Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs


I collect markers of what I call “roadkill” legislation — roadside signs that demean my intellect or destroy my privileges. My favorite, of course, is “Click it or Ticket”. Get it? How clever of my state’s Humorous Sign Department (staffed by a dozen failed ex-comedians who enjoy fat salaries and a pension plan promising double their salary). The seatbelt sign reminds me that the belt, my strapped in belly, and the car belong to me. So does the road (my taxes). And I recall with sadness decedents, strangled by seat belts, who left this vale of tears after being T-boned or plunged into rivers, while many an unbelted survivor has been tossed from his vehicle toward safety.

Not to mention kids crushed by safety bags. What federal bureaucrat foresaw that? Why does my son ban me from seating my precious grandson in the front seat? “You’ll kill him!” he hollers as we back out of the driveway. Gee, I thought they saved lives.

However, the epitome of the state’s arrogance is “Traffic Fines Double in Work Zone.” It attributes to me the lowest of morals. Let’s see; if I knock down a road worker and it only costs $75, I’ll consider bowling one over and getting to work on time. What’s the calculus? One mashed road worker and congratulations: “Ted, you’re on time this morning”? But doubly fined — $150? That’s apparently enough of a penalty to upset my moral equation. I’d risk a worker’s life for $75, but not for $150. That’s what my state thinks of me. Not very flattering.

Forget occupying Wall Street. What we need is a roadsign protest movement that occupies our nation’s streets, cruising unbelted to a convocation site. Composed mainly of Washington lawyers disguised as farmers in denims and straw hats, they sue the first cop who slaps a seatbelt violation on them. They take it all the way to the Supreme Court, where any properly briefed schoolboy can prove that the Constitution doesn’t even whisper of straps, belts, or suspenders while riding your horse, and it’s clearly an infringement on the comfort of your own body, especially after a large, inflationary meal.

I save the best for last. The newest reminder by the state is that our life expectancy would go up ten years if we discarded our nefarious vehicles in favor of plodding horses, mules, or better yet, large turtles imported from the Galapagos Islands. How safe we would be! I refer here to the “No Texting While Driving” billboard. It doesn’t mention eating corn on the cob, reading War and Peace, or undertaking acrobatic sexual activity. Just texting. What about telephoning? That’s not dangerous when your wife tells you that her sister — the one with two kids — is coming to live with you? In the face of such news you’re not going to make a U-over four lanes of traffic to get to the bar, or end up in the front seat of the car in front of you? Or maybe bail out, converting your car into an unguided missile . . .

In summing up the above on personal safety, I say it is a matter of personal choice unless it infringes the rights of others. Sadly, we live in an age when society has robbed us of any choice in these concerns, as well as others that are much more serious. We’re on a slippery slope.

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Steve Murphy

Judging by the comments, I must have misunderstood the essay, thinking it was a humorous piece about corny government signs, not a serious discourse on traffic safety and highway ownership.

Out of curiosity, I looked up some statistics. According to the NHTSA (2010), speeding is a factor in more than 31% of road deaths, drunken driving in 32%, and distracted driving in about 16%. About 55% of those killed in passenger vehicles were not wearing seat belts.

I could find no statistics on the number of people who die in traffic accidents while wearing seatbelts. Given that speeding is a factor in more than 31% of the deaths, I would guess the number is large.

I found it disturbingly odd that apparently none of the 55% not wearing seat belts were saved by airbags. Maybe this is why there are no "Airbags Save Lives" signs.

The airbag is a glowing example of how "society has robbed us of any choice" with respect to safety. It is not clear that they save any lives over what seatbelts save. Yet they, and the large cost they add to an automobile, are mandatory.

By the way, I enjoyed the article. Thanks Ted.


Over 50% of roads built in the US are privately built. Then, most are subject to the laws of the state. There are a few that are not. But, the point is you do not own them. Neither does the state.

Thankfully, I am not Mr.Roberts. I would certainly not let my childern ride with him driving. But if his family wants to let him risk their health, that's their business...........Just don't try to force me to pay for their health care when they are injured through his negligence.

However, I think Mr. Roberts would probably be less than truthful to his insurance company. Claiming he always drives safely, and buckles up, and no need to charge him more for any reckless behavior.

Jon Harrison

I definitely don't like being told to buckle up, but is the issue really as clear-cut as Ted makes it? I'm not up on the stats, but don't seat belts/air bags save more lives than they take? Or are we the victims of a Nanny-State propaganda campaign that seeks to rob us of our freedom, even in the confines of our automobiles? Does anyone have reliable data on how many drivers die because they couldn't unclick the belt after an accident? And do those deaths exceed the number of persons saved by seat belts and air bags? I have no idea; but it would be nice to know before deciding that seat belt laws should be repealed.

Assuming seat belts prevent deaths and reduce injuries, and thereby help keep health care costs down, society probably has a right to impose "clicket or ticket" -- at least so long as persons brought to emergency rooms have a right to treatment, even if they lack the means to pay.

Live Free or Die New Hampshire requires all persons under 18 to buckle up; this seems a reasonable compromise to me.

Jim Henshaw

Re this: "So does the road (my taxes). And I recall with sadness decedents, strangled by seat belts, who left this vale of tears after being T-boned or plunged into rivers, while many an unbelted survivor has been tossed from his vehicle toward safety."

The road does not belong to you, it belongs to the state. Paying taxes does not make it yours, any more than if a particular road was owned by the Mafia, and they forced you at gunpoint to pay them money, ostensibly for the upkeep of the road, even if you didn't actually use that road.

The difference between the Mafia and a state is that the Mafia has better PR.

Wearing seatbelts, on average, keeps you safer. So making this utilitarian argument against Click It or Ticket doesn't resonate, unless you can come up with a common situation where one is on average safer not wearing the belt. The point that should be made instead is a moral one: that it is your body, and you're entitled to take any risks you like with it that doesn't endanger non-consenting others. Freedom must include the freedom to do stupid stuff, otherwise you're just well-protected property owned by others (in this case, politicians) who don't want their property damaged -- bluntly put, a slave or a serf.

Oh, and re: the airbag situation: in addition to the moral argument is the utilitarian argument: that these damn things force parents to strap their kids into back seats, leading to more deaths from kids accidentally left in a car in the hot sun because their harried parents forgot to drop them off at daycare or whatever. Those mandatory passenger seat airbags probably result in more deaths than they prevent.

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