Saturday, May 16, 2009


Are we really so lazy?

In this week’s “The Ethicist” column, Randy Cohen comments on people who admit to driving without a license — to their bankers. A bank teller from Wisconsin asks this:

I am a bank teller. When I work the drive-through window, every week or two customers present a state ID instead of a driver’s license, often acknowledging that they have no license. As a teller, I must keep bank information confidential. As a citizen, I worry about the dangers of unlicensed drivers. May I report them to the police?
Mr Cohen’s response is that it is not ethical to report them. I’m not sure that I agree, because I don’t look at it as a situation where the customer expects confidentiality in that regard — this isn’t part of the financial information that the customer very rightly demands confidentiality on. Mr Cohen does allow an exception for “serious imminent danger”, but doesn’t think this qualifies, that driving without a license “does not in itself constitute a sufficient threat to warrant [...] calling the cops.” I disagree with that, too. An unlicensed driver likely lacks a license for a reason. Perhaps the driver can’t pass the test; that would certainly present a danger to others. Perhaps the license has been revoked because the driver has consistently presented a serious danger indeed.

In any case, Mr Cohen adds this:

It is impressive that unlicensed drivers regularly use the drive-through and cheerfully acknowledge law-breaking rather than simply park and do their banking indoors — a stirring example of either sheer bravado, stunning dimwittedness or a robust determination to avoid exercise, even by walking from the parking lot to the bank.
That was part of my reaction, too, on reading the question. One generally confesses to one’s bartender, or hairdresser, but not, as a rule, to one’s bank teller. This seems odd. And, yet, a refusal to park and walk, even when the walk is quite short, is something I see all the time — and it always amazes and amuses me.

I regularly see people leaving their cars in the fire lane to stop in at the deli or pizza shop, at the post office, at the dry cleaner’s, and... yes... at the bank. And all this when there are legal parking spots just a few steps away. At one place where I occasionally use the money machine, I’ve been ten steps (I counted) farther from the machine than the person who stopped illegally at the curb.

Perhaps my favourite incident was the time I went to the library and watched a woman park in a space reserved for handicapped drivers. I was right behind her, and parked three spaces away — farther by the width of three cars, and there were plenty of other parking spaces nearby. When I got inside, I saw her looking at books near the entrance, and I asked her if she was aware that she’d parked in a handicap space. She replied that she was only going to be a minute. “Yes,” I said, “and that might be just the minute that a disabled person should arrive and need that space.”

She said nothing in response, but I did my business and left before she did. “A minute” is seldom really so.


Frisky070802 said...

I had the same reaction to the bank column: that an unlicensed driver is implicitly a menace and that there was no particular confidentiality involved.

You should point the Ethicist at your blog posting and see what he says!

The Ridger, FCD said...

There's a woman I work for whose husband is disabled. They have one of those transferable plaques, so they can move it from one SUV to the other. She routinely parks in the handicapped space right in front of the door, although it can't be a whole minute to the farthest spot. Often, she parks there when a non-handicapped spot is only one or two spots away. It's really amazing. (I haven't spoken to her about it because I just don't want to get into it; we already don't agree on so much it can be hard to work with her!)

Frisky070802 said...

A belated reply to the Ridger... that really sux. How lazy and selfish can someone be?

The thing about the plaques is that, on demand, the owner has to be able to present an additional ID demonstrating the person entitled to use it is there. Perhaps an anonymous call to the authorities could trigger such a demand :)