III: The Motor Law Realized
You know that
check engine light on your dashboard? What if instead
of just telling you that the cars computer has detected
some fault with the emissions control system, it told the government
via roadside readers and satellite uplinks?
OBD III and its right around the corner.
All new cars
built since the mid-1990s have OBD II or On Board
Diagnostics II. This system standardized diagnostics by specifying
that every new car come equipped with an OBD port (usually located
somewhere near the drivers side kick panel, on the underside
of the dashboard) into which a technician (and your states
emissions test station) can plug a scanner that downloads stored
trouble codes. It is these trouble codes that also trigger
the yellow check engine malfunction indicator light
on your dash.
codes involve problems with the emissions control system rather
than the engine itself. Theyre often intermittent and minor.
This is why its possible to continue driving the car with
the check engine light on and everything still seems
why the Powers That Be want OBD III.
In the words
of the Specialty
Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA), the vast umbrella
organization representing automotive industry parts and equipment
suppliers, OBD III is A program to minimize the delay between
detection of an emissions malfunction by the OBD-II system and repair
of the vehicle.
And how will
that be accomplished? Rather than merely store trouble codes,
OBDII will immediately transmit those trouble codes to The
Man who will then proceed to first warn you (via letter or
e-mail) to have the car repaired, stepping up to more aggressive
enforcement if you fail to do so in the form of citations
court and/or DMV penalty at next registration.
It would also
be possible to send the info directly to any nearby cop, who would
then pull you over immediately saving the government some
time while making some more money off motorists.
This is not
sci-fi. Its impending reality. All the technical issues have
been solved. Most new cars already come with GPS systems capable
of receiving and sending data. It would be a simple matter to salt
the roads with scanners capable of IDing every car that passes
by, automatically establishing a communications link with your cars
computer. This would occur continuously and constantly, too
not just every once-in-a-while. OBD III as envisioned would literally
make it possible to constantly monitor and record every vehicle
so equipped, from the moment it left the driveway to the moment
it returned at night.
Here it is,
straight from the horses mouth the California Air Resources
Board (CARB) which sets the trend for what inevitably becomes national
when it comes to emissions rigmarole:
inspection process could be automated through the use of transponder-assisted
on-board diagnostic systems (in what could become an OBD-III
requirement or program), the process could be made less costly and
time-consuming.. (Italics added.)
If it comes
to pass, OBD III will be the keystone that assures the end of any
expectation of privacy behind the wheel (in addition to everywhere
else) and it will also obviate the quaint notion that its
your car and hence, private property. Hence,
hands off. SEMAs fact sheet about OBD III notes this directly,
stating that OBD III would impose what amounts to sanctions
based on suspicionless mass surveillance of private
property and would also be random, with the actual
monitoring taking place before the computer throws any codes
and so, bereft of probable cause and thus a pretty
clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.
But, the Fourth
Amendment is already a dead letter. It has been trumped trampled
numerous times, on the basis of generalized, potential
threats everything from potential drunks (which
now means anyone who happens to be behind the wheel on a public
road) to potential polluters, whose cars might
be emitting more than the allowable maximum amount of fumes (or
even just CO2).
how it will shake out, rest assured.
And it gets
If it becomes
The Law that all new cars must be equipped with scannable OBD III,
then what about older cars without OBD at all?
Here is the
backdoor that will be used to effectively outlaw older cars, including
antique cars but also just older late-model cars. They wont
be prohibited outright, probably. Rather, they will be prohibited
from being used for everyday transportation. Youll be allowed
to keep your pre-OBD III car. You just won't be allowed to drive
it except, perhaps, to the occasional old car show.
Or they may
just require that all pre-OBD III cars be retired after
a certain period and then rendered inoperable by having their
engines filled with silica or some such, a la Cash for Clunkers.
In this way,
everyone will be forced into the system of mass control/mass surveillance.
It has been a source of frustration in certain quarters that its
still possible for the average citizen to drive a car built before
catalytic converters and computers (and air bags and all the rest
of it) became mandatory or de facto mandatory. There are
dangerous asocial types out there who prefer such cars, which are
paid-for, simpler and can often be kept running for years for next
to nothing. That annoys both the TPTB and probably also the
car industry, which wants you in a new car, not a paid-for
older car. The big combines will be among the most ardent proponents
not merely of OBD III but that cars without OBD III be retired.
The same arguments
used to justify all the other gang bangs of the Fourth Amendment
will be trotted out: We must protect the safety of the
public a public that increasingly becomes supine and moist
at the mere mention of the Pavlovian cue word, safety.
And it will
be impossible to argue against, because the essential argument has
already been conceded. We have no individual rights worth discussing
and hence, no rights to either privacy or property that may
not be set aside at any moment by some broadly asserted collective
interest as defined by the small minority that operates the
When I was
kid in the 70s I liked the rock band, Rush. One song in particular,
titled Red Barchetta in honor of one of the first
Ferrari street cars. The song was about a bleak future time, after
a Motor Law banning private cars had been passed.
is just about here, unfortunately.
with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.
[send him mail] is an automotive
columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2012 Eric Peters
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