We like to think that we understand our country’s laws fairly well.
But even if you’re a relatively well-informed citizen, you probably defy minor ordinances on occasion. You might forget to include a form with your taxes, neglect to call a building inspector when making repairs to your home, or burn down the occasional supermarket.
What, just us? Well, what’s more amazing is that many ill-advised actions seem like they should be illegal but are totally aboveboard. We’re talking about things like…
1. Counting Cards
For certain casino games (especially blackjack), counting cards can give the gambler the advantage. That’s why casinos generally hate the practice. Many Las Vegas casinos employ full security teams to sniff out card counters and eject them from the premises.
Card counting is completely legal, however, provided that you don’t use any sort of external tools. In Atlantic City, casinos can’t even kick you out for trying to count, thanks to a New Jersey Supreme Court decision.
2. Putting a Spaghetti Strainer on Your Head Before Taking Your Driver’s License Photo
If you want to wear a colander on your head when you go to the DMV, you simply need to show that you’re doing so because of sincerely held religious beliefs. Several people have tried, in fact, and they’ve succeeded.
Lindsay Miller of Lowell, Massachusetts is the most recent, but as of 2015, four people in the United States had tried to do this (we imagine that the number is much higher now, since these stories have been passed around for the last few years).
So…why? Well, these people are loyal adherents of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a parody religion set up to protect the separation of church and state. The group is careful to note that they’re not anti-religion, but against “crazy nonsense done in the name of religion.”
They’re willing to do anything to protect their beliefs, and if that means putting spaghetti strainers on their heads, well, they’re totally on board.
3. Not Stopping at Stop Signs on Private Property
Depending on your state, you can probably ignore the traffic signs in parking lots, provided that said parking lots are privately owned. The signs are simply there for the benefit of drivers (and pedestrians), but they’re usually not enforced.
Be careful, though. In some states, private property owners can make agreements with their local jurisdictions to allow enforcement. Plus, you’re not going to make friends with other drivers by blowing through stop signs.
4. Using Radar Detectors
Radar detectors tell you if there’s a speed trap nearby, so they’re probably illegal, right? Wrong.
You can operate radar detectors in private vehicles unless you’re on a military base or in Virginia or Washington, D.C. Additional regulations apply to commercial vehicles, but in general there’s nothing wrong with using your detector in your own car.
Radar jammers, on the other hand, are illegal in all states, since they send out unregulated radio waves. Laser jammers are illegal in 10 states: California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Utah.
5. Secretly Recording Another Person
Yes, you can probably make recordings of all of the conversations you have with all of your friends, family, and coworkers. You can even catalog them, upload them online, or use them in litigation.
As always, there are a few very important caveats. Laws on recording conversations vary from state to state, but in most parts of the U.S., you can legally record a phone call or an in-person conversation so long as you’ve got consent from one of the parties. That means that you can’t plant a microphone in a company meeting if you’re not invited, but you can record a private conversation between yourself and your spouse.
We strongly recommend checking with your state’s laws before putting this one to the test. Practically speaking, your recording needs to be legal if you intend on using it in a court of law, and penalties for unauthorized surveillance can be severe.
6. Refusing to Answer Police…or Flipping Them off
Again, we’re not recommending that you actually do either of these things, but they are legal options.
If a police officer asks you questions at a roadblock, you don’t have to answer, although you’ll likely extend the stop by being obstinate. You don’t have to tell the officer where you’re coming from or where you’re going. In fact, you can stay mostly silent, so long as you provide your license and proof of insurance when prompted.
If a traffic stop really isn’t going well, you can even make a rude hand gesture. You’ll almost certainly receive a citation for whatever you were stopped for, but the officer can’t arrest you for making the gesture; they can’t even pull you over, according to the United States Second Court of Appeals.
Just to be absolutely clear: Testing this seems like a really bad idea.
7. Leaving a Baby in an Unattended Vehicle
You might be surprised to learn that only 19 states currently have laws against leaving children unattended in a car. Granted, child endangerment is against the law everywhere, so the car’s interior needs to be a comfortable temperature. Also, we imagine that you could be accused of neglect if you left a baby in an unlocked car.
Otherwise, you’re legally in the clear. However, you should not ever do this. There’s really no reason to do it, and if the car’s air conditioning or heating fails, the interior can get incredibly hot (or cold, depending on the season) very quickly.
8. Owning a Tank…and Driving It on a Public Road
You can totally buy a fully functional tank. In this context, “functional” means “moving.” The heavy artillery does throw a wrench in the works; you have to get the cannons registered, which means getting your local sheriff to sign off on the project.
Before you hit the road, you’ll also have to make sure that your tank has appropriate mirrors and signals to meet your state’s requirements. You’ll also have to abide by speed limits, and you may not damage public property by rolling over it.
If you’re willing to jump through those hoops, however, you can live out your paramilitary dreams, provided that you can afford the actual tank. Plan on spending at least a quarter of a million dollars.
9. Driving Without Your Shoes
While cautious drivers and worrisome parents alike often claim that driving barefoot is against the law, it turns out that it’s mostly a safety (and financial) precaution.
We’re pretty sure that someone got a ticket for driving without their shoes in an episode of Full House, but apparently, that was the one time that the show had an unrealistic plot point.
Barefoot driving is legal in all 50 states, although a cop could probably issue a citation if your lack of footwear is affecting your driving.
Regardless, it’s not such a great idea, since it’s a health risk if you’re involved in an accident. Shoeless feet can’t apply the same braking force, so they could potentially prevent you from avoiding a collision.
If another vehicle’s involved and you’re in an at-fault state, you’ve probably got a better chance of being assigned fault, since the other party would simply have to say, “Hey, your honor, are you going to trust me or Shoeless Joe over here?”
Oh, and also, your passengers definitely don’t want to smell your feet.
10. Owning a Flamethrower
Check with your local jurisdiction before going all Mad Max, but there’s no federal law against owning a flamethrower, and the Washington Post reported that commercial flamethrowers are legal in 48 states.
Not only that, but flamethrowers have several totally legitimate uses, as they’re awesome for clearing out desert brush, melting snow, and killing weeds. Granted, you really need to know what you’re doing—but there’s no law on the books to make sure that you do.
11. Eating Roadkill
Well, unless you’re in Texas, Washington, or California. Otherwise, “roadkill cuisine” is apparently a thing, and although it’s a great way to save money, it’s also a great way to pick up various diseases and parasites.
Still, this is America, and if people want to eat stuff they find on the side of the road, they’re free to do so. Montana even passed a law specifically making it legal to “harvest” roadkill. Let freedom ring.