Jim Bray

Think twice before asking the government to intrude further into drivers' lives

By Jim Bray
June 20, 2019

A special TechnoFile rant.

"Why doesn't the government do something?"

How many times have you heard a comment like that, pleading for the government to get involved in some area of life that has so far managed to escape the scrutiny – however well-intended – of the nanny state? It seems a comfortable go-to position for people who either feel helpless to help/control a situation they don't like, or who just like to tell other people what to do and how to live.

I had just such a question asked of me – and, apparently, a bunch of other car writers – from someone who's either a reader or figured out how to access the Automobile Journalists of Canada's members' mailing list. This woman asked:

"Just wondering if any AJAC members have ever thought about advocating to require auto makers to make all car doors mechanically open-able when power is cut off, and, make sure, as a minimum, all side windows are tempered glass and NOT laminated glass. Laminated glass can not be broken by those little emergency exit hammers, (which often don't work anyway unless they happen to be made of carbide.)  And why should automobile users have to hammer their way to safety anyway?

"This would include rear doors, which often do not have the emergency mechanical releases found in some cars for front seat riders. Today's electrically operated door locks and non-breakable side windows are responsible for some horrifying deaths in drownings, fires and accidents.  (For seniors, with reduced physical abilities, this can easily be a matter of life and death!)"

It's a point that had never occurred to the non-mechanically-minded me (assuming the questioner's facts are correct), and I wonder if carmakers have even thought of such things. I bet they have – they're a pretty smart lot and, if only because of competitive reasons, they're always looking for ways to make their products better.

They're always looking over the horizon, too, trying to keep ahead of any potential new legislation and/or requirements various governments may have in store. This is why we have an abundance of electric and hybrid cars, despite their issues and costs, dubious benefits to Parent Earth, and slow sales compared to "conventional" vehicles.

So, should the always-caring hand of government be brought in here, "even if it saves a single life?"

Not on your waterless cooker! You can legislate up the wazoo, as it were, and people are still going to find ways to hurt themselves – even if a product is completely stationary and inert (like, say, the playground slide that attacked my son unprovoked decades ago and broke his arm when he innocently jumped off the top of it repeatedly, despite repeated parental admonishments that "you're going to break your arm if you keep doing that!").

Yeah, that was definitely the slide's fault.

Of course, since then I've seen playground equipment with warning labels. I'm surprised there isn't a lawyer or city politician on hand to make the ankle biters sign a waiver before they can hop onto a teeter totter!

Government legislation might mean well, but can be just as stupid – or cause more harm – than if they didn't get involved. As an example: daytime running lights. Ottawa mandated these years ago, but only for the front of the vehicles, so now you have drivers zipping around at night with their cars' rear ends dark.

Many people obviously don't know their cars' rear ends are dark because they can see that the lights are on up front. The running lights may not be as bright as the honest to goodness headlights, but if you're driving in an urban area that's lit with streetlights you might not notice the difference. So, you drive around as a hazard to others and you don't even know it.

Some carmakers get around this by making the front and rear lights come on all the time when the vehicle is running (I've had two cars like this). You can also get around the issue easily by opting for automatic lights if they're offered (and most cars I've driven these days offer the feature). Of course, even automatic lighting has to be turned on to work; it's just that you only have to do it once (remember to check after your vehicle is serviced, though, because sometimes the tech will turn 'em off).

So, because some politician wanted votes, the Canadian government created a whole new problem trying to solve a problem (people driving with their lights off during the daylight hours) that really didn't exist except for some study or think tank or whatever deeming it so. They'd have been better off leaving it alone. And in the meantime, carmakers undoubtedly had to devote resources enhancing the lighting systems to meet the government mandate. Guess who pays for that?

Gee, who could have thought?

Here in Calgary, some kid got run over so, rather than teaching traffic safety, looking both ways, etc. to the kid, its parents  lobbied the city to put in stupid concrete "traffic calming" things that force drivers farther into the intersection before they can turn the corner, bringing vehicles closer to each other in the corner and, when the roads are slippery, potentially causing them to slide into each other more easily.

It has made the intersections more dangerous than they were, it won't help keep blissfully unaware pedestrians safe, and drivers look upon it as just one more thing the city does to annoy them. Meanwhile, bicyclists get treated as if they're made of gold, even though (you'd think politicians would figure this out) they don't pay gasoline taxes. And how much did installing that ridiculous traffic calming stuff cost?

If the government must get involved, I'd suggest they raise the driving standards. If I were Emperor (and it's taking a lot longer than I had expected!), I'd mandate that everyone has to take a recognized advanced driving course (above and beyond any other driving courses taken) at his/her/its own expense before a license is granted. These courses are not only a lot of fun, they really do make you a better and more confident driver. And if we had better drivers, I believe most of the other issues would take care of themselves. Heck, maybe we could do away with speed limits!

Okay, I dream…

Ditto for the traffic calming. Why is it the driver's fault if some oaf plugged into ear buds ambles out in front of him? Now, before the bereaved parents' heads explode, I don't know the details of the particular incident on that Calgary corner, but it really doesn't matter when it comes to the point I'm making: where does personal responsibility come in on the part of pedestrians? Or parents? Or bicyclists?

I got knocked down by a car when I was a kid (explains a lot, huh?) but knew even then that it was my own fault because I hadn't made sure it was safe to cross the street. Maybe I should've headed for an ambulance chaser and been able to retire at 10 years of age…

Better drivers, better cyclists and better pedestrians, co-existing in mutual safety and respect because they all know what they're doing and are paying attention.

What a concept!

Copyright 2019 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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