Will Government-Mandated “Smart” Cars Make Us Safer?


In the near future, some form of automatically engaged autopilot could become a government mandated standard feature in all new cars.

In August 2014 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” on “vehicle-to-vehicle communications.” That’s a first step toward mandating self-driving cars. According to the agency’s policy statement, the “NHTSA finds that it is helpful to think of these emerging technologies as part of a continuum of vehicle control automation… from vehicles with no active control systems all the way to full automation and self-driving.”

Imagine having to ask your vehicle to drive you somewhere you want to go – maybe an unmapped off-road escape route in the event of a disaster…or across the border to Canada while you’re behind on your taxes. A vehicle equipped with government-mandated “active control systems” might refuse to follow your route or simply have its ignition system disabled remotely.

Meanwhile, General Motors is already touting its planned release of “super cruise control.” It would be a step toward a mass-produced driverless car, following in the footsteps of Google’s prototypes. The thing about “smart” cruise control technology is that it depends on being able to communicate with other cars on the road. Hence, the coming government mandate for vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology.

Ever more federally mandated automotive gadgetry translates into greater data collection on personal driving habits and higher sticker prices. Some of this technology may well be an added convenience. Much of it won’t boost actual vehicle safety to any meaningful degree.

If you want to drive a durable car that’s crash resistant, then don’t think high-tech. Think big and heavy. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford more protection than smaller, lighter ones.”

Of course, the government has been forcing manufacturers to build smaller, lighter vehicles in the name of fuel economy. The great American full-size sedan with heavy-duty body-on-frame construction is now extinct. Ford stopped making the Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car under pressure to meet fuel economy goals for its sedan lines. Consumers who want a large vehicle that can take a beating must now turn to trucks and SUVs.