Al Capone and the “Traffic Ticket Nazis”

Written by Gregory Monte.

Words of Wisdom from an Infamous Bootlegger

Over the holidays I was at a party and the host had some box wine.  The brand was called Big House Wine and the variety was “Prohibition Red.”

The wine itself was nothing much to write home about, but there was an interesting quote on the packaging (reputably by Al Capone) which said the following:

“When I sell liquor, it’s called bootlegging.  When my patrons serve it on Lake Shore Drive it’s called hospitality.”


Traffic Ticket Nazis

This got me thinking about a section of the population that I have written about several times before – the Traffic Ticket Nazis.

In case you are not familiar with this group of people, here is how I explained it back in my post from October (Traffic Ticket Nazis and the Tax Law):

Traffic Ticket Nazi, noun: An individual who believes that tickets should be issued to all motorists for every minor traffic infraction.

– 1 mph over the limit?  Ticket.

– Roll through a stop sign when no one is within 200 feet of the intersection?  Ticket.

– Air freshener “obstructing” the front window?  Ticket.

You get the idea …

If you want to read more about my commentary on Traffic Ticket Nazis, check out the following other posts:


Interpreting Al Capone’s Comments

Back to the topic for today …

One way to interpret Capone’s comment is to relate it to George Orwell’s book Animal Farm.  Probably the most famous line from this book is the following statement by the pigs:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

As Dictionary.com correctly indicates:

“The sentence is a comment on the hypocrisy of governments that proclaim the absolute equality of their citizens but give power and privileges to a small elite.”

Clearly, Al Capone got it right when he pointed out the hypocrisy of the Lake Shore Drive folks.  But I actually see another aspect to Capone’s quote which applies more specifically to the Traffic Ticket Nazis and their opinion that traffic laws should be strictly enforced.

You see, implicit in the Traffic Ticket Nazi thought process is the naive belief that governments only pass laws and engage in traffic regulation to help their citizens.  Thus, every traffic law passed and traffic sign erected was the result of the disinterested action of public servants with only the public safety in mind.

I disagree with this point of view.  The law which made Al Capone’s actions illegal was not simply a matter of public welfare.  It wasn’t as if the government was only interested in the health of its citizens.  If you study the Temperance Movement in any kind of detail, you will realize that its roots reach back into the 19th Century and involve an interesting mixture of politics and religion.


CAFE Standards

In a similar way, there is much more than public safety involved when it comes to traffic regulation.  Take Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for vehicles.  According to the Heartland Institute:

“CAFE standards trade oil for lives by making cars less safe.”

This is a perfect example of how government legislation doesn’t necessarily have public safety in mind.


Stop Signs

But how about stop signs? Surely, these are all about public safety, right?

I wrote a blog post about this back in June called The Problem with Stop Signs where I showed that these signs are not always about safety.  Here is what I concluded:

Too often, local communities install stop signs for the wrong reasons.  If you drive through a town and every other intersection has a 4-way stop sign, you can bet that they were put there for the purpose of slowing down traffic rather than for legitimate safety concerns.  This practice goes against the recommendation in the Section 2B.04.05 of the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Controls (MUTCD):

“YIELD or STOP signs should not be used for speed control.”

The fact that the MUTCD specifically included this language indicates that its authors realized that too many states and local communities were abusing this type of sign.  In other words, even they realized that traffic regulation is not necessarily only about public safety.


Speed Limits

And then there are speed limits …

In Pennsylvania where I live, the legislature specifically prohibited local police from using radar to monitor speed limits.  The reason that they did so highlights very well why public safety is not always the ultimate goal when the government gets involved in traffic related issues.  Below are some of the reasons cited by the PA Supreme Court in its decision Commonwealth v. DePasquale (1985):

“[M]embers of the legislature cited the following reasons for their desire to restrict the use of electronic devices to the State Police:”

“… that the proponents of radar in municipalities are concerned more with revenue raising than with safety.

“… that radar has not improved safety on the roads but has only helped the district justices and the ‘arresting mills’”

“… that police who have access to radar would leave serious crime undetected while improving their records by making large numbers of arrests for a summary offense”

“… that there would not be an even distribution of justice because the local police would have ‘some sort of campaign on for those whom [they] do not care for’”


Words of Wisdom for the Traffic Ticket Nazis

So, it appears to me that Al Capone had a better handle on how the world really works than the modern-day Traffic Ticket Nazis.  When these individuals tell me things like …

  • “Traffic tickets are issued because people violate the rules of the road. The rules of the road are set to protect the users of public roads.”
  • “You do the crime do the time!”
  • “If you get a ticket you probably deserve it pay it and don’t drive like an idiot.”

… I would suggest that they need to take some advice from that infamous bootlegger.  He understood the hypocrisy of lawmakers who posture for the “common good” publicly, but act in their own self-interest when mingling on their own particular “Lake Shore Drives” in private.

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