Examples of under-enforced rules, laws, taboos, norms?
April 4, 2015 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Hivemind! Does anyone know any examples of rules, regulations, laws, or norms that are under-enforced (e.g., violations go unpunished), leading the rule to completely destabilize (i.e., no one follows it)? I'm sure that there are A LOT of examples of this - stuff from any and all disciplines and scales would be welcome. I'm preferentially searching for unconventional examples (e.g., rules of children's games, supernaturally-sanctioned laws of hunter-gatherer bands) and I'm also looking especially for primary literature (e.g., experiments, case studies, etc.), but ultimately anything would be awesome. Thanks!
posted by mrmanvir to Law & Government (34 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe not what you're looking for, but real Monopoly rules immediately come to mind.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 11:57 AM on April 4, 2015 [11 favorites]

Recent article from the CBC: The B.C. Association of Police Chiefs says people who drive in the passing lane are not a priority, despite a recent promise from the province to crack down on "left lane hogs."
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:03 PM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might enjoy the term desuetude.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:21 PM on April 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

There are lots of unenforced, destablized state laws, often anachronistic leftovers on the books. I'll go with some examples from Indiana as a nod to that state's dubious recent attempts at legislation.

A three dollar fine per pack will be imposed on anyone playing cards in Indiana under the Act for the Prevention of Gaming.

Anyone 14 or older who profanely curses, damns or swears by the name of God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, shall be fined one to three dollars for each offense, with a maximum fine of ten dollars per day.

“Spiteful Gossip” and “talking behind a person’s back” are illegal.

(Source: http://www.dumblaws.com/laws/united-states/indiana)
posted by third rail at 12:24 PM on April 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

The San Francisco Building Codes are some of the strictest in the world, not just for earthquake safety, but also aesthetics, impact on neighbors and parking. An upgrade that is a formality virtually anywhere can become a planning and permitting nightmare in SF. Even the simple process of replacing windows has a glossy 13 page permitting summary due to all of the restrictions and requirements. If you thought SF was liberal and creative and laid-back, think again.

Despite the absurdly strict rules, inspections are virtually never done on single-family homes, and are usually only encountered by 1) the people who did all of the necessary and draconian permitting and only at the end of their project, or 2) someone doing something so deeply awful that the department of building inspection has received a tremendous number of complaints. The end result is that there is virtually no enforcement except on people who have already stated their desire and paid money to lawfully comply with the regulations. You can pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for permitting and deal with inspections, or you can just do whatever you want and nothing bad happens. Guess what most people do?

The end result of the absurdly strict regulation and the lack of enforcement is a city rife with poor, un-permitted construction in the single family homes that make up most of the landmass of the city. Estimates are that there are 40,000 illegal "in-law apartments" in San Francisco, or even as much as a third of single family homes. Living in San Francisco, I think that estimate may even be too low - and that's just people who have built entirely unpermitted apartment units. It's not counting the countless illegal upgrades that have been done to the majority of homes in the city.

This results in things happening like the new home of the former President of the Building Inspection Commission collapsing and sliding down a cliff during dry weather because of massive code violations. Link #2: No, seriously. The city has only just now sued him and called for an inspection on all of the properties he owns. Complaints and an online petition from neighbors had been present about the project since 2009.
posted by eschatfische at 12:30 PM on April 4, 2015 [19 favorites]

I'm not sure if going 5-10mph over the speed limit counts as "unconventional", but I can think of few people who wouldn't be chafed for getting a ticket for going 5mph over.
posted by lantius at 12:30 PM on April 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Read up on Broken Windows Theory, especially the shift in NYC policing on subway turnstile-jumping, graffiti and squeegee men. The (controversial) theory is that a failure to enforce laws against these minor transgressions leads to larger societal breakdowns, and if you ratchet up enforcement on the "small" things, you will get larger payoffs overall.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:47 PM on April 4, 2015

Do library fines count? It doesn't change the behavior or collections. Not a destabilizing as others pay fines.

Legality of cannabis by U.S. jurisdiction. Illegal in most states, but chances are you can find it at most concert venues.

Bans on using cell phones when driving.

I would think hunting, gun ownership or fishing licenses where you would need to limit or measure a catch aren't enforced. Every school shooting violates a standing law by not allowing guns, but enforcement is not measured.
posted by brent at 12:49 PM on April 4, 2015

Laws requiring that sidewalks be shoveled within a certain amount of time (or at all) after it snows.
posted by dilettante at 12:53 PM on April 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

In other parts of the country it isn't true, but jaywalking might as well be a Constitutional Right here.

In my youth, the only way anyone was arrested for driving while intoxicated was by mouthing off to the cop who pulled you over.
posted by a.mosquito at 1:04 PM on April 4, 2015

Jaywalking pretty much used to be a constitutional right.

The forgotten history of how automakers invented the crime of "jaywalking"

And in many places jaywalking is overdiagnosed by the driving population. In California, at least, the "crime" of jaywalking only exists between where adjacent intersections both have traffic lights.
posted by GregorWill at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

There are a lot of websites that come up if you do a search. This one seems to give actual citations of the actual laws.
posted by Michele in California at 1:30 PM on April 4, 2015

Many members of Congress take a lax view of campaign finance laws, and file late or never. They are rarely punished.

HIPPA, the health privacy law, is often violated, partly because its so restrictive its hard to be letter-perfect.

Old norms of fashion (no white shoes after labor day) are ignored.

Profanity is edging into polite speech.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:30 PM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think the Dutch drug policy would be a good example here. Technically cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands, but this is not enforced (by government policy), which in turn has made courts rule against the government when individual cases have been prosecuted.
posted by bjrn at 1:35 PM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not applying makeup in public is a norm that got ignored to the point where it sounds quaint.

Profanity, yeah. The opening jingle of a very G rated sitcom (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) ends with a happily sung "dammit!"
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:47 PM on April 4, 2015

The film and TV industries, at least in Los Angeles, routinely skate around labor laws and intellectual property laws and "norms". Regulatory and enforcement bodies seem to turn a blind eye until someone raises a stink to the right person at the right time, but fear of unemployability and the knowledge that someone is ready to take your place immediately tend to keep the plebes in line. Forgive me for not going into greater detail.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:50 PM on April 4, 2015

I've been reading a lot about Prohibition lately which was passed into law as a bit of an underfunded mandate, without a good enforcement structure and with some states and locations basically refusing to enforce it. So NYC had a TON of speakeasies because people looked the other way basically as a matter of policy. In other places, the lack of actual law enforcement would lead to vigilanteism where people would try to rob the bootleggers because there wasn't much of a chance that either one of them would get caught and it was super lucrative (this is up in Vermont which had a lower population than a lot of other places and a very rural poorly policed border with Canada). So what would up happening is that since the law was badly enforced, it actually led to a lot more violence and bad behavior, not less which was one of the things that eventually led to it being overturned 13 years later. The book I've been reading lately is Rumrunners and Revenuers: Prohibition in Vermont. Here's a story from it.
posted by jessamyn at 2:20 PM on April 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

My pet peeve, obnoxiously loud motorcycles that have had their factory-installed mufflers removed in violation of both 1) muffler ordinances and 2) ordinary decibel-based noise ordinances. Are these laws ever enforced against motorcycles? No matter how ear-splittingly, window-rattlingly loud they are?
posted by HotToddy at 2:59 PM on April 4, 2015 [12 favorites]

Even after anti-sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional, plenty of states still have them as a part of their codes. Not underenforced as such because they're unenforceable, but not well known either.
posted by mchorn at 3:12 PM on April 4, 2015

Based on my experiences in the JCC locker room, the at-least-cultural taboo on tattoos for Jews is routinely ignored, at least by the non-Orthodox.

Also a whole bunch of other stuff set out in Leviticus. Lots of cotton blend t-shirts on the Stairmasters, I'm pretty sure.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:16 PM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the United States, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) marking For Official Use Only (FOUO) is consistently and frequently abused.

There are nine 'FOIA Exemptions'. That is, nine very specific, very narrow reasons why a document should not be immediately provided due to a FOIA request.

It is illegal to intentionally and knowingly mark a document FOUO, when the information contained is not associated to one or more FOIA Exemptions.

In my professional experience with DoD and other government agencies, nearly every document produced gets an FOUO marking, whether or not it qualifies. This occurs as a matter of habit and ignorance. And mostly as a CYA move. Like most information protection markings, there is zero cost to 'over-classifying' and perhaps career-ending costs to under-classifying. Besides habit, ignorance, and CYA, maliciousness can be a motivator - the intent to delay or prevent valid FOIA requests by necessitating a review.

To my knowledge, there is zero policing of these practices. It only ever comes up in the context of a FOIA request.

I was the tech IA lead for a small web mapping application produced under contract for a government agency. The govt demanded that each map image displayed be labelled with 'FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY'. I countered that the information they published was neither classified, nor FOUO under the nine exemption possibilities. Surprisingly, this was not appreciated by either my leadership or theirs. The long and the short of it is - a lot of times people have the sense that information shouldn't be available to 'just anybody'. So they grab this familiar phrase, not knowing what it really means. Illegally.
posted by j_curiouser at 3:22 PM on April 4, 2015 [15 favorites]

When I worked at the local multiplex the Rated R movie restriction was never enforced.
posted by zinon at 4:23 PM on April 4, 2015

Outdated norms about "Standard English" could fall under this umbrella. It used to be that "proper" use of "hopefully" was a big deal--but it's not anymore. People just used it according to their native grammars and the norm eventually changed. Another example could be split infinitives, which are not widely considered to be incorrect anymore. There are still people who dislike them, but they're likely to be older and more traditionalist in their approaches to formal writing.

Some of this may be due to conscious reevaluation of norms, so I don't know if it fits, but if it does, then there's a really big world of examples out there. (Because, really, what happens is that people continue to use language the way that is natural to them, and the norms either have to change--albeit often on a delayed schedule--or you eventually end up with a formal/standard that is a lot farther away from the natively spoken language than it was originally.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:54 PM on April 4, 2015

In the UK, ripping CDs has just been legalised. Up until then, it was copyright infringement.
posted by ambrosen at 4:59 PM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the UK the dangerous dogs act 1991 seems under enforced. You can have an intimidating dog in public and nothing will become of it. Although the act doesn't cover "intimidating dogs", I think love of pets has impeded law enforcement in this area because they are bred with impunity.

It's only when some horrific hits the press that this issue gets any coverage. I'm sure people are attacked very often by dogs. NHS hospital treatment figures may prove this claim. Dangerous dogs may also be abused more than regular dogs because of illegal dog fighting. The RSPCA may have figures for this too.
posted by lemoncart at 5:07 PM on April 4, 2015

I second what HotTody said above, "obnoxiously loud motorcycles that have had their factory-installed mufflers removed in violation of both 1) muffler ordinances and 2) ordinary decibel-based noise ordinances. Are these laws ever enforced against motorcycles? No matter how ear-splittingly, window-rattlingly loud they are?" - posted by HotToddy at 2:59 PM on April 4 [2 favorites +] [!]

I live in rural area with highways near. One motorcycle can overshadow a soundscape for 25 square miles. Cops don't enforce because cops often own those motorcycles personally, a cultural thing.

"Slower Traffic Keep right" on freeways is not enforced. One car going below speed limit in the passing lane can hold up traffic, cause road rage accidents.
posted by nogero at 5:42 PM on April 4, 2015

Notices denying health insurance claims rarely include all the required information, such as the reason for denial and the relevant section of plan rules.
posted by jewzilla at 6:10 PM on April 4, 2015

HotToddy: "Are these laws ever enforced against motorcycles? No matter how ear-splittingly, window-rattlingly loud they are?"

Yep, but it tends to be a targeted thing, at least where I've seen tickets for it, where the cops go to a biker hang out or a rally or some other large gathering; breakout out the measuring equipment; and have a cop trained in its use assess the noise ratings of a bunch of bikes. The non technical officers then churn out their monthly quota in tickets.

See also: mud flaps, lowered cars, lifted trucks, illegal lighting, lack of doors, non DOT tires, wheel spacers etc.
posted by Mitheral at 6:17 PM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

A small example. All dogs in our city parks are supposed to be on leash. Dogs in our city parks are hardly ever on leash.

Also, sandwich boards are illegal in our city. However, every other business has a sandwich board.
posted by Miko at 7:41 PM on April 4, 2015

Here in St. Paul MN, the city cleans the residential streets two times a year. The announcement of the dates always contains a reminder that it is illegal to rake all your leaves and other yard waste into the street (so that the street sweeper picks them up for you).

The first year we lived in our house, I was like "Hey why did every single house rake all their leaves onto the street?"
posted by TheClonusHorror at 6:07 AM on April 5, 2015

Underage drinking at frat houses. I heard this story on NPR a while back and was somewhat gobsmacked at how everyone - college officials, police officers, even the NPR interviewer - all just assumed that enforcement wasn't even an option.
posted by selfmedicating at 2:43 PM on April 5, 2015

Many places in the USA are banned from allowing smoking within 25 feet of an entryway (I think) and an astounding number of businesses that should know better don't enforce it, or even post required signage banning it.

Asthma and lung cancer ward at ***** hospital, I'm looking at YOU....
posted by Jacen at 2:56 PM on April 6, 2015

Prosecution for perjury is very rare.

Here's Alan Dershowitz - "On the basis of my academic and professional experience, I believe that no felony is committed more frequently in this country than the genre of perjury and false statements. ... In comparison with their frequency, it is likely that false statement crimes are among the most under-prosecuted in this country."
posted by kristi at 9:38 AM on April 7, 2015

Panhandling! Sometimes they don't even bother to hide the signs when cops are nearby
posted by Jacen at 1:06 PM on April 8, 2015

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