Monday, May 12, 2008

Seat Belt Usage in Italy, Part 2

In the early eighties some nebulous Italian entity got it into its head to impose seat belt laws.

Some of you may be familiar with the rules-are-made-to-be-broken mentality that permeates the Italian culture. You sophisticated ones will recognize that I am not just spreading slander about a whole population of people. I am merely addressing a well established phenomenon. I can't explain where it comes from. If you look at one Italian at a time, you find the whole range of people types, just like any other population. But for some reason, when you put them all together on a long skinny peninsula, you get mayhem. The Italians discuss this endlessly amongst themselves, and they can't explain it either.

At first, the seat belt laws were taken no more seriously than other laws. Another opporunity to break a rule sent the whole population into squeals of hilarity. But then something happened -- something so freakish it was almost creepy. The authorities had the audacity to actually enforce the seat belt laws.

Rumors spread wildly about people being pulled over and fined horrendous amounts of money for lack of a visible black band stretching diagonally across their bodies. More and more people had a story of their own to tell. It wasn't long before it had happened to someone you knew.

The people were outraged. The further south you went, the more outraged you found them. All over you could overhear animated conversations about how ridiculous it was. On people who drove an older car, namely everyone, it placed the enormous burden of having seatbelts newly installed. In Naples, they wouldn't hear of it.

Leave it to the Neapolitans to come up with a solution. A cottage industry sprang up there that produced knitted sweaters with a black diagonal band across the front. You could buy a sweater for each side of the car, the driver sweater with the band going one way, the passenger sweater with the band going the other.

You and I might wonder: "Wouldn't it be more hassle to put on a certain sweater every time you got in the car than to just put on the seat belt?" But you and I would be missing the point -- the micromanagement, keep-your-laws-off-my-body, don't-tell-me-what-to-do, POINT. So there.

I'm not sure how Italians today, almost thirty years later, feel about wearing seat belts. Perhaps they've come around; maybe they put them on automatically, without even thinking about it. Maybe an Italian will write in and let us know...

Meanwhile, think about whether you want to keep hearing about Italy in the seventies. I could cover:
Other uses of the Fiat 500.
The search for privacy in an overcrowded nation.
Lines used by Italian boys to lure girls to secluded areas.

On the other hand, if you're bored with all that, you could ridemyhandlebars back onto the MAX train for a peek at my longitudinal study on:
Heterosexual Mating Rituals on Public Transportation

You decide.

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At 12:32 PM, Anonymous The Senagalese Tease said...

I, for one, would like to hear about The Search for Privacy in an Overcrowded Nation, especially if it will go into detail about the bouncing Fiat 500's on Via Positano, right outside the restaurant named Sbrescia. I think this particularly bizarre Neapolitan phenomenum definitely needs to be told.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Wait, we have to choose?

At 2:14 PM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Don't worry, Dale. You're only choosing the order. Sooner or later, I will tell all.

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

Italians still maintain a lackadaisical attitude to seat belt wearing. Some wear them, others still don't bother.

Large fines have deterred some, but most Italians will argue so vociferously when pulled over than many of the police, one suspects, who are Italians too, just let them get away with it.

Indeed there was a story not too long ago about an off duty cop in Italy who was caught without a seat belt.

Enforcement here comes in fits and spurts, and then dries up. And things return to the Italian equivalent of normal.

As you comment, Italians complain about their own disrespect for authority and rules, and then get in their cars and drive off without putting a seat belt on.

Go down to Naples and you will see that the obligatory wearing of helmets on motorbikes and scooters has become yet another ignored law.

All the best,


At 3:06 PM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Thanks for the update, Alex. I see not much has changed. I feel strangely relieved.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger kate gawf said...

OK, Miss Tease. First of all, wouldn’t that be SenEgalese? With an E??
Secondly, regarding the bouncing Fiats – good grief, don’t give away my whole story. What’s left to tell now? (actually, PLENTY -- as you'll soon see.)
And besides, they were in no way limited to Via Positano. Just because that’s where you and you-know-who went doesn’t mean that was the only panorama in town.

At 5:27 AM, Anonymous Flavio said...

I'm Italian, from Venice.
I just want to say that in Northern Italy (above Rome) everyone uses seat belts and helmets for motorbikes. There's no tollerance for those who don't respect these rules.
The problem is Southern Italy, and even italians from north say it: south has got a different culture, which make people just ignore rules, and they they don't put on seat belts because - they say - "They're useless".

So, please, don't spread this prejudice to whole Italy - we can get offended because here we're used to respecting laws.

I hope I've made myself understood,
I'm terribly sorry for my poor English.

At 8:41 AM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Thank you for writing, Flavio. I was hoping an Italian would write in and update me, because as I said in the post, I'm not sure how it is today. It was so long ago that I was there. I'm happy to hear that the Italian attitude toward safety has moved along since then. And I should have been more clear that I was talking about the south, which is where I was.
Since I wrote that post, I've been back to Naples, and things are better than before, even there.
Grazie tanto per aver scritto. In fatti il suo inglese non é male. Spero che tornerai al mio sito per vedere che ho pubblicato e risposto al suo commento. Kate


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