Jumping Off Perfectly Good Bridges

Chucky Lewis jumped off the Boyer River Bridge when I was a kid.  Perhaps more of us kids in town would have jumped as well, but the Boyer River running alongside the town of Vail is only about a foot deep most of the year and the jump is at least thirty feet from the bridge railing to the water’s surface.  Chucky didn’t do it just because he was nuts; a few kids in town told him everyone did it.  So, being the gullible bully he was, he tried it.  Thankfully, he didn’t get hurt.

Unfortunately, on Tuesday, July 3, a boy in Linn County, Iowa wasn’t as lucky.  He broke his leg jumping off the Paris Road Bridge near Central City into the Wapsipinicon River.  This sport, if it’s all right to call it a sport, is dangerous.  An official with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office made a point when he said that bridge jumping could lead to a spinal injury, and the jumper would never be able to swim back to shore.  That’s possible.  But is that a reason to prohibit the activity?  Driving a car can be dangerous, but we don’t prohibit driving because someone may get killed or seriously injured.  Jogging can lead to injury, but we don’t regulate the sport.

A year ago, the Linn County sheriff wanted a county ordinance to make bridge jumping illegal.  He based his intentions on the potential hazards and several complaints from citizens. Some jurisdictions throughout the United States and the world have ordinances or statutes prohibiting bridge jumping, so his desire for the prohibition was nothing new. The Linn County Board of Supervisors considered the ordinance, but voted it down.

The proposed ordinance would have fined a juvenile $100, while an adult’s penalty would cost $650 and a possible 30-day jail term.  John Harris, a supervisor from Palo, questioned the practicality of the ordinance by noting that it’s “going to be very difficult to enforce.  By the time the sheriff’s deputy arrives, they’ll be picnicking on the sandbar, and there will be no activity to cite.”  He’s correct.  Another supervisor, Brent Oleson from Marion, stated that he didn’t see a concern, “as long as they’re not hurting others.”

The supervisors took a sensible approach.  There is not much that can be accomplished by banning fads, especially when a thrill is involved.  I was a kid, and I was thrill seeker.  I know that to get around this you set up a couple of others to watch for law enforcement.  If a sheriff’s deputy comes along you give a signal, and everyone goes to the sandbar for a picnic.  Creating a law prohibiting such activity makes the activity more enticing.  The activity becomes the forbidden fruit.  It’s not just a thrill to jump off the bridge, but because it’s prohibited, the thrill is enhanced.  And thrill seeking is what bridge jumping is all about.  As if jumping from a bridge into the water below isn’t enough of a thrill, it can be recorded and broadcast all over the Internet via YouTube.  The excitement of having others across the world view the feat of what has been accomplished is an additional pleasure.  Make it illegal and it adds a few drops of adrenaline to the blood stream.

People have probably been jumping off bridges since the first one was built.  If an ordinance had been adopted last year in Linn County, would kids who were with the boy who broke his leg run from the scene to avoid a $100 fine?  Very likely, remember, they’re kids, not adults.  Reactive laws can lead to greater tragedies.

Kids used to break legs and arms all the time.  It was like wearing a plaque, a medal, or a trophy.  The alternative is to prohibit any activity that may be hazardous to kids and watch them get fat sitting at home watching the “tube”, or today, “YouTube”.

Fawkes-Lee & Ryan is committed to preventing reactive statutes from becoming law.  But it’s a difficult job trying to prevent law enforcement from protecting everyone from themselves.  That’s our challenge.

Many people who have written about bridge jumping have included the old cliché:  “If everyone else was jumping off the bridge, would you?”  I guess that many mothers have questioned their children in this way.  Mine didn’t.  Maybe she knew about Chucky Lewis.

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1 Response to Jumping Off Perfectly Good Bridges

  1. Carlos Jayne says:

    Great writing. Vail sounds like my old home town of Laceyville, Pa. Many dumb things done by kids which would have continued even if criminalized. Let’s not end up criminalizing breathing even though it can be dangerous at times.

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