By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Yesterday’s tyrannies came to us in the name of the people – or the race or the nation. We may get ours in the name of the children.
At least, when it comes to our cars and what we’re allowed to do with them.
Ford has just revealed a new system it will include as standard equipment on many of its 2010 model vehicles — and eventually, all of them. The new system — called “MyKey” — is described as a tool for parents of teenaged drivers. It lets Mom or Dad electronically limit the vehicle’s speed via a programmable key fob to no more than 80 mph. But that’s not all folks. The system can be set up to trigger an annoying buzzer if the teen doesn’t buckle up for safety — or exceeds any preset speed — and even limits the volume of the stereo (ok, maybe this last item’s not such a bad idea).
“Our message to parents is, hey, we are providing you some conditions to give your new drivers that may allow you to feel a little more comfortable in giving them the car more often,” said Jim Buczkowski, Ford’s director of electronic and electrical systems engineering.
But the speed limiter thing is creepy — because you just know it will not end with “the children.” It may start with them — just as mandatory seat belt laws began with them. But eventually, the same inexorable logic will be applied to everyone.
Who, after all, needs to drive faster than 80 mph? It’s illegal speeding! And speeding, as we all have been taught to pretend to agree, is unsafe. Why, therefore, should the possibility of speeding be permitted when technology can keep us safe?
If Ford does it, bet your bippie GM will, too. Automakers have fully embraced what you might call Mom Culture — each trying to outdo the others as providers of the “safest” cars on the road. Style, sex appeal and power used to sell cars. Not so much today. The most popular cars on the road are S-moo-Vees and family friendly “crossovers” that are just minivans in drag. Most new cars come standard with at least four air bags; some six or even eight. It adds thousands of dollars to the bottom line price, but all those moms out there demand it.
How long before the moms in the state and federal Politburo seize upon this new technology and make it mandatory? Not just that your next new car come equipped with it — but that either the automakers or the government pre-program the car so that it can never be driven faster than the posted limit?
With GPS technology, it is now possible to do this in “real time” — as the car travels. Leaving your driveway/neighborhood, a roadside transmitter sends a signal to your car’s computer, limiting the speed to the 25 mph maximum; once you turn onto the secondary road that leads to the highway — where the limit is 45 mph — the car receives new instructions and allows you to go that fast. But no faster. Enter the highway, and you’re allowed 55. That’s it. Wherever you go — and no matter how much horsepower you’re packing — you’ll go only as fast as The Man (or more accurately, Mom) says you may.
Ironically, the only hope this darkness may not descend is that it would cause a major cashflow problem for the local and state governments that depend so much on the “revenue” generated from our system of routine non-compliance with purposely under-posted speed limits. We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars; a bonanza not just for the various governments involved but also for the insurance cartels, who profit handsomely from the almost-unavoidable premium “surcharges” that come with a blotch on your DMV record for “speeding.”
But if speeding becomes impossible, radar traps — both manned and automated – become pointless. No money in it.
And that we cannot have.
So, it’s even money how this will come out. There’s a battle brewing between the safety fetish of millions of moms, the automakers who are desperate to please them — and the edifice of organized highway robbery that makes it possible to keep the money flowing into the government’s pockets from ours without the politically less palatable need to impose an overt tax.
Who will come out the victor? It’s a tough call. But of one thing there can be no doubt whatsoever.
You and I will lose.