The Federal Government And Your Tires

After reading this article, most people probably think: “Isn’t it worth it if it saves just one life?” Regrettably, I have to say, “no.” Read it and make your own call:

“New passenger cars must have tire pressure monitoring systems in place by the 2008 model year, the government announced Thursday.

To comply with the regulation, which has its roots in the Firestone tire recall of 2000, automakers most likely will attach tiny sensors to each wheel that will signal if a tire falls 25 percent below the recommended inflation pressure. If any one of the four tires is underinflated, the sensors set off a dashboard warning light.

Automakers will begin implementing the technology in September. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates the upgrade will cost manufacturers between $48.44 and $69.89 per vehicle.

…NHTSA estimates that 120 lives a year will be saved when all new vehicles are equipped with the systems.”

I’m sure there will be a lot of back patting about this legislation, but there shouldn’t be because it’s a perfect example of the government using regulation to make decisions that should be made by the market place.

After all, this is a feature that’s already on the market:

“Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents nine automakers, said about 18 percent of their vehicles already have the technology. It first appeared in the 1997 Chevrolet Corvette and is used in some luxury vehicles.”

So why is this feature “used in some luxury vehicles” instead of all cars as it is? It’s because most Americans don’t want to pay (roughly) an extra $50-$70 for the feature. I can tell you if I had a choice between getting that feature or keeping $70 of my own money, I’d rather have the money. Especially since you can do exactly the same thing with a $2 tire gauge.

But assuming the “120 lives a year” figure is right, isn’t it worth it? Well, considering that we live in a nation of almost 300 million people and the overwhelming majority of those people ride or drive in a car on an almost daily basis, 120 deaths a year is an infinitesimal number. Just to give you a little perspective, in 2001, 322 people died via “Drowning and submersion while in or falling into (a) bath-tub.”

So if we’re going to decide that it’s worth $70 per car to save 120 lives, what about all the other changes that could be made? Would it be worth $700 added to the cost of every car to save 1200 lives? What about $7,000 dollars added to the cost of every car to save 8400 lives?

The problem is that once the government signs off on a significant price increase for cars in order to achieve a statistically insignificant improvement in safety, then a precedent has been set. If someone comes along next year and says, “We can save 120 lives a year by making a another $70 part mandatory on every car,” what’s the justification for saying “no” supposed to be? Why is it any different than these “tire pressure monitoring systems?”

Look, the government should be in the business of monitoring the safety of cars. That makes sense; you don’t want death traps rolling around on the highway. However, this sort of excessive regulation is bad for the country. It makes our businesses less competitive, it passes unnecessary costs on to consumers, and it sets a terrible precedent that makes it likely that even more red tape will be applied at a later date. Congress, especially a Republican Congress, should be more responsible than this…

*** Correction ***: I plain old misread the original article and mistook the cost per vehicle for the cost per tire. That has been corrected.

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