The Government and Car Control
by Ron Shirtz
by Ron Shirtz
An old pun goes like this: "If you painted every car in the US, pink, do you know what would happen? Answer: "You would have the biggest Car-nation in the world!" That joke may become an anachronism in more ways than one, as private ownership of automobiles, like firearms, could someday become a luxury for only the rich and politically connected. For the rest of us "proles" we will be obliged to use public transportations systems, ride bicycles, or simply walk. We may never be referred to again as a "car-nation." Here's why:
Green automotive legislation:
Government legislation (and the almost completed nationalization of GM) is leaning heavily on car manufacturers to produce electric-powered cars, hybrids, or otherwise fuel-efficient vehicles. While the ideal itself has merit, green cars pushed by the government instead of the free market can only result in excessive "sticker shock" prices beyond the means of most car buyers — especially in a failing economy where money and credit is tight. I mean seriously, have you ever known the government to do anything that was cost-efficient, and produced a profit? I didn't think so.
Oregon's proposal to tax drivers via GPS technology that would record their monthly mileage, and charge them accordingly may find favor with other states desperate for cash. Such mileage taxation will negatively affect tourism industry within and without the state, as people with ever-decreasing income will decide to just stay home, just as many did in the summer of 2008, when gasoline prices spiked over $4.30 a gallon.
Increased car inspection standards
According to insurance companies, mechanical failures account for just 5% to 12% to the total number of traffic accidents every year. Some of these statistical failures, such as seat beats or air bags, have nothing to do with causing accidents, only failure to provide safety during the accident. Some mechanical failures are due to manufacturing defects beyond the control or knowledge of the driver. When you take your car for the mandated yearly car inspection, a small crack on an otherwise functioning taillight, a hairline fracture on the windshield, or a bad wiper blade, is enough to disqualify your vehicle from passing inspection. Expensive labor and overpriced parts will be required to make it compliant. Your car, in effect, has been impounded by the state, and you must pay a ransom to get it back on the road.
What makes safety enforcement even more infuriating and unjust is the opportunity to be pulled over and ticketed for a mechanical defect. A broken taillight in New York can warrant a maximum fine of $150, or 15 days in jail. Add the cost of fixing the light, and you have a perfect example of the State punishing misfortune and profiting by it at the same time.
Meeting New York emission requirements can be expensive too. Last year I had to shell out over $300 to fix a minor valve on my Toyota's catalytic converter and replace a gas cap to satisfy a computer's readout. I seriously doubt that my little fuel efficient Toyota Echo, even when out of spec, puts out anywhere the same carbon monoxide as a US government M1 Abrahams battle tank that gets 1—2 miles per gallon. With all the empire building our nation is currently involved in, you'd think our government would be concerned with carbon footprint our mechanized armed forces emit on a daily basis. After all, we don't want to be guilty of environmental collateral damage, do we?
Does this mean I advocate irresponsibility and recklessness regarding automotive safety? No, I do not. I merely resent the State forcing me to do that which I am able to do for myself, by paying them to remind me to get my car inspected. The state shouldn't profit by getting a "piece of the action" when it comes to maintaining my car.
Traffic ticket quotas
If war is the health of the state, so are car accidents and traffic violations. Last summer while backing out of a driveway, I hit another car, totaling it. Fortunately, the other driver was unhurt. I was clearly responsible, since I failed to double-check before backing up. Seeing the young lady car crying over her wrecked car made me feel terrible. My insurance made good on her loss. I accepted the possibility that my insurance company could decide to increase my policy rates, or even drop me, as a result of the accident. It would be a natural consequence for my negligent actions.
So as I made good the loss to the other party, what was the purpose of paying for a $75 traffic violation, with an additional $50 administrative fee, to cover the cost of processing my traffic ticket and providing a police report? Did paying the fine to the State teach me to be more responsible? Make me feel any more remorse for my carelessness? No, it did not. Virtue cannot be instilled by the State to the citizen via fines or punishment. I could have borne the fine without complaint, if the money went to reimburse the injured party. But it did not. The money instead went into the State's coffers. It profited from our mishap, adding insult to injury.
But wait, you say! Fines and tickets keep the dangerously irresponsible drivers off the road, don't they? I beg to differ. Two months ago while driving on a miserable winter's night, I was almost sideswiped by a car coming from the opposite direction in my lane. By chance, a police car saw him and pulled him over. "That will teach him," I thought with satisfaction. But when I read the police blotter in the news the next morning, I discovered otherwise. When the driver was pulled over, it was discovered he was DWI, had a suspended license, and was driving an unregistered, uninsured car. All the State's laws and previous fines had failed to produce in him the desired effect to be a responsible driver. In this case, as well as others, the traffic tickets and fines prove to be about as effective in reforming bad drivers as much as gun control laws kept guns out of the hands of criminals. But the system did succeed at one thing — producing a "catch and release" scenario that provided ongoing revenue to the State by fining repeat offenders.
Expect to see older cars banned.
California consideration to outlaw black cars as being detrimental for the environment is a harbinger of things to come. If the next (ill)logical step is taken, those struggling in today's crashing economy will be unable to keep their otherwise functional older cars legally compliant. Such cars could end up being banned, and be sent to the junkyard for failure to meet ever-increasing restrictive environmental and nanny safety requirements. Imagine cars abandoned en masse on driveways, streets and roads. Imagine a new social class, where the rich and well-connected drive by the pedestrian masses like medieval princes and kings. They will honk their horns to warn the new-age peasants to get out of the way, and splash them with mud, or choke them with dust in passing. To maintain the roads, civilian GIVE "volunteers" or chain gang convicts will be utilized as part of their payback to society. This new social divide could bring back the archaic term "Cavalier" into common use again, to denote those privileged enough to possess private transport and who look down their nose at those who cannot.
I believe the desired outcome of government-centralized transportation planning has more to do with making the government's coffers greener instead of the environment.
April 4, 2009
Ron Shirtz [send him mail] is a transplanted Californian teaching Graphic Communications in Northern (Not "Upstate") New York. His hobbies include arranging deck chairs on sinking ships, tilting at windmills, and being fashionably late.
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