The Outlawing of Freedom Cars

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I take comfort in the fact that I can still drive old cars instead of new ones. I don’t have to have six air bags, stability control, back-up cameras or OnStar. If I like, I can use an old F100 pick-up as my daily driver. Or enjoy the computer-free rowdiness of my ancient muscle car. I do not want all the Stuff that today’s (and surely, tomorrow’s) vehicles are fitted with, by order of DC. I don’t feel the need. It’s expensive, often absurdly complex – and a lot of it is simply overbearing. I don’t like being assaulted by a “belt minder” buzzer if I choose not to wear my seat belt. I don’t have any use for a back-up camera (never having run over a child). And most of all, I like being able to squeal the tires without being countermanded by an electronic Mrs. Doubtfire. I definitely do not want a vehicle fitted with any sort of data recording device or GPS transponder – which pretty much all new cars now have.

If I’m signing the check, I’ll do what I like with the damn thing.

But I fear this window is closing. At some point, probably within the next five years if not sooner – older, pre-computer vehicles will be forcibly decommissioned. It will become a crime to use them for anything other than “parade” or “cruise” events – strictly monitored and enforced. It will be done in the name of the environment – or safety.

Maybe both.

Several states have passed laws making it much harder to register and drive an older vehicle on public roads. In my home state of Virginia, for instance, the police have the authority to conduct roadside “inspections” of any vehicle wearing antique plates. If, in the opinion of the cop – who is a cop and not a mechanic – the vehicle does not meet either safety or emissions requirements, he may physically seize the car’s plates and registration on the spot – and have the vehicle impounded. It’s then up to you to prove your car has not been unlawfully modified (just as it’s up to you to disprove whatever charges are filed against you by the IRS).

Other states have repealed laws that once exempted antique vehicles more than 25 or 30 years old from the emissions inspections required of modern cars – even though the number of cars over 30 years old in regular use is so low that their impact on air quality is nil.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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