By on April 9, 2008

lda081.jpgA bit of a philosophical one for you today. With the (not quite) shocking revelation that whoops London's congestion charge will in fact increase CO2 emissions, and that Mayor Ken Livingstone's administration buried the report, I've been thinking. Who the hell put the politicians in charge? As Woody Allen said, they're just one wrung above child molesters. And he would know. Another example of political grandstanding trumping logic is Bremen enacting a speed limit on a formerly derestriced prt of the Autobahn to (maybe) reduce CO2 emissions by fiver percent. In both examples, motorists' rights were thrown under the [slowly moving] bus for the sake of political expediency. And just to be my own Devil's advocate, during a recent conversation with my London cousin about "Red Ken's" congestion charge, he said he loved it. True, he decided to sell his dirty old Saab, but he says the streets are much calmer and that the city is better off because of the charge. So the question is: can any politician be trusted to get anything car-related right?

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39 Comments on “Question of the Day: Motorists’ Democracy Inaction?...”


  • avatar
    miked

    So the question is: can any politician be trusted to get anything car-related right?

    FTFY

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    miked:

    Right

  • avatar
    B-Rad

    I haven’t been around too, too long but so far I haven’t seen it happen. Except maybe when they’ve made some safety features mandatory, like airbags and seatbelts. They both really can save lives. And ABS is mandatory, too right? I know of instances where that could have prevented accidents.

  • avatar
    bluecon

    @ B-Rad

    Huge numbers of people are injured falling down stairs. Shall the government mandate a fulltime helmet law to prevent this?

    I thought Jonny was for government control?

  • avatar

    Most politicians can’t even be trusted by their own wives let alone someone they haven’t made vows to. No, they can’t be trusted to do anything apart from fiddle their expenses.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    I think politicians can be extremely effective in getting many things car related right. They can quite effectively pass taxes and regulations on corporations and citizens alike to the great benefit of themselves and their cronies.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    bluecon: I’m actually pro-benevolent monarch, but that’s a discussion for another time/place.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    Even when they get something right, they get it wrong. B-Rad mentioned safety equipment. The problem with that is that it makes cars heavier. Therefore, more safety equipment is needed since the now more massive cars are causing more damage. However, since the cars are now heavier again, they need more safety equipment…you get the idea.

    Also, these increasingly heavier cars use more fuel so that needs to be regulated as well which means smaller, less powerful engines. Oh, and they don’t handle as well either.

    In the end, you end up driving black holes with 2.5 x 10^4 airbags that cannot move due to the 1.6 x 10^-3 hp engine.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    We must like what they are doing, because we keep re-electing them…

    In a two-party system, all politicians play a game of “it’s their fault!” After a few hundred years they get pretty good at it.

    bluecon: I’m actually pro-benevolent monarch, but that’s a discussion for another time/place.
    Problem is power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Seriously, can you name one (1) benevolent monarch, one with real power, who uses it (mostly) for the greater good?

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Engineer:

    Santa Claus

  • avatar
    Sid Vicious

    Catalytic converters ain’t so bad. Anyone remember what it smelled like sitting in traffic in the early 70’s (or earlier.) To me the reek of half burned gas is like chewing on a piece of metal. Every once in a while I get behind some totally out of tune beater and I either have to pass or back way off. Maybe it’s just me.

    Now, the exhaust from a correctly tuned vintage diesel – that’s perfume to me……

  • avatar
    TomAnderson

    I can only think of one, and he hasn’t even run for anything:
    http://possumblog.mu.nu/images/Gurney%20For%20President.jpg

  • avatar
    CSJohnston

    Good benevolent monarchs…

    Bahrain’s doing OK, so’s the UAE.

    With a majority in parliament, a Prime Minister can sure ACT like a benevolent monarch.

    Scorecard-wise, Queen Victoria and QE1 did OK (maybe its a chick thing).

    Bismarck might as well have been a monarch.

    Now a benevolent monarch with a nasty streak… they can get things done!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Catalytic converters ain’t so bad. Anyone remember what it smelled like sitting in traffic in the early 70’s (or earlier.) To me the reek of half burned gas is like chewing on a piece of metal. Every once in a while I get behind some totally out of tune beater and I either have to pass or back way off. Maybe it’s just me.

    I concur. Emission standards are one thing that the gov’t got right. Slow, steady, continual improvements have make cars much cleaner. Tight fuel control also extends engine life – no more rich chokes washing oil off cylinder walls. It even, in the end, helped with mileage. Now, if we had the intelligence to do the same with mileage standards, we wouldn’t have the same overall fleet average that we had in 1981.

  • avatar

    They too often go for technology mandates instead of technology neutral performance standards. As in air bags instead of letting the engineers figure out the best way of keeping people from getting hurt (we might have ended up with a choice between air bags and more elaborate seat belts, without airbags.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Jonny Lieberman :
    April 9th, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    bluecon: I’m actually pro-benevolent monarch, but that’s a discussion for another time/place.

    At least the classic monarchy was cheaper for the subjects than what we have now.

    I think the real question related to all of these laws is what happened to the idea of private ownership? Is it any less theft when the government seizes my property and gives it to another who they determine needs it than when I sieze my neighbor’s property and give it to somebody who I determine needs it (me, of course).

  • avatar
    Engineer

    Bahrain’s doing OK, so’s the UAE.
    With that much money, most people could do a good job governing. For us non-oil producers, life’s a little harder more interesting…

    With a majority in parliament, a Prime Minister can sure ACT like a benevolent monarch.
    And when (s)he does, (s)he’s out on his/her @#$%.

    Scorecard-wise, Queen Victoria and QE1 did OK (maybe its a chick thing).
    Queen Victoria’s forces invented concentration camps in South Africa. She’s disqualified, in my books. Some would argue that QE1’s current popularity is based more on fiction than fact: Historians, however, tend to be more cautious in their assessment. They often depict Elizabeth as a short-tempered,[4] sometimes indecisive ruler,[5] who enjoyed more than her share of luck. Towards the end of her reign, a series of economic and military problems weakened her popularity to the point where many of her subjects were relieved at her death.

    Bismarck might as well have been a monarch.
    Huge difference between what might have been, and what was.

    Now a benevolent monarch with a nasty streak… they can get things done!
    Does that still qualify as a benevolent?

    Engineer: Santa Claus
    Proves my point rather nicely!

  • avatar
    Engineer

    At least the classic monarchy was cheaper for the subjects than what we have now.
    Not sure that’s accurate. Depends on the monarch, I guess.

    Much of the US problem has to do with the two-party system. If there were more large parties, gerrymandering would not be so easy. And when two parties go wrong on an issue, the electorate still has a choice.

    Unfortunately, both parties find the current arrangement very convenient, thank you very much. So, both work to ensure no new comer is allowed to upset the apple cart.

  • avatar

    I recently read No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy.

    What I took from the reading is that when people are bound and determined to keep making bad decisions in pursuit of … whatever, even dedicated heroes can’t save them from the trouble they’ll find. So don’t expect to elect a hero that will fix everything. We’ve got to start making better decisions and getting involved so our government makes better decisions.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    …even dedicated heroes can’t save them from the trouble they’ll find. So don’t expect to elect a hero that will fix everything.
    And expecting that some benevolent monarch will show up (in the nick of time, of course), help us all out and then restrict his own power (and riches) to some reasonable level, is just bizarre.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Bluecon, yes people die falling down stairs. Most building codes have loads of rules for stairs, so more dont die. Just because it is impossible to completely idiot proof stuff, doesnt mean you cant impose minimum standards.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Engineer:

    I’m quite bizarre

    This has been very well established

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    Mostly no.

    They sat by while we built car based infrastructure, now we are f**ked without cheap liquid fuel. F**ked indeed. Big time. And its getting worse as we watch.

    This is lack of wisdom, of foresight, of backbone.

    Also they were giving people what they wanted so they can be excused in a way. Democracy of the gum-chewing-public in action. Yes, we need enlightened autocracy but lets pass on nepotism.

    In a perfectly organized world, cars would be like motorcycles in US and Europe, used by those who appreciate them as a fun thing to do, costing extra, otherwise not worth the bother.

  • avatar
    SLLTTAC

    Jonny:

    I hope that none of your readers are”…just one wrung above child molesters”; I hope that all are far more than one RUNG above.

  • avatar
    Wolven

    SLLTAC: I hope that none of your readers are”…just one wrung above child molesters”; I hope that all are far more than one RUNG above.

    The statement was about politicians. I doubt very many politicians read TTAC… generally, they don’t like the truth.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Sorry guys, but contrary to some (or most) opinions voiced on this site, London’s congestion charge is not only effective, but also popular.

    “According to an a new IPSOS-MORI poll a substantial 61% of Londoners agree with the Mayor of London’s plans to charge drivers of high-emission vehicles up to £25 for soiling the air above the contentious Congestion Charge Zone, located within the UK’s most prominent metropolis.

    Despite the received wisdom that the charge is not popular on the ground, almost seven out of every ten Londoners back the C Charge, according to the new survey of over 1,000.”

    http://motortorque.askaprice.com/news/auto-0803/londoners-back-congestion-charge.asp

    So when democracy hurts, we car guys call for monarchy? I don’t get it.

  • avatar
    RedStapler

    Problem is power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Seriously, can you name one (1) benevolent monarch, one with real power, who uses it (mostly) for the greater good?

    Technically not he a monarch, but the Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore comes to mind. Ruling with a stern hand he turned a small backwater mulit-ethnic city state into the Lichenstein of Southeast Asia in a single generation.

  • avatar
    B-Rad

    Bluecon:

    Huge numbers of people are injured falling down stairs. Shall the government mandate a fulltime helmet law to prevent this?

    Oh, hell no! I was just giving an example of where the government hadn’t screwed up entirely and I’m ok with some of their safety mandates. However, I don’t like the stuff they are having automakers do for running into people (walking human bodies) at low speeds. When was the last time you hit someone and they needed an airbag to pop out of the hood?

  • avatar

    The idea that we would have common safety standards is not unreasonable; when OSHA was enacted, the hue and cry from industry was deafening. Laments of “Oh, the costs!” raged in the halls of industry. Nearly forty years later, most industries have discovered that total costs are reduced when they take a very hard line about safety and spend time and money to train workers in hazards.

    Yet we do little to train people about the hazards involved with using a motor vehicle, and particularly in the U.S., where it is legal for a 16 year-old to go into the local motorcycle shop and ride out on a 160 hp, 180 mph liter bike. We view it as an infringement on our rights, much as companies originally viewed OSHA regulations, yet it is apparent that the total cost of motor vehicle usage could be reduced through training of the public. Not only would this training be related to safety, but to the real cost of 50 mile commutes in both time and money.

    As much as we make fun of the ineffectiveness of government, the exampe of the incredibly safe air transport system is worth pondering. We don’t put lead in our paint anymore, and cars no longer trail fumes of unburnt fuel. Certainly the government screws up, even frequently at times, but safety and environmental standards in all phases of our lives have rarely come from private corporations, just as NASCAR or FIA standards arose primarily from driver interests and not from manufacturers.

    Congestion charging is a recognition of the cost to society at large of large scale congestion. Might there be undesirable side effects? Certainly, but the object of getting people to stop and think about the amount of lost time sitting in traffic seems a worthwhile objective.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    So, if CO2 is later found to have absolutely nothing to do with environmental change, ice cap melting, or the price of tea in London will these ridiculous policies be retracted?

    We all know the answer to that one.

  • avatar
    geeber

    edgett: As much as we make fun of the ineffectiveness of government, the exampe of the incredibly safe air transport system is worth pondering.

    The difference is that people don’t use concern over airplane safety, and the need for regulation, as a cudgel to mold the choices or preferences of people who use it.

    And they aren’t using regulations to discourage people from flying, because people like to fly “too much” or prefer, say Boeing jet airliners over smaller turboprop planes when they do fly.

    edgett: Congestion charging is a recognition of the cost to society at large of large scale congestion.

    The problem is that congestion charges are not really designed to curb those costs…they are largely designed as a new revenue stream. If said charges really work – by reducing traffic – that would be a problem, as the resulting revenue is undoubtedly being spent on pet projects or programs, and the costs of said projects or programs does NOT go down in tandem with the declining revenues.

    Note that, according to its chief proponents, the New York City congestion charge was supposed to generate “billions” for mass transit. Those billions would come from people paying the congestion charge, not from people who switched to mass transit.

    One problem – if the congestion charge works as its proponents claim it will, then more people will leave the car at home. (After all, the charge is designed to reduce traffic coming into Manhattan, right?) Thus, fewer people will pay it. Which means less revenue. Which means that an important revenue stream for mass transit will gradually start to decline.

    Do you really believe that mass transit costs will therefore decline – will operating costs go down, will the unionized workers take a pay cut (right!) – in tandem with declining congestion charge revenues?

    edgett: Certainly, but the object of getting people to stop and think about the amount of lost time sitting in traffic seems a worthwhile objective.

    But what makes you think that they aren’t thinking about this already? Perhaps they have, and reached a conclusion that does not make some people happy. (As people have noted, mass transit is generally not faster than private automobile use, once transfer times are factored in, along with wait times for a train or bus during peak hours).

    It reminds me of the yelping over speed’s effect on gasoline consumption. Yes, driving at 75 mph uses more gasoline than driving at 55 mph. Amazingly, several of us have figured this one out on our own. And we’ve decided that it is worth the extra gasoline to drive 75 mph. We’re not driving 55 mph. We can afford to pay for the extra gas. People need to get over it.

    The speed debate is relevant to this discussion for another reason.

    In many cases, law enforcement officials, judges and politicians are effectively exempt from the law. Anyone who thinks that police officers really enforce the speed limits against other police officers, or judges and politicians, as they would “civilians” is kidding themselves.

    Turning back to congestion charges, does anyone not think that, in a bureaucratic, unionized city environment, there won’t be ways for “connected” and “important” people to get around these requirements or restrictions? If not, said persons just fell off the turnip truck…

  • avatar
    Kevin

    Stuff like this is critically important to slow the global warming trend that ended 10 years ago.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    Yet we do little to train people about the hazards involved with using a motor vehicle, and particularly in the U.S., where it is legal for a 16 year-old to go into the local motorcycle shop and ride out on a 160 hp, 180 mph liter bike.

    Wouldn’t signing a title be the same as entering into a contract? If so, one would have to be 18 to purchase a vehicle.

  • avatar
    ctoan

    Kevin: Stuff like this is critically important to slow the global warming trend that ended 10 years ago.

    Warming trend. As in, a general direction the world is going in. The average is still going up, even if 1998 was a particularly hot year. Don’t twist statistics.

    TexasAg03: I’d assume they’d have to get their parent to do that, but the point is there are kids riding around in/on ridiculously fast vehicles without any real idea where the limits are.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    TexasAg03: I’d assume they’d have to get their parent to do that, but the point is there are kids riding around in/on ridiculously fast vehicles without any real idea where the limits are.

    Actually, I emailed TXDOT and they say that there are no age restrictions for holding a title to a vehicle or registering a vehicle. Of course, there may be issues with getting insurance at certain ages, which could cause problems with registration, but there are no restrictions to the registration itself based on age.

    You are correct about the kids in fast vehicles. I have seen people get Corvettes for their first vehicle at 16. I had a 1970 3/4 Chevy pickup with a “granny” four speed transmission and I was involved in plenty of high-speed hoonage…

  • avatar
    geeber

    TexasAg03: Wouldn’t signing a title be the same as entering into a contract? If so, one would have to be 18 to purchase a vehicle.

    If I recall correctly, a minor (i.e., someone under the age of 18) can enter a contract, but said contract can then be voided unilaterally by the parents until the minor is a legal adult.

    Anyone who is selling a vehicle to a minor would be wise to have dad and/or mom there to approve the deal – or, better yet, sell the car to mom or dad, and have THEM register it in junior’s name.

    Also note that registering a vehicle is not the same as purchasing it, or the same as being able to operate it. I can, if i choose, sign my car over to my five-year-old nephew. I would imagine that he can still register it in his name. But he cannot legally drive it on public roads, because he is not legally old enough to drive (16 in Pennsylvania). He could, however, still point to the vehicle while it is parked in the driveway or garage and say, “That is my car.” He just cannot legally drive it.

  • avatar
    B-Rad

    TexasAG03:

    You are correct about the kids in fast vehicles. I have seen people get Corvettes for their first vehicle at 16. I had a 1970 3/4 Chevy pickup with a “granny” four speed transmission and I was involved in plenty of high-speed hoonage…

    As a minor I’ll be the first to tell you it definitely doesn’t matter what you’re driving to do some hoonage (and damage, although I’ve been lucky cause, well, I’m not a TOTAL idiot). Getting the back end loose in a ’92 Chevy Astro, while hard on the van, is definitely fun. It’s also fun in a ’96 Grand Prix, but that takes a bit more skill. And rain helps too, cause it’s FWD.

    I’m pretty sure here in Virginia there are no age restrictions on owning a car, (ie, having your name on the title), but I’m pretty sure you have to be 18 to test drive and purchase cars from dealers. I’m not positive, though, as I’m waiting till I’m 18 before I start trying to get some test drives just to be safe.

  • avatar

    Several interesting points:

    edgett: Certainly, but the object of getting people to stop and think about the amount of lost time sitting in traffic seems a worthwhile objective.

    Geeber: But what makes you think that they aren’t thinking about this already?

    This idea was put forward with respect to safety in the workplace; that people would make appropriate choices and thus intervention by government or industry was unnecessary. The fact is that some percentage of people make smart choices (ie: to work safely or to limit their commute, or means of commute, as a means of getting more utilization from the same infrastructure), but most do not until they recognize costs. I met a man several years ago who had a 4-6 hour daily commute and hated the time away from his family. When asked why he put up with it, he believed that he could make up to 20% more in the city and was thus forced to commute. I pointed out that he might find a lower paying job where he could work more hours locally and thus save both the time and cost of the commute. He seemed dumbstruck that the math worked out. Just because people keep doing things like sitting in traffic out of habit does not mean that they have thought about other options. If we change the economics, this creates a new condition that they must then reexamin habitual behavior. This happened during the both gas crunches in the 70’s, when people realized they could plan their travel and actually learn to live without the Buick Electra they habitually bought while visiting the gas station less frequently. Nudges in this direction do not necessarily increase government waste.

    On the issue of fast vehicles, the object wasn’t to single out young drivers, but to suggest that automotive safety can be enhanced by requiring training of people based on the type of vehicle they are going to drive. If one learns to drive and even learns accident avoidance in a Ford Escort, this does not qualify them to deal with similar conditions in a Ford Expedition or a 435 hp base Corvette. A pilot cannot learn to fly a single engine plane and then move automatically into four-engine transport aircraft (and Geeber, this does relate to individual “choice” relative to air safety), so why do we not qualify people to drive cars which have vastly different capabilities with respect to handling and speed? The absurd example of a new-to-motorcycling rider ripping out of the Kawasaki dealership aboard a 180 mph missile really does represent a significant part of motorcycle fatalities, and does not apply only to young riders. The range of automobiles available today is extraordinary and worthy of our respect. But even given my track experience in a BMW 3-series doesn’t suggest to me that I would be a “safe” driver in a Corvette Z06 or ZR1, and certainly has virtually no bearing on my ability to drive a 6000 lb SUV.

  • avatar
    geeber

    edgett: This happened during the both gas crunches in the 70’s, when people realized they could plan their travel and actually learn to live without the Buick Electra they habitually bought while visiting the gas station less frequently. Nudges in this direction do not necessarily increase government waste.

    The changes in the 1970s were spurred by fears of shortages (caused at least in part by government actions) and rapid increases in price. But even then, there were still people who decided that they could afford a gas guzzler and didn’t want to change. Such as my parents, who decided to trade their 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 on a 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale instead of Toyota Corona or even an Oldsmobile Omega.

    There’s no problem with people reacting to economic forces on their own. But there are those will decided to just pay the extra costs and do or buy what they like – just as my parents did with their purchase of a big Olds – and others will get worked up about it. Because too many crusades are really about control or punishing people for making choices that the crusaders dislike.

    My parents liked big cars. I like to drive 75-80 mph. In both cases, the extra cost of that choice was (and is) worth it for us. But that annoys some people, hence they act as though we don’t “know” the true cost (um, I pay for the gas every time I fill up) or that we need them to
    “guide” our choices to ensure the “correct” one.

    (Turning to your original example of air safety – the government’s efforts in that regard are not designed to discourage air travel, or punish or penalize people who fly. The government through its regulatory framework is ENCOURAGING air travel, because if every tenth flight ended in a fiery crash, only the bravest, or suicidal, would ever fly. So this example isn’t really comparable to what you are advocating here.)

    As for fast cars and extra training – a driver can get into trouble with a Ford Focus or Honda Civic. Most fatal accidents around here happen on two-lane country roads, and on those roads 60 mph is often “too fast.” And most of the cars involved aren’t sports cars or high-performance sedans. If anything, it’s a parade of old Rangers, S-10s, Civics and Escorts with drivers who, for whatever reason (often they are drunk), steer them into trees, roll them over or smash them head-on into tractor trailers.

    I also recall reading that higher horsepower vehicles had BETTER safety records that comparable lower horsepower vehicles.

    Basing a license on the type of vehicle driven sounds unworkable, as well as another way for the government to raise revenue (the Department of Motor Vehicles isn’t going to conduct tests and issue special licenses without charging additional fees) without doing anything to improve safety.

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