One of my favorite YouTube video series is ReasonTV’s Great Moments in Unintended Consequences. It looks at past and more modern efforts by governments and other large organizations to solve problems, only to create new problems or even make the original problem worse. And these efforts are always taken on “with the best of intentions” without anyone paying heed to warnings about the possible side effects.
It feels like we’re living through a future episode with the continual push to make people obey speed limits. While efforts to get such devices mandated nationally have sputtered out, with a bill that would limit the speeds of certain heavy trucks failing in the US House of Representatives last year, that isn’t stopping California from doing it alone.
State Senator Scott Wiener, who hails from the great city of crime known as San Francisco, has introduced Senate Bills 960 and 961 that are part of the SAFER California Streets Package. In their present forms, these bills would require automakers to include speed limiters which prevent cars from exceeding 10 mph above the posted speed limit on any stretch of road in the state.
Some people are hailing this as the brave step needed to keep people from rocketing down public roads like a bat out of hell. “Speed kills,” they repeat in a cult-like trance, declaring that if this measure saves just one life it will be worth any consequences.
I’m not a fan of people who drive recklessly on public roads. After all, I and my loved ones use those same roads to hopefully reach necessary destinations safely. But measures like this can come with a tradeoff that is worse than the problem.
For a speed limiter device to work in a vehicle, it has to track the precise location of the car at all times. If you’re already squirming, well you’re thinking ahead. Who really wants the government tracking everywhere they go? Do you really want bureaucrats to have access to your daily habits? Sure, they’re going to say that information won’t be logged and such, but plenty of government representatives have also tried claiming the feds don’t retain your private text messages, phone calls, and other highly personal digital information.
What’s more, mission creep is a very real thing, something governments excel at. What starts off as keeping people from going more than 10 mph over the speed limit turns into far more restrictions. We’ve seen this play out at the federal and local levels over and over.
The possibility of this measure being used to push for taxation by mile driven is very real. That’s something the US Department of Transportation is looking into right now.
Plus, who’s to say the GPS technology works correctly? How many times have you been using a navigation app that tells you the speed limit in an area is something other than the posted number? I’ve seen that fairly often. And in new areas there might not be any GPS info available, so what happens then?
Considering how influential California still is, if these bills pass it’s a possibility automakers will include these speed limiters in all new cars sold in the US. So even if you don’t live in the Golden State you still night have this tech embedded in your vehicle.
Could there be other unintentional consequences? Absolutely and if California’s legislature moves forward on this plan, residents will be finding out what they are soon enough.
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