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Sticker Shock

Photo by uopfindsomt/Flickr

A few winters ago, I found myself in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens at Christmastime. I was struck by the presence of a number of open-air containers holding little burning piles of coal (or some such), cheerily blazing through the Danish night. What got my attention is that these were in no way marked or restricted. There were no ominous warning signs (Caution: Coals are Hot When Heated!), no barriers, no minders, no consent forms to sign. And surprisingly, there were no mass incinerations of Danes on the spot, no burning children running in terror, no medics on the spot administering salve and bandages (unless I missed that study, “On the Prevalence of Second-Degree Hand Burns at an Unprotected Heat-Emitting Device: A Weighted Exposure Analysis,” in the Royal Danish Journal of Random Minor Public Risks). Just people warming their hands, drinking their glog, and moving on.

Back in the litigious U.S., I am constantly reminded of that moment in Copenhagen. The most recent event to do this was the purchase of a rear-facing infant car seat (yes, some of you predicted there would be infant car seat posts!). Now, this is not necessarily an object one buys for aesthetic reasons, but I was dismayed to find any number of yellow-and-black warning stickers pasted all over its frame (in multiple languages), essentially warning me not to put this rear-facing infant car seat in the front seat. Given that my car doesn’t have the NHTSA-approved “latch” system in the front seat, I’m not quite sure how I’d even do this, but in any case the stickers are almost impossible to remove. Now, this is a device for which one needs to read the instruction manual rather carefully to install (of course, many people do not), so I’m not sure why it also requires a profusion of permanent warning stickers as backup. Maybe I’ll loan my car, car-seat, and infant to someone else? Well, wouldn’t I make pretty darn sure that person knew not to put the car seat in the front seat? Perhaps someone will steal my car and put my infant car seat in the front seat, smash it up, then sue me?

The reason the car seat is not supposed to go in the front seat, of course, is that it would, among other things, run the risk of being impacted by the front passenger airbag. And I know all about this device because of the virtually impossible to remove warning stickers that are plastered to the visor, warning me, in various ways, about having small, unrestrained children in the front seat! Being of sound mind and body, and having absorbed the knowledge about this via the car’s manual (among other sources), I had thought this sticker could be removed (and isn’t there something a bit creepy about a safety device coming with a warning in the first place?), but it stays to this day (apparently there are incredibly labor intensive, and not guaranteed, ways to remove it).

I am all for safety, but do we really, apart for any reason other than a potential lawsuit against a company (and I wonder how many of these been launched against the auto/car-seat makers when the product is used in an inappropriate manner), need these omnipresent warning stickers? Are we saying that we have entrusted someone enough to drive a car in the first place (a process that admittedly has been made too easy in the U.S.), have a child (er, ditto), and then still not possess sufficient intelligence to know how to handle safety devices and infants? Why must I “subsidize” — with these offensive stickers all over my stuff — the foolish acts of others? There are myriad ways to die in a car — mostly having to due with negligent acts by the driver involving the actual act of driving, as well the unlawfully high speeds these machines so easily attain (there’s no warning sticker on the speedometer, mind you) and not seating infants in the front seat. Why don’t we direct some of this attention that way?

Then we can take all these warning stickers, gather them up, and roast them in a big bonfire in Tivoli Gardens — just make sure to sign the release form.

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This entry was posted on Friday, May 15th, 2009 at 2:29 pm and is filed under Risk, Traffic Culture, Uncategorized. 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.

One Response to “Sticker Shock”

  1. chrismealy Says:

    I dunno. A big lesson of your book is that things that are dangerous should feel dangerous. Hot smoldering coals already seem dangerous. Driving 40 mph in the city in a big comfy massively overpowered SUV doesn’t feel anywhere near as dangerous as it is. Given how stupid and lazy, um, I mean cognitively efficient people are that yellow-and-black eyesore might be optimal.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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