Big Brother is at it again.
Now Uncle Sugar’s National Highway Transportation Safety Administration wants every automaker to follow the exact same rule about how to turn off a car. Because we’re unable to figure out how to turn off our engines and electric motors unless all the systems look alike. Next, NHTSA will be mandating the size of the fins on our cars. Oh, wait….
There is a superficially sound argument for this mandate. Steven Stepanian, a driving instructor at Driving Concepts, supports it this way:
The faster you can get the car disabled, the faster you are out of danger. If the situation is such that you need to shut down the power to the engine or electric motor, you want it done as soon as humanly possible. I can’t come up with a reason that you would want to delay that action.
There are a couple of problems with this, though. What is the danger, exactly? Shutting down the engine disables the power steering and power brake systems: the car doesn’t become uncontrollable, but it does get, suddenly, a lot harder to control. Second, how often does our car actually run away with us? Most often, runaways turn out to have been caused by operator error: the driver stamped on the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal, and then panicked (even if only momentarily). Reaching for the Emergency Off switch is faster than getting off the wrong pedal? The driver is going to think of that switch while he’s panicked? I can’t come up with a good reason why I need another switch to manipulate in such a situation. The ignition key turns everything off just fine. Even in keyless entry cars.
Electric cars certainly would benefit from a kill switch that disconnects the battery system from the motor (and that cuts off the ignition from the backup gasoline engine). (If that disconnects the battery system from the power steering and brakes, too, that would be a design flaw that wants correction.)
NHTSA also worries that, with the many and varied ways there are to start a car (really? Turn the ignition key or push the boot-up button—how many ways are there to do that?), we might get confused in a rental or a newly bought car. I’ve never been confused, and I’ve driven all over the country, and all over the world, in my cars and in a wide variety of rental cars (OK, I’ve not driven in Great Britain, but they all drive on the wrong side of the road, anyway, so that datum is well contaminated). Have you ever been confused by your car’s ignition key or boot-up button?
There’s a larger question to all of this, and that is why Big Government is mandating what we must have in our cars, why Big Government is insisting on doing our thinking for us: apparently our Betters think we’re just too stupid to function in an environment that isn’t absolutely identical everywhere we go.