Sunday, January 30, 2011

Idiot-Proofing Vehicles – or Making Them 'Safe'?

Well, Eric Peters has got me riled this evening. While I cannot disagree with his arguments against government meddling, like many Libertarians he fails to distinguish between government meddling and sensible behavior. I have a good friend, who drives his wife, an ER doc, crazy, because he won't wear his seat belt as a protest against the state. Mr. Peters seems to fit into that category. I guess he doesn't realize that he is trapping himself in ideological silliness as much as the government meddlers do. Kind of reminds me of all the kids these days with their face full of holes and metal; as trapped in their "uniform" as much as a military man.
His arguments regarding the idiocy of government mandated backup cameras are eminently logical; as are all arguments against government coerced "safety." But to extend that argument to conclude that the cameras themselves are wrong, is just intellectual laziness. He has done this before with his arguments on drunk driving. just because the government rules regarding penalties for having alcohol in your blood stream are ridiculous he avoids the fact that the majority of highway deaths in this country involve people with a good deal of alcohol in their blood, and that this chemical impairs judgment across the board. While it is true that the majority of people with low, but illegal amounts of alcohol in their blood drive more slowly and carefully, this is in large part, if not primarily, due to fear of the draconian, life destroying penalties if the cops find them.

I started putting seat belts in my father's cars in 1960, and in the cars of any of my high school friends that I could convince. This saved the life of one of my best friends, when 6 mo. later he had a head-on collision. Yet, I was incensed when the government started mandating seat belt installation, then use, in the '70's. I am still incensed. However, the mandating of seat belt use has not dissuaded me from the logic of their use. As a trauma surgeon, I have seen first hand their life-saving effects.
In 1960 it cost $2.50 for a set of seat belts. If we did not have government mandated airbags and three point harnesses, I could purchase decent restraining devices for not only my car, but likely a dozen others. My choice at present would be the airbag seat belts used on small planes, along with a 4 point harness. I survived a bad airplane crash a number of years ago, but suffered 6 broken ribs in large part because, at the time the FAA forbade the retro-installation of shoulder harnesses in older planes.* How many millions of dollars have been wasted for the only borderline safe system in modern cars. Think of the Nascar racers crashing at 200mph and walking away. Markedly safer systems would be available were it not for government mandated "safety."

Now Eric extends the installation of rear view cameras as not just another example of government meddling, but an instance of the idiocy of trying to be safe. I never gave much thought to cameras until 3 years ago when I rented a Toyota Prius. I was going skiing at Big Mountain, and it was the only car available at the Bozeman airport. I was surprised that not only did I enjoy the car, but that the back up camera was really useful As I get older, I find my neck does not turn as well as it did 30 years ago, and being able to see behind me was very useful.
I currently have a van conversion for long trips, and the camera in this is very useful. Backing boats down a ramp, especially when your car is still level and the boat is going down the ramp and disappears from view is another use for these devices. Anything that makes my life easier, and allows me to concentrate on more important things is a benefit.

Then Mr Peters starts off on a rant about kids being left in cars, and other things that seem to bother him tremendously. It seems his distaste for government intrusion overrides his common sense. I am certain he, like myself, suffers from the newly discovered mental condition O.D.D.** Though in my case, I consider it a highly honed survival skill. We all suffer from the human condition of imperfection, and forgetfulness. Not to mention the all too frequent, "wtf WAS I thinking," problem. Anything that can help us with these human foibles should not be so lightly dismissed. Life is complex, and anything that makes it easier should be embraced, not dismissed. In fact this is the ultimate argument, at least practically, against ALL government action. It without fail always makes life more difficult and painful

His final question, "where will it all end" makes me laugh. twenty five years ago I was a panelist on the Portland show, "Town Hall" during a debate on mandatory seat belt use. They liked the ratings they got having a surgeon opposed to these ideas. I also argued against the sin tax on cigarettes, but that is another story.
My argument of course was that this was not a legitimate function of government, and I concluded, "Where will you draw the line? Are you going to mandate helmet use for kids riding bicycles? "Oh, no!" they assured me, "that would never happen!"

*Actually they didn't ban it, just made getting an "STC" to allow installation extremely expensive ($20,000)
** (O)ppositional (D)efiance (D)isorder. One of the latest of "diseases" used as an excuse to drug kids.

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