The Department of Transportation today announced that it has proposed new legislation to require automakers to install a “brake-throttle override” for unintended acceleration. Which is stupider than the stupidest stupid you could ever stupidly imagine.
“America’s drivers should feel confident that anytime they get behind the wheel they can easily maintain control of their vehicles—especially in the event of an emergency,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “By updating our safety standards, we’re helping give drivers peace of mind that their brakes will work even if the gas pedal is stuck down while the driver is trying to brake.”
There are a number of things wrong with this statement and this idea, so let’s start at the beginning:
- American drivers should feel confident to easily maintain control of their vehicles: This is the point of Driver’s Education. It’s a requirement, remember? And since driving is a privilege and not a right, it should be the right of the government to ensure that those who are privileged to drive are confident before entering public motorways. Because the last thing anyone wants is a broken training and testing system where the blind and stupid and inexperienced are hardly held accountable for displaying inferior driving skills, right?
- Confident… in the event of an emergency: Sweden requires its drivers to pass an emergency maneuver test, and in some cases, on ice. That isn’t always practical in the United States, especially in high commuter areas like Southern California, but it provides an interesting juxtaposition to our own driver’s training where in many states, new drivers aren’t even required to parallel park or drive on a freeway.
- By updating our safety standards…: This should read “By dumbing down our safety standards…,” which reminds me of my time in the Army. Every Friday, before being let loose for the weekend, we had to stand in formation so the Company Commander could give us a “safety brief.” The briefs were usually vulgar and a forced statement of the obvious: Don’t do drugs; have a designated driver; if you don’t have a designated driver, here is my phone number and the number to a local taxi; don’t beat your wife, the dogs, or the kids; use protection, blah blah blah.” My point is this—Commander had to tell us to not do the very obvious things we knew not to do just so it wasn’t his fault when we did those dumb things. And once someone did something new and dumb, it got added to the “don’t do that” list. Thus, government here is reacting with a stiffened fist to a very simple problem.
- ...Brakes will work…: BTW, just wanted to point out that most countries in the European Economic Area require maintenance and care as part of the theoretical and practical application of driver’s education. Allow me to state the obvious: If you properly maintain your brakes, including pads and rotors and fluids, your brakes will work.
- …Brakes will work even if the gas pedal is stuck down (while trying to brake): OK, so now we finally get to the real problem here. Why is the gas pedal depressed while braking? Are driving Americans embracing high heels at an alarming rate? Flip flops getting wedged beneath the pedal? Or is it because, in my observances, at least, more lazy and/or inexperienced drivers are unaware that they are left-foot braking? You know what I’m talking about. I see them every day, cruising at 75 mph in the fast lane and the brake lights pumped for minutes at a time. And in the instance that the sticky pedal isn’t attributed to any of the above? MAINTENANCE! MAINTENANCE! MAINTENANCE! So, basically, the DOT wants ALL cars to have this new “brake throttle override” because some people are a) inexperience, b) lazy, c) or just plain stupid.
Then there’s this: “The NHTSA proposal aims to minimize the risk that drivers will lose control of their vehicles as a result of either accelerator control system disconnections or accelerator pedal sticking or floormat entrapment… the proposal would also require manufacturers include a Brake-Throttle Override (BTO) system to ensure the vehicle would stop if both the brake and the accelerator pedals are simultaneously applied.”
But is collective punishment the right approach? Is this “issue” perhaps something that can be addressed in the classroom? Or at the Department of Motor Vehicles? Or with proper vehicle maintenance? There are, at the simplest level, only three absolutely critical functions to driving a car: using the steering wheel, the gas pedal, and the brake pedal. Correctly mastering only two of these is a critical failure! Put down the phone! Pay attention! Expect the unexpected! Be a proactive, cautious and disciplined driver, not a slovenly reactive death trap!
The fact that this is even a thing right now is because many of the people around you are failing at driving. And because of this, that safety brief with all the “do not’s” and new protections will continue to get longer and more stupid and more restrictive, ultimately giving you a dumbed-down driving experience with a million different technological nannies chauffeuring you and your passengers to work and Little League practice and to Wal-Mart and the coffee shop and McDonalds like the motorized imbeciles in WALL-E. And if you remember anything about the HAL 9000, it’s that computers: a) will kill you, or b) the secretive government type’s programming the computers will kill you. Which is only slightly stupider than “unintended acceleration.”
This is the steering wheel. This is the gas pedal. And this is the brake pedal. They can only be used at the same time to do this (:46). And that is all.