30-Something Years of “Progress” . . .

  • October 27, 2023

I find myself in an interesting position – personally as well as professionally. I have loved cars long before I was old enough to drive one – and I have been fortunate to have spent most of my working life so far writing about them (and the closely related issues of being free – or not to – buy and drive them).

Over the course of going-on thirty years behind the wheel – professionally – plus all the years prior, personally – I have seen how people who do not like cars and want us to stop driving them have worked toward that goal, one step at a time, with a doggedness and single-mindedness I have to respect, much as I despise them for it.

Their first and arguably most important victory – small as it seemed at the time – was to get a federal regulation enacted that required all new cars to come equipped with seat belts, never mind whether the buyer wanted them. This was in 1968 – per Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208.

Before 1968, if a buyer wanted seat belts in his car, he was free to buy them. Imagine that. Taking away that freedom to choose was the precedent set by FMVSS 208. The latter word is italicized to emphasize the fact that FMVSS 208 was not just about making seatbelts mandatory to buy. It was about making it mandatory to wear them, too. Because it follows – which is what precedents are all about.

And so, it was.

Just not immediately.

The next thing was a regulation mandating car buyers buy what were called “5 MPH bumpers,” which uglified the front and rear ends of the cars they were – literally – bolted to, like braces. The federal regulatory regime was able to mandate these ugly – and heavy – bumpers whether the buyer wanted them or not because it had already established the precedent that it had the rightful authority to mandate the buying of what buyers didn’t want – by asserting it made the car (or driving it) “safer.”

And perhaps so.

But so what?

That is the objection that ought to have been raised half a century ago. It is the job of parents to keep children safe. It is the job of adults to object to being parented by government. It is safer to be highly skilled as a driver. Yet there is essentially no governmental mandate requiring the demonstration of skill behind the wheel. This gives the lie to the “safety” wheedle – which is in fact just that. A pretext – like “equity,” used by the same kinds of people – to wheedle forward their agenda to control what other people are allowed to do, even to the extent of decreeing (via regulations that strangle like Kudzu but without the authority of law, except in the most vaporous and general sense) what they must buy when they buy a car that no one else is paying for.

The next attempted step was a regulation – also in the early ’70s – that required a seatbelt-ignition interlock. The car’s engine would not start unless the driver was “buckled up.” The law did not say he had to – yet – but the seatbelt-ignition interlocks served notice about what was coming.

First, something went – also as a result of “safety” regulations. Convertibles were all-but-disappeared for many years – not because buyers didn’t want to buy them but because the government’s latest “safety” requirements – regarding rollover standards – were regarded as not feasible to comply with. Convertibles and “pillarless” sedans (with the side glass down, there was nothing obstructing the openness of all four windows, allowing for free airflow unimaginable to people who never got to go for a ride in one of these) disappeared.

They were replaced by coupes and sedans with upright “I” beams to support the roof – and comply with the regulations.

Convertibles eventually came back after manufacturers figured out how to integrate rollbars into their design. But pillarless sedans went the way of other beautiful things once common in what was once a free country (evidence that we all understand it no longer is comes in the form of no one ever saying that anymore).

The ’80s brought forth the mandatory idiocy of cars that burn their headlights in bright daylight – thereby creating glare and making it harder to see motorcycles, which isn’t very “safe” for them. And the third brake light, which came with its own idiotic name: Center High Mounted Stop Lamp. These also used to be available – for those who wanted them – in automobile parts catalogs. They became mandatory in 1986. Some of these used several LED lights that cost a small fortune to replace – but who would dare to put a price on “safety”?

Or a limit?

Having established multiple precedents, it was inevitable that people would be forced – by law – to wear the seatbelts they were forced to buy. After that, parents were forced to strap their kids into “safety” seats. They had previously been free to buy them. Can’t have that. Child safety seats have likely served as more effective form of birth control than anything else. And they have served brilliantly to make kids afraid of cars, thereby making them not like them. It is no coincidence that the people who were born after the child safety seat mandate are more likely to not even have a driver’s license than any prior generation.

But even that was not enough.

It is never enough. Next came the Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) mandate. This is how mandatory seat belts morphed into mandatory air bags, which people were once free to buy – or not.

Can’t allow that.

And so it no longer is allowed.

These uglified – and homogenized – the interiors of new cars, which used to boast manufacturer-specific steering wheel designs. They a look the same now. Air bags have also added thousands of dollars to the price of new cars, made them more disposable (due to the high cost of replacing them when they deploy) and more expensive to insure, which we’re forced to do because . . .  “safety!”

The next step – and we’re almost there already – is to not allow you to drive, period. This is the true purpose of what is marketed as “advanced driver assistance technology.” It is not about “assisting” you. It is about controlling you. Ultimately, it is about “assisting” you into the passenger’s seat – even if you’re still sitting where the driver used to.

This will be done – again – in the name of “safety.”

And it is happening – right now – because we didn’t see the danger of allowing those people – as Robert E. Lee referred to them – to set the precedent, some 50 years ago, that it was acceptable for the government to force everyone to buy the seat belts anyone had been free to buy, if they wanted them.

Everything since has followed from that – with more to come – assuming we let them proceed.

. . .

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