The 13 Most Commonly Broken Laws

Happy Birthday

Most people probably consider themselves law-abiding citizens. They don’t kill, steal, or drive without car insurance.
But people do break a law here and there, sometimes flagrantly and other times without even thinking.

Either from ignorance or nonchalance, people commit these 13 infractions pretty often.

Connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi

Because of vague language in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) — phrases like “without authorization” and “obtain information” — connecting to an unsecured WiFi network or violating a company’s or website’s online terms of services (which few people read) could technically get you charged with a felony.

Almost all states have basic computer-protection laws, too. But you probably won’t get arrested for nabbing a free connection when you pass a coffee shop. Then again, this guy did.

Singing Happy Birthday, Christmas songs, or the Macarena in public

Depending on the circumstances (like volume and number of people), singing popular songs in public might constitute copyright infringement. Back in the ’90s, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) asked the Girl Scouts to pay royalties for teaching campers the Macarena. True story.

Also, if you have an Internet connection and use said connection to download a movie, song, book, or some type of copyright-protected work, you’ve violated federal copyright law.

Playing poker for money at home

Believe it or not, some states prohibit even a friendly game of poker in the comfort and privacy of your home — if it involves money. For example, Mississippi forbids all gambling, except for charitable reasons (and on a cruise). And New Jersey only allows gambling authorised by the state.

Even states that do allow some gambling have specific restrictions for profitable, private card games. Connecticut’s statute, for example, requires home gamblers to have a “bona fide social relationship.”

Check your state’s law here.

Speeding

Anybody who’s ever gotten behind the wheel of a car has probably driven over the speed limit. It’s still dangerous. Speeding is a major factor in roughly a third of road fatalities despite progress in other areas like drunk driving and use of seat belts, according to the The Governors Highway Safety Association.

More than 600,000 speeding tickets were issued in 2011 in New York State alone, according to traffic safety data.

Driving without a seat belt

Currently, 33 states have a primary seatbelt enforcement law, meaning police can ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing their seat belts without committing any other traffic infractions. In 16 of these, primary enforcement also covers rear seats. Even more states have mandatory seatbelt laws regarding young drivers.

The national “Click It Or Ticket” campaign has only increased law enforcement’s focus on the offence. And rightly so. In 2009, about 90 people died every day in car accidents, the CDC found.

Using your cell phone while driving

  • 30-one states ban any mobile phone use by novice drivers.
  • 40-one ban texting while driving. All but four have primary enforcement laws (which don’t require any other infractions for a ticket). Six more ban texting for novice drivers.
  • Twelve states ban all drivers from using hand-held mobile phones. All of them have primary enforcement laws.

Even if some of us don’t talk or text while behind the wheel, we at least use GPS apps. Admit it.

Underage drinking

In 2012, 12.9% of young people between 12 and 17 reported using alcohol and 7.2% of that age group reported binge drinking, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. People age 12 to 20 consume 11% of all alcohol in the country — even thought they can’t legally drink, according to the CDC.

States technically have the right to set their own minimum drinking ages, but Congress gives them tax incentives to keep young people from drinking. Currently, all states abide by the Federal Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which sets the minimum age to consume alcohol in the U.S. at 21.

Many states allow parents to give their kids alcohol before 21. Depending on their blood-alcohol level and behaviour following drinking, parents can face charges though, such as negligence or child abuse.

Smoking weed

In 2012, 7.3% of Americans 12 or older reported using marijuana on a regular basis, according to the latest National Survey On Drug Use And Health. Granted, some of them may engage medically, not recreationally. Right now, 20 states allow medicinal marijuana, according to ProCon.org. And even those who smoke for fun get a pass in Colorado and Washington.

You can’t usually get arrested for just being high, but you might be in bigger trouble if cops actually find weed on you. In 2012, 42% of all drug arrests were for pot possession, according to FBI data.

Peeing outside

Poor, drunk college students.

Most states completely prohibit the public display of genitalia (minus Oregon, which only outlaws it “with the intent of arousing sexual desire”), Slate’s Brian Palmer has explained. Public indecency could land you a spot on the sex-offender registry, too.

And if people can see you in your birthday suit, you can get arrested. Virginia police cuffed a guy having breakfast in his own kitchen because a woman and her 7-year-old son walked by and saw him, the New York Daily News reported.

Failing to update your driver licence when you move

Not telling your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles you moved and then consequently not updating the information on your driver licence could result in tickets and even a licence suspension. States vary with timing, though; D.C. only gives you five days to inform it of a change.

Sharing medication

Both federal and state laws make possessing or using medication not prescribed to you illegal. But people get nearly 60% of prescription drugs from family and friends, according to the American College of Preventative Medicine.

Not getting a dog licence

Some people may think licensing your dog just makes it easier to locate it if it runs away. Almost all states, however, require that you register dogs of a certain age with your municipality. It’s not expensive — usually between $US20 to $US100. New Jersey even lets you do it online.

Jaywalking

Jaywalking is ubiquitous in cities and suburbs alike. Although no federal law prohibits walking across the street without a crosswalk, most cities do occasionally ticket the infraction. In recent years Los Angeles has charged up to $US190 for jaywalking. But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg admitted a crackdown just isn’t practical, Politicker reported.

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