A recent news story focusing on the ever-increasing need for tools to enforce traffic laws made me reflect on the use of tools to enforce quality. Maryland State Police experimented with night-vision goggles to determine whether motorists have their safety belts fastened; violators are ticketed. Law enforcement officials also use cameras for catching those speeding, violating traffic signs and for "aggressive driving." A Washington, D.C., metro-area driver would be well advised to follow the law-there's no telling who's watching.

Likewise, in the quality field, there is an abundance of standards, guidelines and tools that act as quality "traffic laws" and enforcement tools. Catching scofflaws includes using auditors, associations, internal monitors-and even the customer. But, if quality is something to be sought, and that can make a competitive difference, why is there such a need for "enforcers" to ensure quality?

One look at the Internet indicates why there needs to be such a heavy reliance on technology to prevent traffic lawbreakers. As quickly as police develop photo-radar tools to catch scofflaws, there are those willing to sell sprays and devices to avoid police detection. Laser and radar detectors are big sellers. Likewise, manufacturers bent on breaking quality "laws" can easily register or renew standards certificates using one of a host of fly-by-night companies that don't make on-site visits or review a company's internal quality documents. To the casual observer, it seems as if those who use such questionable registrars, consultants and auditors get the same piece of paper as those manufacturers who "play by the rules."

A person or company can use shortcuts in an attempt to avoid punishment. To the "law abider" it may seem pointless to follow the rules both in letter and spirit, but this should not cause despair. There are inherent benefits in following traffic laws that go beyond the threat of punishment. There are inherent advantages in maintaining high quality in manufacturing beyond meeting those dictates set by standards.

Abiding by traffic laws increases your safety and leads to a healthier and longer life. Manufacturing a high-quality product increases customer satisfaction and can increase your business. Those breaking "the law" only experience a short-term benefit-reaping none of these long-term advantages. The scofflaw soon ends up in traffic court or out of business-it's only a matter of time. Following the laws and good quality practices make high-tech cameras and standards a nonissue if you consistently are in compliance and making sought-after products.

The advantages of following traffic and quality laws are self-evident and inherently beneficial. Laudable as these advantages may be, however, the DC metro area and the quality profession will not soon discard their enforcement systems, for there always are those who have not yet learned that short-term "benefits" do not exceed long-term rewards.

Does the motive for following quality practices matter? Tell me.