More Government-Required Gold-Plated Autos

Why must we pay for features we don't want?

The US government is about to require that auto makers spend an estimated $2.7 billion per year to save an estimated 104 lives.  That works out to about $26 million per life saved.  As a side benefit, the regulation may prevent an estimated 7,800 accidents.

This is another of those tear-driven laws which adds so much cost to our economy.  The Wall Street Journal reports that back in 2002, a two year old named Cameron Gulbransen was killed when his father backed up the family car and ran over him.  In 2008, after merely three times as long as Cameron's entire life, Congress passed a law named after him which required bureaucrats to draft rules on rear visibility in vehicles.

The mills of government ground steadily forward, and on Dec. 3, 2010, the Transportation Department proposed that starting in 2012, all cars, pickup trucks, minivans, and buses would have to have a rear-looking TV camera.  They estimate that the unit would cost about $200 per vehicle.

Tough Cases, Bad Law, and Expensive Meddling

Young Cameron's death was certainly tragic, but this is an absurdly expensive response.  Assuming that the government's estimates of cost and of lives saved are correct, which they usually aren't, we can save lives much more cheaply in other ways.

Bill Gates, for example, has funded malaria research which promises to save lives for 25 cents each.  That's not a typo, the cost of curing a malaria patient is estimated to be twenty-five cents, the fourth part of one dollar.

The Journal article about back-up cameras ended:

The rule could cost the auto industry between $1.9 billion and $2.7 billion a year, according to regulators' estimates, unless auto makers can pass along the expense to consumers. [emphasis added]

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry's main trade group, said it was reviewing the proposed rules.

Not even the Wall Street Journal is immune from the mental error of thinking that auto companies pay for whatever regulators may see fit to require.  They noted that the cost would be high "unless auto makers can pass along the expense to consumers." 

When will the Journal realize that when a business makes a profit, that is, it takes in more money from its customers than it costs to run the business, customers pay for everything?  Every last cent of every single cost is passed on to customers, including the employer's share of employee's income taxes - including, in fact, every penny it costs to keep employees on the payroll.

Every penny of the cost of these cameras will come out of customers' hides.  Forcing cars to be more expensive will mean, by definition, that people have less money to spend on other things.

But I don't want a gold-plated car.

This isn't the first time that customers' wallets have taken a beating from misguided auto safety regulators.  Consider air bags.  They were supposed to save about 5,000 lives per year.  Instead, they ended up saving about 400 lives per year.

Air bags cost about $100 and each vehicle has a minimum of two.  The North American market is about 10 million units per year.  20 million air bags @ $100 cost about $2,000,000,000 assuming the car companies don't mark them up, which is unlikely.  Saving 400 lives with air bags costs car buyers at least $2 billion per year.  Is it morally justifiable for Americans to be required to spend $5 million dollars per life saved by requiring airbags?

Our lawmakers evidently feel that it's perfectly fine: they're about to require consumers to spend about $26 million per life saved by requiring rear-mounted TV cameras on top of the millions already spent on air bags.

Slice Regulation, Not Just Taxes

The Tea Party activists are correct in demanding that taxes go down, but they also have to force regulations to be pruned back.  Complying with regulations costs about 14% of GNP compared with the 21% of GNP spent on paying federal taxes.

Regulations cost us more than half as much as we pay in taxes.  It's important to whack back tax rates, but it's every bit as important to eliminate whole regulatory departments.  In some ways, it's more important, because you get a double whammy: eliminate the bureaucrats and you save their salaries and the costs of the regulations they no longer impose.

Meddling government got away with costing us $5 million dollars per life saved with air bags, so now it will cost us $26 million per life saved with TV cameras.  When and where does it stop?  If the past is any guide, it won't stop until we elect a Senate and a Congress who're committed to cutting regulation in addition to cutting straight-up spending.

"Regulated Enough Already" isn't as nifty a slogan as "Taxed Enough Already", but it's equally important.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments

Good article. As sad as it is, accidents happen with vehicles. You can't stop accidents from happening by regulating the companies 'til they suffocate.

However, the real reason I wanted to comment is because I was delighted to see the Seinfeld reference. "But I don't _want_ a gold plated car!"

December 10, 2010 10:05 AM

Yeah, spot on.

Fast forward 30 years and every single death caused by cars will have some law attached.

Hit someone in the head with your side view mirrors? New law to make them out of nerf material!

December 10, 2010 11:12 AM

Yes This is SparkyVa, I need to drive to Food Lion to buy groceries. Yes, OK I have puffed into the breathalyzer, and you can see it was me. Yes here is my thumb print. Will you turn on the car now? What another tax? OK charge my account, can I go now? No I will not vote republican, and I renounced my TEA party membership last year. (Car starts) Thank you goodbye...

December 10, 2010 9:00 PM

Just for laughs, as a little thought experiment, let us take the ideas explored in this fine essay and apply them to a different issue in question in recent times.

So, the airbag mandate saves roughly 400 lives a year, at a cost of $5 million per, and a sum many times greater for each life saved by rear-view cameras.

Leaving aside for now the fact that increased reliance on these toys seems to result in a populace less able to fix their own vehicles, a populace less and less skilled in driving them, and a populace saddled with things they don't want at greater cost....

....isn't the cost-per-life many times that permitted by Obamacare, the coming death panels, the walking puckered sphincter Donald Berwick, or the NHS?

It's all about power and control. Not life-saving, not cost-management. They tell you what you may or may not do, what you must or mustn't do, and you have little choice but to follow.

The only proper response is to tar and feather some of these clowns and a few congress-critters while we're at it, and then abolish absolutely every regulatory body empowered to make such regulations. They're unconstitutional anyway, as they aren't answerable to elected representatives, or, indeed, us.

December 10, 2010 9:54 PM

And another thing!!!

If you wonder why medical insurance prices are as high as they are, think of the cost of all sorts of aspects that insurers are compelled to offer: If I, were I a single man with no children or history of substance abuse problems, were to buy my own health insurance, what use would I have for coverage for, say, mammography or other such OB-GYN services or drug/alcohol abuse counseling services?

More money charged for services I don't need, don't want, and do not wish to pay for.

December 10, 2010 10:03 PM

And don't forget the accidents that will occur because someone is looking in the camera output device instead of watching where he is driving, or the person that still drives over the family cat because he forgot to look. Well the cat was sleeping under the tire, so not in camera range.

Your local highway department allocates funds based on how much they have and how many lives will be saved. A railroad crossing bar costs 80,000 and hopefully will save 1 life every two years or 160,000 per life saved. Another project would cost 250,000 per life saved. You fund the cheapest ones per life saved first until you run out of money for the year. That is the way it is done. Point being that instead of spending 26 million per life, there are tens of thousands of less expensive projects to fund.

I also really like that 25 cent per life project of Bill Gates. Our congress is way out of touch. Wait, the government is telling me that I can't drive my car again: some scratch on the paint job...

December 10, 2010 10:49 PM

Now they want noisemakers on electric cars - they think they'r too quiet, even though there's never been any proof that there's a problem!

A couple of years from now, it's likely there will be a lot more electric vehicles and hybrids on the road. And while the typical EV might not be making the sound of a vuvuzela or a Tie-Fighter, you're going to hear it coming—perhaps with just a little more wow and flutter.
Today President Obama signed the Pedestrian Safety Act (S. 841), which aims to help protect the blind and other pedestrians from "silent vehicle technology," as it was worded in a press release from the National Federation of the Blind.
Introduced by John Kerry, the bill passed the Senate last April but wasn't passed until last month.
The legislation applies to pedestrians, bicyclists, runners, and small children as well, who might benefit from hearing electric and hybrid vehicles make more noise on low-speed city streets.
The worry: That blind or hearing-impaired people might be hit by electric vehicles because they're so quiet. The electric motor systems and direct-drive systems in EVs simply don't generate much of an audible sound at low speeds—other than a whine that varies by model from very subtle to almost
It might still be a while before the particulars of the bill are determined and EVs are expected to make a particular noise when they're traveling at less than 20 mph. The bill calls for a study to be completed, then a new standard will be issued within 90 days of that. The new standard will apply to vehicles made or sold beginning two years after the issuance of the new standard.
Several hybrid vehicles that have been for sale for many years—like the Toyota Prius, of course—run in a near-silent EV mode when coasting or cruising at low speeds. But as we've reported, there's no data set that conclusively shows an issue with hybrids, more than other types of vehicles, hitting pedestrians. That's even considering that hybrids are driven more in cities congested with pedestrians.
It's a topic that we've covered extensively on our green-car sites All Cars Electric and Green Car Reports. General Motors early on started working directly with the National Federation of the Blind, while Nissan has come up with several potential solutions and told GreenCarReports that such a sound is only needed up to about 12 mph; above that point tire noise is enough. Nissan presented its solution to NHTSA back in September 2009.

January 6, 2011 6:59 PM

If I had a car (I live in London) I'd be tempted to get a rear camera just so I could collect evidence of people tailgating me.

January 18, 2011 2:02 AM

It ought to be your choice. The government should not tell you what accessories you have to buy

January 20, 2011 6:43 PM
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