Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
The Rantor

Beware Governments' help in regulating cars and traffic

a special TechnoFile rant

By Jim Bray
February 1, 2024

What happens when a government mandates things for drivers and carmakers, supposedly to help ensure our safety behind the wheels of our vehicles?

Well, sometimes it could be a good thing – the use of seat belts come to mind, though I would argue that they shouldn't be mandated by law – but sometimes what I like to think of as "the law of unintended consequences" rears its ugly head.

The latter appears to be the case with the mandating of daytime running lights on vehicles in Canada. This law has been on the books for ages and is theoretically aimed at helping eliminating head on collisions in the daytime, because stupid people might notice an illuminated front end approaching them whereas they might not notice a non-illuminated front end approaching them.

So much for letting Darwin play itself out…

Of course, this meant carmakers in Canada had to go to the expense and hassle of rejigging their models to comply with this regulation. Do you think they did it for free, out of the goodness of their hearts? Or do you think the Canadian car buying public ended up paying more for their vehicles than before?

The issue I have, other than freedom of choice (as with seat belts) is that, in typical government fashion, they created a worse problem than the one they were trying to solve. I mean, do we still have head on collisions or have daytime running lights eliminated them?

Worse, the mandate only ensured that the front of a vehicle is lit up – usually by some kind of running light arrangement separate from – or a separate setting to – the regular headlights. So, guess what happened?

What happened is that many drivers whose vehicles' front ends are "kind of illuminated" at night via the daytime running lights seem to think that, because they can see some light on the road ahead of them, that all their vehicles' lights are on. And they aren't. These oblivious folks are driving around with no taillights because the he/she/it behind the wheel hasn't actually turned on the lights at all. Any of them. Only the daytime running lights are on (and brake lights, of course, if they're maintained) and that isn't enough.

How many rear end collisions has this caused because vehicles following have no idea there's a vehicle ahead of them until it's too late? I don't know, and I don't know if there are statistics about this (I'd think if there were, the governments would be the last to publicize them honestly) but I see these oafs (or is it "oaves"?) regularly tooling along oblivious to the fact that they're road hazards.

And guess who will undoubtedly be held to account if that rear end collision happens? The person driving the vehicle behind. Normally that would be fair enough – you need to pay attention to what's ahead of you. But what if it's a bit foggy, or there are no streetlights to help illuminate the entire area? Is it really the fault of the "crashor" or did the "crashee" actually contribute to the collision?

Did the government, by mandating daytime running lights up front, and not at the rear, actually make worse a problem that didn't exist except in the odd instance?

"But if it saves one life!" Give me a break.  

Ditto for air bags. I have nothing against them and think manufacturers should be free to offer them or not. Maybe offer them as part of a "safety package" like they do with all these annoying nannies that are infesting new vehicles, stripping a lot of the joy of driving from, well, the joy of driving.

Air bags add complexity and weight – and you may remember that after front passenger airbags became standard, governments "had to" mandate to make sure they didn't pop prematurely and injure the passenger. That's why today's cars have an "airbag notice" light on the dashboard to let you know the status of the system.

Personally, I'd rather have fewer airbags and a lighter, more agile vehicle that can avoid collisions rather than just minimize their aftermath.

"But if it saves one life!"

How about distracted driving? Cars these days twist themselves – or their drivers – into knots trying to prevent drivers from taking their eyes off the road. So, drivers – and even passengers in some cases – can't make adjustments to the LCD screen on the centre stack while the car is in motion, even if it's perfectly safe to do so at the particular time. And since some vehicles require you to use the screen for various functions, including HVAC and audio, you might find yourself out of luck until you stop.

Subaru has even introduced a system that actually monitors the position of the driver's head and, if the robot brain decides you're looking at the LCD screen too long, it bitches at you. Yet some of the interfaces on the LCD's are getting so complex you have to look at them longer to figure out how to do what you want to do. If they'll even let you do it when you want to.

I was watching an old Top Gear a few weeks back and they showcased a new (at the time) Ranger Rover whose LCD screen was very cool: the front seat passenger could watch a DVD movie on the screen, but from the driver's seat only the navigation system (and, I assume, the other driving-related readouts) were visible. I haven't seen it in action, but the Top Gear demo was very interesting and showed that, with a little innovation, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Meanwhile, in order to stem the scourge of distracted driving (which is a legitimate issue, especially considering how many idiots I see reading their phones' screens while "driving"), governments put up "distracted driving laws in effect" signs, meant to remind us that the Hand of Big Government is there, ostensibly to save us.

Then they use their big roadside (or over-the-road) electronic signs to lecture us about how to drive, to give us safety hints (like "take a break" or "speed kills" etc. etc. etc.), using their big screens to: take our eyes off the road so we can see, and therefore heed, their words of wisdom.

I have no issue with these signs giving us road conditions or weather info. But when governments are clearly just using the signs because they're there (the "we have them, we should be using them" syndrome), it crosses the line from informative to intrusive.

I paraphrase George Orwell's "Animal Farm": some driver distractions are more equal than others. You can't drive distracted, but it's okay for Big Brother to distract you anytime he/she/it wants. Yeah, that makes sense.

Besides, it's none of their damn business how I drive, as long as I'm doing it safely and, hopefully, well.

Which brings me to speed limits. I could write a book about the folly of making drivers who've been trained to drive well, in vehicles capable of driving quickly safely, kowtow to the lowest common denominator.

Meanwhile, such competent drivers find themselves frustrated by idiots who can't drive well at any speed or who drive obliviously and slowly, often in the ostensibly fast lanes. Yet it isn't the slow drivers who get targeted by the driving establishment for fines and the like – even if they're causing traffic snarls and/or road rage.

Look, a fast driver is upon you and gone quickly, getting out of your way and leaving you alone to your own speed. What's wrong with that, if the driver knows what he/she/it is doing and is in a vehicle capable of doing it safely and the road conditions warrant?

I'm not big on mandates, but when I'm Emperor (which I admit is taking a lot longer than I had anticipated!), I'll, er, mandate that every new driver takes at least one credible advanced driving course, at his/her/its own expense, before being allowed a license. I've participated in several of these and they're not only a real blast, they can definitely make you a better driver, even if only by giving you some experience driving more "aggressively" than normal, thereby learning a vehicle's capabilities better. They can also instil some much-needed confidence in your abilities behind the wheel.

Can't afford such a course? Take the bus.

I'd also like to see driving schools actually teach good driving rather than teaching people to just pass the driving test.

Maybe I live in a fantasy world, but I believe if we had better drivers, we'd have fewer problems, fewer collisions, fewer deaths and injuries – and would need fewer regulations. And we might even have fewer traffic jams as drivers are free to drive as conditions – not regulations – warrant.

What a concept!

Watch for this upcoming rant:

How stupid government rules interfere with traffic flow and contribute to so-called "climate change"

Copyright 2024 Jim Bray
TechnoFile.com


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