The New York Times reports that South Carolina will become the first state in the U.S. to emblazon license plates with a Christian cross (and a stained glass window), along with the slogan “I Believe.” In related news, Nevada has become the first state to offer “I Want to Believe” license plates, perfect for cruising down the “extraterrestrial highway.” OK, that last bit is a joke, but if any entrepreneurial folks at the Silver State’s DMV are reading…
Apart from the church/state walls-come-tumblin’-down aspect of this, there’s some other things that bother me about this. The first is the fragmenting of civic identity into ever smaller, and more disparate, spheres — Florida, for example, has more than 100 logos one can emblazon on their plates. It isn’t enough to simply be a resident of the state, you have to be “resident of state with X affiliation.” The second is that we don’t really know how these sorts of things affect traffic. As the sociologist Norbert Schmidt-Relenberg argues, traffic, at least in anonymous environments like highways, is a case in which the “less its participants come into contact with each other and are compelled to interaction, the better it works: a system defined and approved in the reality by a principle of minimized contact.” Adding extraneous messages to license plates introduces noise into the system, reasons to interact beyond mere driving.
Of course, there may be a reason South Carolina drivers may look for a little faith-based road salvation. A recent study by Nationwide Mutual Insurance (albeit with very sketchy self-reported data) found the Palmetto State to lead the nation in texting while driving. And if you’re going to patently dangerous things like that, better to meet one’s maker, I suppose, with an appropriate calling card on one’s car.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 at 7:59 am and is filed under Drivers, Traffic Culture, Traffic Psychology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.