Stow cabin luggage, eat your veggies and signal your turns

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 19, 2011 - 7:45 PM

You may have heard that T-Paw, our former governor, was asked to give the safety instructions on a plane when the flight attendant forgot the script. We all know what we'd say if we had the chance:

"In the unlikely event of a water landing -- unlikely because we'll probably corkscrew straight into the drink, if it comes to that -- your tiny thin seat cushion can be used as a flotation device. Have fun visualizing that. Don't thrash in the water; it brings sharks. If the oxygen mask drops down, put yours on before assisting anyone else. We say that because you're likely to freak out and think of yourself first, and we just want you to know that's OK."

He must have told everyone how to put on the seat belt; that's part of the drill. But what if you don't? What if you refuse and get testy about it? They can bring on a federal marshal and remove you, probably. Seems right. But in cars, some say, it's a different matter. Oh, it might be the law to wear one, but they shouldn't be able to pull you over for it. Only if you're doing something else, like leading them on a 6-mile chase throwing guns and money out the window. Making the seat belt violation a primary offense violates ... AMERICA, somehow.

So some believe, anyway. There was a law, passed in 2009, that let police pull you over if you weren't belted up. It was repealed Monday in an omnibus bill -- and oddly enough, seat belts are not required on the omnibus. Or the school bus, which always seemed peculiar. Hey, let's put some energetic kids hyped to the eyeballs on Sugar Frosted Grain Balls into a vehicle with slippery seats so they're rollin' around like loose jugs of soda in the trunk! Different in cars: If you're a parent and the kid isn't cinched into the back seat with restraints most astronauts would find "a little confining," you can be cited for endangerment. And rightly so. I was raised in the era before ubiquitous belts, when kids were held in place mainly by G-forces; if your parent had a habit of standing on the brake you just leaned to duck and roll. But when you have your own kid you belt 'em up, and you set a good example by cinching in your own, thinking: man, I'm glad I paid attention to those airplane safety instructions, or this would be completely confusing. What goes where now? This part in here?

As for the issue of giving police a reason to pull you over, we all suspect they can pull you over for just about anything. Such as:

• License plate light is the wrong wattage.

• Did not signal when changing lanes or radio stations.

• Looking quickly away when police car pulls alongside; staring nonchalantly when police car pulls alongside.

•Bumper sticker is slightly crooked.

• Whistling without sticker indicating full ASCAP royalties had been paid, and don't say it was "Happy Birthday," because that one's covered too.

•Eyes off the road. (This would seem reasonable, but when the suspect is in the drive-through lane, looking at the menu? Courts have yet to decide.)

Once I was pulled over for speeding, and was let off with a warning -- in this case, "Don't eat undercooked shellfish" -- but if I'd not been wearing a belt I expect the full force of the law would have been applied. And rightly so. The second time the charge was reduced to "unreasonable acceleration," a carefully conceived charge that makes you pay a fine but doesn't show up on your record and affect your insurance. Win-win! But again, if I'd had been driving unfettered, whammo. And rightly so. The law is there to encourage you not to go through the windshield, and apparently some people need a reminder.

Don't know if the repeal will make it through the Senate; some think the primary-offense angle is just a way to Hoover up more revenue, and others worry it's the sort of creeping nannyism that will lead to mandatory safety instructions delivered by the ex-governor from a small screen in your dashboard -- complete with a reminder that smoking is now forbidden.

I'll tell you this -- the guys who sell shirts that have a seat-belt-sized stripe printed diagonally across the front so it looks like you're belted, they're biting their nails. This could be the end for them.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.

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