an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 6, July-August 2009, ISSN 1552-5112



Safety Last, Nonsense First


Nicholas Ruiz III



Doubt? What is doubt? There is no doubt. Nobody doubts anymore.


Don DeLillo



In Florida, you may ride your motorcycle without a helmet, provided you are 21 years of age and have $10,000 worth of medical insurance. You may not, however, ride in your automobile without wearing your seatbelt. If you are caught, you will be fined around $100 (e.g. Volusia County - $105.00).


When the seatbelt law was passed in 1986, the fine was, what, $30? The fine has more than tripled in the last two decades. Further, when the law was first introduced, violation of it was not an infraction for which the police could stop your vehicle. Now, in 2009, Florida law enforcement can stop your vehicle solely to exact a financial penalty for driving your car without the seatbelt engaged.


The media reported that the Florida state government received access to $35 million from the federal government vis-ŕ-vis the insurance industry for editing the seatbelt law. Other states have accepted federal funds for passing, what is now referred to as the ‘primary’ seatbelt law as well (e.g. Minnesota - $15 million).  But about half of all states do not allow police to stop a vehicle for a seat belt violation. And New Hampshire has no seat belt law. Perhaps New Hampshire believes that the law is oppressive and an invasion of privacy. Perhaps they don’t need the money.


Never mind that the real wages in the U.S. have not risen for decades; instead, real wages have actually decreased. In addition, making matters worse, everything else has risen in cost: food and other commodities, insurance of every kind (most notably, of course, medical insurance), housing, etc. Should not these sorts of petty legalistic fines, where they exist, be decreasing as well?


In our civilization, the pace of our penalties and fees far outstrips our means and conscience. This we should not tolerate.


On August 10, 2009, Bill Clinton, speaking at the University of Central Florida, said that Florida ranks almost last in spending on education, and almost first in juvenile incarceration. In a society that, according to Lily Allen, values its film stars more than its mothers, might we expect any better?


For all of this, I’ve a theory, or suggestion, in addition to the repeal of such an insurance industry law that invades our privacy and assaults a simple freedom.


For a time, why not ban all neckties from public office: all the plaids and bright colors, all of the silks and cottons, polyesters and such? Further, let us ban all of the white pearl necklaces and earrings too. If a politician should violate the ban – we shall assess a fine proportional to the crime: $400 per violation.


The median American’s weekly income is about $500 per week, according to the US Census from 2005. So a fine of $105 represents about 20% of that weekly income. Members of Congress, state governors, presidents and so on, earn well in excess of $100,000 per year. So the tie and pearl penalty is appropriate to their income, given that their income easily exceeds $2000 per week. 


Since politicians are suddenly so concerned for a particular safety that does not concern them – whether or not one ‘buckles up’ – we should return the favor with our concern for their lack of fashion sense, in policy and tailoring.


None of which is to say, that we do not require seat belts be installed in our vehicles.


We do. And thank you Ralph Nader for seeing to that bit of public good. But that does not mean on any given day we should be legally bound to wear them under threat of discipline and punishment, no?





an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 6, July-August 2009, ISSN 1552-5112