to cut labor costs with self-serve. Or maybe they don’t trust the customer with their preciuous gas pump equipment – afraid that people will drive off with the nozzle still in their tanks, or something (which occasionally happens, but it seems to me it could happen with or without an attendent), and got a law passed so they wouldn’t be forced to change practices via. competition. (Or maybe just to help shut out competition anyway.) Who knows?

  • Jonathan L

    A comment on the no self serve

    This law actually protects gas station owners from too much competition, because the savings from self service result in stiffer price competition, as the advantages are competed away.

    A high selling station in a self service market has much lower costs per gallon / litre than a low volume site. High volume sites can therefore price more competitively. In a full service environment this is not true, so the vicious circle that results in station closures, higher throughputs and ever lower margins will not happen.

    So the consumer gets screwed by much more than the cost of employing pump attendents.

  • When I went to south Africa, I discovered that there is a law forbidding you from buying petrol with a credit card. (South African banks issue their customers with debit cards specifically for the purpose of paying for petrol. Of course, if you are a tourist, which is one of the specific groups of people likely to want to pay for petrol with a credit card, then you are out of luck). I can think of no earthly reason for that, other than that they think it might be a bad thing to develop a petrol habit on credit. Or something.

  • cottus

    You all may bang your head over these egregious examples but I bang my head every time I walk into the men’s room and see the required baby changing equipment. Am I the only person on the planet that realizes that Handicap regulations are mainly about manufacturing and selling expensive special equipment, or enhancing the scope of building contracts? and food stamps are mainly about farm subsidies? and on and on. Forget what you learned about building a better mousetrap – get a law passed mandating your pet moneymaker.

  • Tatyana

    Guys, just a thought on the picture.
    I think the ramp wasn’t intended for use with the stairs, for obvious reasons. It is probably for the driver or passenger of the “disabled” vehicle, who is using a wheelchair- because of the difference in allowable grade height.
    But -in general- I agree, the ADA code compliance sometimes makes architects/designers do seemingly stupid things. F.ex., in NYC for new construction 1- to 4- family residential building architect is required to provide at least one ADA-compliant restroom, even if that restroom is on a second floor of 2-story building with a stair and no elevator. And how is that poor guy on a wheelchair is supposed to climb the stairs to use it?
    Similarly, for that same residence, first floor access requires ramp of specified proportions, if entrance door is not on the street grade level even if the house is nor intended for people with disabilities.

  • Tatyana

    Ow, and Perry- I will explain this to you on Fri with a pencil in hand,if you wish (and before the “Cosmo’s). I am generally much better off drawing than vocalizing. (Is that English?)

  • Hey… I went into a bar, read that warning sign, and since that day, the Demon Liquor has never crossed my lips.. [eyecross]

    One nice thing about America, though: we put our idiocy out there for all to see.

    Elsewhere, you have to apply to the Department of Liquor Warnings to see such important information.

    And you silly foreigners: the ramp on the sidewalk is not for wheelchairs, but for skateboarders, and has been there ever since Brad Jawbone III went off the edge of a sidewalk, got an owie and his daddy sued the county for a trillion dollars. Dianne Feinstein was involved with the legislation.

    So there.

  • Jim Bennett

    The cancer warning sign in the bar is the result of a well-intended referendum in California which stated that any product that might possibly be linked to causing cancer must carry a warning. Since the definition they used for cancer hazard was so all-inclusive that almost any product requires the warning, cautious lawyers have advised almost every vendor of almost any product that they should have the signs up, just in case. The result is that the warning signs have become ubiquitous in California, and therefore totally useless as any kind of guide for people who might wish to try to mitigate carcinogen exposure.

  • Tim Haas

    Jonathan L wrote re Jersey’s gas-dispensing situation:

    So the consumer gets screwed by much more than the cost of employing pump attendents.

    I agree with your analysis in theory, but as a South Jersey resident I can tell you that we pay less here than at the self-serves across the river in the Philly area and in Delaware — and we don’t get our hands icky.

  • Kevin

    Cottus is dismayed by the baby-changing tables in men’s rooms. From this I infer that he’s childless, as are his male friends, because no matter how old-fashioned one may be about who changes the diapers at home, there are times when a man wants to take his baby out in public without the wife along.

    Further, baby-changing tables in restrooms are not required, at least in California.

  • The most hilarious example of regulatory silliness I ever encountered was connected to the new medical building at the summer camp I worked at. This camp used to have no proper road in– just a trail, and we boated supplies in. This was also in a national forest, so permits for everything took forever, so the medical lodge was only built the last year I worked there. By this point the forest service had installed an access road for maintenance and evacuation purposes.

    So the new building had to come up to full standards. The handicapped access ramp actually wasn’t too bad of an idea, as anyone who’s ever carried a stretcher can tell you. The fact that we were *required* to have a handicapped parking space because we had a “road” (dirt)– even though the road was specifically prohibited from being used by anyone other than service groups– was the kicker. We just put the sign in the window, because what are you going to do?

  • Rob Read

    Why is the girl hugging an invisable fridge?

  • Tim Haas

    That’s not a fridge — that’s Harvey! (As would be known by anyone who routinely ignores the sign in the next picture down.)

  • rc

    Heh, you do realize you were in LA and New Jersey don’t you? Only New York and possibly Massachusetts have legally enshrined as much Socialistic Nanny-ism. Honestly, they seem almost like different countries to many of us ‘Middle-Americans’.

  • Cydonia

    Very Retired:

    “The British legal system, which precludes much of this “fee farming”, is much superior.”

    Can’t agree with you on this one.

    We (in London) are in the process of refurbishing an 18th century building which will become our new office. Building regulations require us to spend thousands of pounds on disabled access – metal ramps etc ruining the approach to what was a fine building.

    In the last 10 years, we have had maybe 30,000 clients visit us. Of those, I don’t recall a single disabled person – certainly not one that would have needed to use a ramp. Madness.

  • Doug Collins

    Legislating good intentions has another, not very funny, consequence – It tends to brutalize society. One doesn’t feel the need to be charitable or kind, just follow the letter of the law – no more is required.

    Then there is the regrettable, but natural feeling of irritation one has at things like little used disabled parking spaces at crowded parking lots. It is difficult to remember that the government and the nannies are the problem, not the disabled.

    Perhaps the ulterior motive is to create enough hostility in the general population that, when they come to take away the imperfect from among us, the protests will be muted if they are made at all.

  • Merlin

    My personal favorite is the brail instructions on the drive up teller machines.

  • bear, the (one each)

    That sign at the Four Seasons is in response to Proposition 67 (I think that is the number) that the silly-ass voters of this state put in. If a place has substances deemed by Our Betters in Sacramento to be Bad For Us, this sign must be posted. Grocery stores have them (for the stuff they sell an use for cleaning the store), as do hotels and apartment buildings. It’s nuts.

  • Tatyana: I do not think you are correct. The lay out of the surrounding area, not all of which is obvious from the photo, pretty much precludes any use of that curb and associated area other than the obvious… going up and down those stairs.

  • Guy Herbert

    Indeed, very retired… why bother with tort lawyers when you can use criminal lawyers paid for by a government agency, and indirect control through official licensing powers?

    See here. Connoisseurs of the ratchet effect will note that (as do most similar quangos) the UK’s Disability Rights Commission doesn’t just have the role of enforcing an extraordinarily onerous set of laws, and effectively making new ones through policy statements, and getting government planning and safety departments, trades unions, etc., to make demands on its behalf, but it spends public money campaigning to extend its reach.

    We do have “fee farming”, by the way, but not by lawyers. An increasing number of regulators are “self-supporting” from the license fees and fines they levy. Three great bonuses from the government’s point of view: 1. lots more rules without the trouble of arranging for parliament to vote for them. 2. Minimal possibility of the courts interfering with enforcement. 3. The whole thing is off-balance-sheet and doesn’t show up in tax figures.

  • Dave O'Neill

    Last time I was in RSA I must admit that filling the car we had borrowed would barely register as an amount you’d be allowed to use a credit card for in the UK 😉

    My favourite in California is the shear number of disabled spaces in shopping malls. In the sub-urb I lived in I doubt if there were even half that number of disabled people there, but there were rules on how many space you had to have as a ratio to other slots.

  • Joe

    The stair, unsurprisingly – is not extrodinary. It’s the ADA law at work, where YES FRIENDS – you have to stripe a walkway, ramp up to a curb, etc etc. to an ISLAND.