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In the days of outrage…

…why not jump on this bandwagon?

Since everyone is mad or offended about or by anything and something, all day, every day, I found and issue we all should be totally outraged about. Let’s add this to the outrageous pile of outrages so everyone can be outraged out of their minds! I mean, since we are all picking things to be outraged about I am going to pick this – motorcycle helmets.

 

 

Well, not just any motorcycle helmets. I am talking about the ever popular NAZI “replica” helmets. I am sure you have seen them and maybe didn’t even know they were a replica of something so abhorrent. I would even venture a guess that some of the people using them as a lid on their motorcycle noggin probably don’t even know what they are wearing. But then, I might just be naive…

It’s weird how you start seeing something everywhere when you start paying attention. I live in the northwest corner of the country so this isn’t exactly the time for motorcycle weather and yet I seem to have noticed at least one helmet per day over the last couple of weeks. I have seen them on heads. I have seen them illustrated on the back windows of pickup trucks. I have seen them in ads for motorcycles.

They aren’t real expensive, I guess, at least in comparison to some of the other helmets available. Maybe that’s why they are so popular. I have no idea really, so I am just speculating. I found them at one website with a rather curious sales description:

“German Motorcycle Helmets have been specifically designed to look like the war helmets worn by German soldiers during World War I and World War II. These rebellious-looking lids are a cool and lightweight option for protecting your noggin in style..German-style helmets are a lightweight and stylish way to fulfill the requirements of the helmet law…And most of our German helmets are classically clean in style because like a plain, black leather jacket, these helmets don’t need bright colors and flashy graphics to make them cool…”

*Emphasis above is mine.*

Should we all be upset about this? Aren’t we supposed to hate everything related to Germany (really?), Nazis, fascism, racism, murder, etc.? Shouldn’t we be offended by this because, you know, it is easy to be offended about?

Anyway, if you gotta be outraged about something, this is a great next target. What do you think? We can eradicate this menace by running every motorcycle rider we see wearing this style of helmet right off the road! That’ll show ’em! Besides, obviously someone who wears this helmet is a nationalistic racist and we are only doing the world a favor, right?

*Trigger warning* This topic may be sensitive and possible outrage you. Find a safe space and rock back and forth while humming lightly should this actually occur. May I suggest a dark, quiet room in a corner away from all of humanity?

Post Script: OOPS! I screwed up the trigger warning…I guess that should have been at the top of this post.

P.P.S. (Post post script?) I don’t really care about this topic. It was just something to write about and maybe would generate some conversation somewhere, maybe. Again, maybe I am naive. Oh well…

Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Bad Parking Job

The height of Congressional dysfunction at work…they can’t even park their own cars.

Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Bad Parking Job.

And we wonder why Congress has a bad reputation? No, I am sure we don’t but this is a pretty good example of why we have little to no faith in them.

Flashing – A Debate on Freedom of Speech

There’s a speed trap back there, dude. You better slow down and heed my flashing headlights before you get to it.

That’s what I think as I so thoughtfully flash my headlights at 4:30 in the afternoon on my way home from work. I drive the route twice a day, so I pretty much know all the places law enforcement likes to sit in waiting, like a spider waiting for a big fat insect to fly into it’s web. Of course, they change things up a bit and they aren’t always in the same places at the same times. I can’t blame them because that is what they are supposed to do, catch people speeding (although I honestly think there are probably more productive things law enforcement could be doing other than sitting around waiting for violators – that is a debate for another day).

Now, I know. I shouldn’t speed. No one should ever speed. I try not to but it happens sometimes. So, before we get side tracked by the whole “You wouldn’t need to flash your lights if they (or you) weren’t speeding in the first place” argument let me just say that if you have never sped (either on purpose or inadvertently) then you may throw the first stone. Otherwise, bite your tongue.

The questions is, “Can I flash my headlights to warn other drivers of a speed trap?” Recently there has been a minor debate about this question and I have even had driver’s ed students ask about this during classroom instruction. For the most part, my answer has always been that in Washington state it is illegal, per RCW (Revised Code for Washington) 46.37.230. However, this has always bothered me because I believe that flashing my headlights is a form of communication (speech, if you will), which is obviously much more effective than me rolling down my window and yelling at passing cars.

Background

This RCW seems to be open to a bit of interpretation however. It is typically the one cited in “flashing light” tickets, but there is nothing in the language specifically that says “flashing,” only that a vehicle must lower their headlights from high to low for oncoming vehicles within 500 feet and when approaching from the rear of a vehicle within 300 feet. This article from the Seattle Times (2008) where, according to Trooper Pratt, “they are for illumination, not communication.” The article continues, “It’s illegal to flash your high beams or activate them within 500 feet of an approaching vehicle, and 300 feet if you’re coming up behind another vehicle.”

First, Troopers Pratt and Merrill (the latter was also interviewed for the article) must be misinformed. The RCW didn’t say anything about flashing headlights and yet they say that the fine for “inappropriate flashing of high beams” has increased from $101 to $112. So, if our law enforcement officers don’t know the law, then how are we supposed to be clear on what is allowed and what isn’t? Second, there are parts of our state that have signs that say, “Daylight headlights section,” or something to that effect (signs probably vary). If it is during the day, there is plenty of light and the headlights are clearly not for illumination so they must be for communication to other drivers so they take notice of the vehicles on the roadway.

Your Rights – The First Amendment

There have been several cases in recent years that have started to shed some light (no pun intended) on laws such as the one in Washington. First, let me highlight the one in Florida. In this instance, the court eventually ruled that indeed the First Amendment had been violated and that flashing your headlights is a legitimate form of communication. Florida soon changed it’s laws to reflect the protection of this civil right. In Missouri recently, once again, a court decided that flashing of one’s headlights was not illegal and is protected free speech. There have been cases in Utah and Tennessee that follow along the same lines.

Jonathan Turley, a criminal attorney and a professor at George Washington University Law School, said courts across the country are dealing with the same issue. In virtually every case except those still being decided, the person cited has prevailed, Turley said.

“This has sweeping implications for the First Amendment,” Turley said. “What this citizen is doing is warning other citizens about the violation of law. People regularly warn others about the possibility of arrest. There’s no difference between a verbal warning and a mechanical warning. Both are forms of speech.” (Missouri article)

The ultimate point is that if you are given a ticket that involves flashing your headlights, your First Amendment rights likely have been violated. Whether you are in my state or another, law enforcement doesn’t have a clear handle on what is permissible and what isn’t and in most cases they are just miffed because you seemingly were interfering with what they considered a need for enforcement. Could you be causing a danger in flashing your lights? I suppose you could be, but that is a purely subjective call, one law enforcement seems to have expanded beyond reasonable application.

If you are wondering where your state falls on this issue, Wikipedia has a pretty good list of not only states where it may or may not be illegal but even some countries that address the issue as well. As far as I can tell from my research, there are no pending cases for this issue currently in Washington state. So, if you get a ticket for it, you could be the one to challenge it and change the law for all in Washington state. In the Missouri case, the ACLU took on the case which likely didn’t cost the individual much money, if any at all.

I think the key here is that no matter the intent, whether to warn someone out of their criminal intent or out of legitimate concerns for public safety, it has the same effect – it causes people to slow down, even if only briefly. That, in and of itself, may be all that is needed to prevent an accident or a ticket – that clearly isn’t be a negative thing.

So, I say, “LET THE FLASHING BEGIN!” Fight for your First Amendment freedoms.

The Passing Lane

imgresWhy? Why is it so hard for a trucker to pull into the “slow lane” so that the backed up traffic behind him can get by?

I commute 45 miles, one way, to work each day and I am constantly befuddled by this bad behavior. State law (I’m in Washington) says that if there is a backup of more than five vehicles the offending vehicle is to pull off the road to allow for faster traffic to pass. Most of the time this law is violated by the big rig trucks. It also happens from travel/recreational vehicles, but mostly by trucks. But my grumpiness today has to do with trucks.

Just this morning the offending monstrosity was a giant vacuum for storm drains. I had to follow it for more than 15 miles (granted I was in a long string of cars also following it) before we reached a passing lane. At the first passing opportunity, it SPED UP?!? What is with that? So, only two of the trailing victims could get by. At the second passing opportunity, it NEVER EVEN MOVED OVER into the passing lane, thus causing all trailing vehicles to move over and speed up to go around it. Now, why does that have to happen?

Maybe all big rigs should be required bear their loads between certain hours of the night. Maybe they should only allowed to navigate from sun down to sun up. Maybe they should follow the traffic laws and not torture other motorists simply because of their size and because they can.

I’ll be commuting home this evening and I’ll be, more than likely, shaking my fist at another tyrannical trucker.