Every state has driving and traffic laws to promote car safety, and many are common knowledge. But some obscure rules are still on the books, including South Dakota’s legal driving age of only 14 years. However, one law in two Southern states is particularly egregious: It once forbade women from driving unless a man performed a certain task.
Here are the details about this archaic and sexist statute.
Southern States’ absurd traffic laws
Southern Living rounded up obscure laws throughout the American South’s history. One regulation in New Orleans and Memphis prohibited women from driving downtown unless a man walked or ran in front of the vehicle while waving a red flag to alert other motorists and pedestrians. The publication joked whether it was the city council’s way of telling the mayor’s wife she was a terrible driver.
Nationwide compiled a similar list of absurd laws. And according to the blog’s findings, Virginia enacted a similar traffic law for women drivers. Main Street was off-limits to female drivers without an accompanying man signaling the way with a prominent red flag.
Other bizarre traffic laws regarding women behind the wheel
Many states also held men responsible for any unlawful acts perpetrated by their wives. That might be why some of these bizarre traffic laws affect female drivers.
In Georgia, women had the right of way at any four-way stop regardless of who arrived first. And in California, according to CarThrottle.com, women could be fined for operating a motor vehicle while wearing a bathrobe. However, if women happen to be driving in Los Angeles, they’re allowed to apply makeup and drink coffee as long as they’re not in bathrobes.
Are these laws still in effect?
According to Morris Bart, Louisiana’s laws regarding women driving downtown are still on the books. Of course, it’s been eons since authorities cited a woman for not having her husband chaperone her as she drove.
A few of these odd laws are still written in Louisiana, including one that requires owners to tie their pet alligators to fire hydrants. And apparently, no one is allowed to eat more than three sandwiches at a funeral wake, either.
Women and driving history
Historically, women faced a litany of challenges in terms of equal rights. But through the years, along with groundbreaking milestones like voting privileges, women proved their right to drive. In 1900, Anne Ransford French Bush became the first woman to obtain a driver’s license, allowing her to operate any gas- or steam-powered “four-wheeled vehicle.”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Alice Huyler Ramsey was the first woman to drive coast-to-coast and founded the Women’s Motoring Club in 1909. And the first female taxi driver in New York, who also happened to be an expert auto mechanic, was Wilma Russey in 1915.
Coincidentally, The New York Times shared current data on accidents and insurance claims showing women tend to be safer drivers than men, signifying much has changed since the early 1900s.
Over the decades, states and cities enacted traffic laws for various reasons. Some seem odd or even discriminatory now, but at the time, lawmakers saw a need. Luckily, some of these outdated and oppressive regulations are obsolete and no longer enforced.