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You Can't Have it Both Ways With Auto Safety

Tim Graham | The Image Bank | Getty Images

As Congress begins work on strengthening auto safety rules and considers a wide range of more stringent requirements, I'm struck by what I've heard from people who don't want Washington to go very far with these requirements.

Here's a perfect example. A new bill would require electronic data recorders in new cars to track a wider range of data for a longer period of time before and after a crash. When a friend of mine heard about this he said, "So what's the deal? Why does the government need to know everything about how I was driving when there was an accident?"

He's not the only person I've heard this from. There are many people who have griped about whether or not NHTSA should have more power to recall vehicles and whether or not our cars and trucks should be required to have new technology, like brake override systems.

While I understand we should be careful not to over-regulate an industry, there's no doubt some of the measures Congress is considering make complete sense. Even executives at auto companies will tell you privately that these steps are a smart idea.

So why are some people complaining?

Some of it is because there are people who feel Congress is over-reacting to the Toyota gas pedal crisis late last year and earlier this year. Some of it is because there are people who chafe at the idea their insurance company will know what they were or were not doing right before and after an accident. And some of it is because there are people who think our cars and trucks have become too technical, almost over engineered.

All have interesting arguments, but I don't buy what they're selling.

You can't have it both ways with auto safety. You can't complain that we should have a better idea of why Toyotas appear to have suddenly sped up, and yet be against EDR's collecting more extensive data. And it's too late to complain that our cars and trucks are too technical. For better or worse, the electronics are here. The challenge now is to make sure they are functioning as they were designed. One way to make sure that happens is to check the data recorders.

Maybe I'm missing something. If you're against the more extensive auto safety rules, drop me a line and let me know why.

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