Vehicles – or Making Them 'Safe'?
Is Detroit responsible for making sure you don't back-up over your
child? What if you don't have a child?
Better yet, what if you know how to drive?
Well, it doesn't matter. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
is demanding that all new cars be fitted with back-up cameras by
2014 so as to add another layer of "for the children" cost and complexity
to all new cars – like it or not, need it or not.
Apparently, it's too much to expect pahrunts to check manually
that baby snots-a-lot isn't lying like a loaf behind the bumper
of the family SmooVee – and about to get a live-axle kneading by
the otherwise oblivious pahrunt, who wouldn't remember or
notice the kid was there absent an LCD display accompanied by an
orchestra of buzzers and chimes. The rest of us will have to have
them, too – even if we don't have kids – and even if we do have
the Mad Skill needed to safely back-up a car without running over
crotchfruit and other living things.
No one knows exactly how much this'll all cost – but $300–$600
per car is a good estimate based on what these systems currently
add to the tab as optional equipment. Probably – like air bags –
once every car is required to have an LCD display monitor and all
the related hardware – the cost-per-car will go down some as a result
of economies of scale.
But overall, cars will be getting more expensive (again) as a result
of another round of mandatory "safety" equipment that some of us
– but by no means all of us – think every new car ought to have.
Question: Why is it that the "some of us" have this weird
fetish to force the rest of us to pay for what they think
we ought to have? Back-up cameras are already available as options
in many new cars; those who feel the need can buy them. Why must
they force those of us who don't to buy them also?
Air bags were once optional, too. The trouble was, almost no one
was interested in buying them. So naturally, the government mandated
them. And now we all have to pay for them. This has probably made
air bags less expensive on a unit-cost basis, but we're still paying
a lot more for cars now that all cars have to have air bags. In
effect, those who would have rather skipped the air bags and saved
the money are now forced to subsidize air bags for those who do
And it'll be the same with mandatory back-up cameras. New cars
will cost more; and there'll be another potential down-the-road
expense when the camera eventually craps out. And once they're mandatory,
like air bags, you'll probably be required by law to fix it when
it craps out – else fail the state "safety" inspection that many
states require in order to keep the registration valid.
But what if you don't have a child – and therefore the "safety
hazard" of backing up over one in your driveway is essentially nonexistent?
Isn't requiring child-free people to buy back-up cameras a lot like
requiring them to buy child safety seats?
And while installing back-up sensors on a bloated 19-foot SmooVee
with more blind spots than Ray Charles may make some sense, isn't
it a bit much to demand that they be installed across the board
– even on subcompact coupes, mid-sized sedans and other normal-sized
cars? Whatever happened to turning your head and checking things
out before putting it in reverse?
I guess that's now Big Momma's job, too.
Where will it end?
Arguably, there's already too much noise clutter and digitized
idiot-proofing being grafted onto cars.
Pint-sized Toyotas come with aneurism-inducing BEEP! BEEP BEEP!
buzzers that erupt as soon as you put the transmission in reverse
– as if a compact-sized car were some gigantic garbage scow or front-end
loader that needed to warn all in the vicinity of the imminent rearward
movement of its oversized, unwieldy self.
I drove a new Corvette recently. It peremptorily locks its doors
– and locks you in – until you put the transmission in reverse
and turn off the engine. Maybe GM thinks you might decide to
open the door and jump out while the car is still moving forward?
Almost all 2011 model vehicles come with incredibly aggravating
"Belt Minder" buzzers that hit you with a BING! BING! BING BING!
fierce and jarring enough to trigger a reflex action such as putting
your fist through the dashboard. The buzzer goes off even if all
you're doing is running the stupid car up the driveway to get the
mail. Buckle-up for safety!
Only Nissan – bless their hearts – hasn't put these damn things
in its cars.
Maybe it'd be simpler, less expensive – and in the long run, produce
a crop of more attentive, responsible motorists – if we quit relying
on henpecky technology that assumes an ever-lower Driver IQ and
instead returned to the days of expecting drivers to think,
use their noggins and exercise good judgment.
Look behind the vehicle before you back up to make sure no one
left a small child taking a nap behind the rear wheels. Don't forget
to take your tot with you when you leave the vehicle parked in the
broiling mid-day sun with the windows rolled up.
Is it really too much to ask? Or have we become so addled,
so utterly incapable of thinking for ourselves that it's become
necessary to swaddle us in "for your own good" technology and ever
dumber dumbed-down, least-common-denominator laws and regulations?
One thing's for sure: If the safety-uber-alles juggernaut
isn't derailed pretty soon, we'll pass the point of no return when
this kind of thing will become the new norm – and all us "reckless
risk-takers" who continue to believe we can handle things on our
own, without being herded like cattle, will be rounded up and sent
to the gulag (or local DMV office) for "re-education."
[send him mail] is an
automotive columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2011 Eric Peters
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