The streets of Austin were empty, dark and unfamiliar to us. I was seated in the passenger seat next to my friend, who was driving, and we were in the middle of a very intense conversation on the nature of love. We were waiting to pick another friend up from a concert, and had about an hour to kill.
We had decided to just drive around in our friend’s shaky vintage car, to get lost, to admire the beauty of the new city, and “enjoy the moment.”
Pleasantly settled into the comfort of the car, music playing quietly in the background, our minds active with thoughts, we suddenly heard a siren, and flashing lights behind us. Cops.
But what had we done?
Both of our pulses slightly elevated, my friend pulled over and rolled down the window, where the face of a seemingly friendly young cop greeted us.
“License and registration please.”
She handed him her driver’s license. I opened the glove department to find the registration, a bit anxious given the car owner’s notoriety for not following rules. As we leafed together through endless slips of paper, we could not find the car’s registration. At the very end, though, tucked neatly beneath the disorganized clump of random papers, lay the golden words: car registration. We handed it to the cop, relieved.
He disappeared to consult his partner, returning an endless ten minutes later, to tell us that our car taillight was not turned on, and that the car’s registration had expired.
Not only did my friend receive a ticket for having not turned on the proper backlights, but she also received a ticket and permanent mark on her record for the expired registration. The expenses amounted to around $1,200.
Neither of us was aware that we had to manually turn on our taillight, or that having it off was a violation of the law. At what point in our lives are we supposed to be given this knowledge?
The incident reminded me of a time in Chicago when I watched a policeman give a man a ticket for “jay-walking.” It was reminded me of another time, when my parents’ friend got a ticket for driving while talking on her cell phone.
In the US, you can get a ticket for not switching lanes with a police car is on the shoulder. In Minnesota, you can get arrested for vagrancy. In Illinois, you can get arrested for vagrancy unless you have at least a dollar bill on you. In Georgia, you are not allowed to live on a boat for more than thirty days. In New York, adultery is still a misdemeanor and you can receive a $500 fine.
Though these are just a few examples that coexist with laws that prevent murder, arsenic, robbery and other violent and potentially fatal acts; they are the frameworks of society. Every law, major or minor, is implemented to ensure the safety of citizens.
As infants born into this world, we are granted two things: our parents and a name. Not included in this is a rulebook of laws to memorize. At what point are we supposed to learn these laws?