Does the US Need New Law to Prevent Protesters from Blocking Highways?

Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

In mid-November, a group of protesters swarmed a semi-truck at a risk to both their own lives and to the driver. They shouted “Shut it down for Palestine!”Other protests regarding the Middle Eastern conflict blocked traffic in New York and Los Angeles, near major airports. Many were arrested.

Although the freedom to assemble peacefully is a cornerstone of democratic society, discussions regarding the need for particular federal legislation have arisen due to the possible risks and disturbances posed by highway blockades.

The trucking industry is the lifeblood of the US economy, and 80,000 pound semi-trucks pose a danger to anyone who runs into their path. From BLM to lockdowns to now Israel/Palestine, the United States now has a thriving culture of protests and civil disturbances. Can a balance be struck while respecting the rights of everyone?

Present-Day Legal Environment

The methods used by different states to control protests that have an influence on highways are recorded by ICNL’s US Protest Law Tracker. Some states have filed proposals that would provide legal protection to drivers who inadvertently hurt demonstrators who are blocking roadways, including Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. Some governments, on the other hand, have adopted a proactive approach, with their governors passing legislation to address concerns regarding protests on highways.

Recent Changes in the Law

Because drivers may be surrounded by mobs of people who make them fear for safety, a recent legislative trend points towards shielding drivers in such situations, as evidenced by measures approved by Republican legislators in places like Oklahoma and Iowa that grant legal immunity to drivers whose vehicles strike and hurt demonstrators. This has received pushback from media and those in favor of mass disruptive protests.

Furthermore, a 2022 proposal called the Safe Passage on Interstates Act seeks to make it illegal for federal agencies to block interstate highways, highlighting issues on the necessity of a uniform strategy for highway demonstrations.

Keeping Public Safety and Rights in Check

Finding a balance between defending the nation’s fundamental right to demonstrate and guaranteeing public safety on its roads is a crucial subject. This problem is compounded even more when considering truck drivers and their necessity to the country’s entire economy. Proponents of federal legislation contend that a uniform strategy is required to avoid a disorganized collection of state laws that might not sufficiently tackle the difficulties presented by roadblocks. Other state legislators and concerned parties are happy to see any relief.

In summary, the discussion surrounding the need for new federal legislation to stop demonstrators from obstructing roadways highlights the fine line that must be drawn between preserving public safety and defending constitutional rights. As the country becomes more polarized and more action takes to the streets, the protection of protesters, drivers, and the economy must all be considered.