Sunday, May 24, 2009

The safety belt wouldn't 

Since South Africa has no other crime issues to speak of, the government has decided to outlaw one or two things that you might argue don't do anyone else much harm. One is smoking in public, about which I blogged a while ago. The second is wearing seatbelts while driving. Both of these rules are often ignored by sections of the population that you would think would know better. On cigarette packs in the UK it used to say "think first - most doctors don't smoke". Presumably somebody eventually pointed out that many of them do, and most of them drink heavily too. (An alcoholic? Someone who drinks more than his doctor.)

As you might expect different behaviour from the profession that cuts out lung tumours, those who cut car crash victims from their vehicles might be expected to wear a seatbelt. Think again: most policemen don't bother. I've been conducting an informal survey, and for every one who has his belt on, 3 or 4 do not. I suppose their chances of getting stopped are lower than the general population, but the fact that it is law doesn't seem to count for much. It's the inverse of Giuliani's broken windows theory: if a policeman can't even be bothered to obey basic laws, then what chance the politicians take any notice of the big ones?

In the UK, I think there is an exemption from the seatbelt law for pregnant women and cabbies. No such exemption exists here: I called the number on the back of a Joburg police van to check - while driving, obviously - another thing that's illegal and widely ignored. I wonder if it's illegal to take photos with a phone while you're driving, of a policeman not wearing a seatbelt. I hear it is in the UK, but if I can get one I'll post it.

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