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The Most Unusual Traffic Laws in the World

Photo by André Gustavo Stumpf on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

If you have never been stopped for a traffic offense that you felt was unjustified, consider yourself lucky. It is not at all uncommon to get a ticket that seems arbitrary. This can happen for a number of reasons, but in most cases, the ticket is justified, whether you want it or not.

If the officer feels that doing 40 mph on a slick road constitutes “reckless driving” even though the speed limit is 55, you should adjust your speed to the weather conditions. That same speed, however, might be considered as going too slow on the same road on a sunny day, and might earn you a warning.

The logic behind both of these scenarios is justified. There is however, quite a number of traffic laws, both in the U.S. and abroad, that don’t make a lot of sense.

Why Are There So Many Unusual Traffic Laws?

Every state and country has their share of unusual laws that don’t seem to make sense at all. Such laws often fall into one of the following categories:

  • Outdated – like the Illinois law requiring drivers to contact the local police before entering the city in car, or the South Carolina statute requiring drivers to stop 100 feet from a blind intersection or four-way stop and fire a shot into the air as a warning to horse traffic.
  • Illogical – such as laws in the states of Alabama and Texas, as well as the country of Luxembourg that require windshield wipers on every car, even though the car might not have a windshield
  • Inexplicable – such as a Denver, CO, law against driving black cars on Sundays.
  • Bizarre – such as an Alabama law prohibiting driving while blindfolded, the Massachusetts law prohibiting having an animal in the back seat (often cited as gorilla in various articles, but we couldn’t find proof of that in the law itself) or the Tennessee law prohibiting driving while asleep.

Many laws may seem bizarre at first, but they do make perfect sense when examined more closely.

The vast majority of laws from the “bizarre” category were enacted in response to someone having done precisely what the law prohibits. This logically dictates that someone in Alabama was driving blindfolded at some point and that someone from Tennessee was driving while asleep.

The following list will describe some of the more unusual traffic laws, which, although amusing, actually have reasonable explanations.

1. You Aren’t Allowed to Drive on Certain Days Depending on What Number Your Registration Plate Ends With (Philippines)

If you were driving in certain states during the 1979 oil crisis, you probably remember the odd/even system of rationing: the final digit of your license plate determined the days you could purchase gas.

In the Philippines, a similar system has been adopted to determine the days and times that you can legally drive your car. For example, vehicles with plates ending in a 1 or 2 aren’t allowed on Mondays, plates ending in 3 or 4 are banned on Tuesdays, and so on.

This law was initially limited to Manila, but it has since been enacted in many other cities in the Philippines. Although it doesn’t make much sense at first, the purpose was to ease traffic congestion, especially during peak hours.

Before the law went into effect, studies showed that approximately 23 percent of the traffic in Manila occurred during two hour-long periods (between 3 and 4 a.m. and 2 and 3 p.m.). As of 2013, traffic flow was much more evenly distributed over the entire 24 hours. Carpooling became more popular and air pollution from automotive emissions was greatly reduced as well.

2. No Eating or Drinking (Anything!) While Driving (Cyprus)

Photo by m01229 on Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by m01229 on Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Most countries ban driving while consuming alcohol. In Cyprus, however, the law is stricter: you aren’t allowed to eat or drink anything – not even water, coffee or power bars! As many are quite fond of their coffee to go in the morning, this might seem extreme, but studies have shown that there is logic behind the law.

A 2009 study in the U.S. reported that eating while driving caused 80 percent of the accidents evaluated.

In the U.K., studies found that driving while intoxicated slowed reaction time by more than 12 percent, but eating lowered reaction speed by 44 percent and sipping a beverage reduced reaction speed by 22 percent.

In short, any activity that distracts the driver, such as texting, smoking, changing radio stations or answering the phone, can be a contributing factor in an accident. Through a series of tougher traffic laws, including the ban on eating or drinking while driving, Cyprus has achieved a 61.5 percent reduction in traffic-related fatalities, from 117 in 2004 to 45 in 2014.

3. You Have to Carry an Extra Pair of Glasses in Your Car (Spain)

Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0.
Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0.

If you wear corrective glasses, you know how awful it is to forget them at home. Having an extra pair helps in case something happens to the original. The problem is, not all of us have an extra pair of glasses, and most don’t carry their spare pair with them at all times.

In Spain, however, you could be ticketed for driving without an extra pair of glasses in your car. “Driving blind” is dangerous; drivers need to be able to see pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists, traffic signs and other vehicles clearly to avoid accidents. Losing or breaking your glasses leaves you unable to operate your vehicle safely. Viewed in this light, the law makes perfect sense.

4. You Are Not Allowed to Run out of Fuel on the Autobahn (Germany)

In Germany, it is illegal to stop your car unnecessarily on the Autobahn. Once on the Autobahn, the only acceptable reason for stopping or parking is a true emergency, such as a breakdown, and drivers are required to report the incident immediately to the authorities. Since running out of fuel is a preventable event, drivers will be fined for letting their gas tanks run dry.

The Autobahn is a controlled-access route with many sections that have no speed limits, so avoiding traffic jams is important. Therefore, if you have dreams of cruising the Autobahn, you should make sure that you check your gas gauge and make sure your car is in perfect health before your trip.

5. No Dirty Cars Allowed (Russia)

Photo by kuhnmi on Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Photo by kuhnmi on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

It is illegal to drive a dirty car in Russia. No, a little bit of dust won’t get you in trouble, but if the police can’t identify the color of your car or read your license plate, you are in big trouble.

The primary reason for invoking the “dirty car” law is a license plate that is obscured by mud, dirt or grime, but a car that is so filthy that its color cannot be determined could also result in a fine.

The officers have some leeway in determining whether you crossed the line or not. The fines range between 800 and 2,000 rubles, which is approximately $16 and $40 USD.

6. You Aren’t Allowed to Splash a Pedestrian With Rainwater (Japan)

One of the biggest fears of every pedestrian during rainfall is being drenched with muddy water by a passing car. If you have ever been on the receiving end of this scenario, the thought might have crossed your mind that it ought to be illegal to do this. Well, in Japan, it is.

The Japanese refer to this as “mudding,” and drivers can be fined $65 if they decide to give you a free shower. Other countries, including certain locations in Canada and the U.K., also levy fines if drivers splash pedestrians – the laws there usually refer to such actions as “discourteous” or reckless driving.

7. No Frowning at a Police Officer (New Jersey, USA)

Photo by B Rosen on Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by B Rosen on Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Nobody is happy about receiving a ticket for their driving, but frowning at a police officer in New Jersey is considered a sign of disrespect, and it’s actually illegal to do so. Now, it may be hard to keep a happy face when the officer gives you a ticket, but do you really wish to risk getting another one if you frown at him?

The law is aligned with the New Jersey legislature’s declaration that every May is “Kindness Awareness Month” and Bernards Township’s “Frown-free Town Zone”. New Jersey wants happy, productive and socially responsible citizens who treat law enforcement officers with respect, so remember, drive safely and always smile.

Do you know of (or have you personally encountered) any unusual traffic laws?

Of course, these aren’t the only laws that seem odd at first, but make sense once you think about them. Here are some more laws that you might find funny, but they make sense when you give them some thought:

  • Oklahoma, state law prohibits reading a comic book while driving.
  • In Denmark, drivers must make sure that there are no children under their vehicle before starting the ignition.
  • California state law prohibits a driverless car exceeding 60 mph.
  • It is illegal to leave an unattended vehicle running in Salinas, Kansas.

In Conclusion

Breaking the law, no matter how silly it might seem, can ruin your trip. You will receive a ticket even if you were unaware that you broke a traffic law. Whether you are traveling to another state or a foreign country, it pays to familiarize yourself with the local laws. In addition to avoiding trouble on your trip, you may learn some valuable tips that you can incorporate in your everyday driving practices.