In the Old West, the word “regulator” had a variety of meanings. Often applied to range detectives hired by large ranchers to put a stop to cattle rustling, the word also was used for vigilante groups and sometimes even the rustlers themselves. Regulators, when working as private law enforcement officers, sometimes operated in an extra-legal fashion, becoming judge, jury and executioner. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, regulators were a fact of life on the frontier.
In modern times we deal with regulators, too. Although these days they operate within the law, their effect on business can be as chilling as their predecessors were on rustling. Federal regulators are involved in myriad aspects of everyday life, from the pajamas our children wear to our automobiles’ fuel efficiency. They have good intentions, but sometimes it seems they want to regulate everything we do. Now they’re looking to climb into your car again and make sure you keep your vehicle’s tires properly inflated.
Regulators propose requiring manufacturers to install a light in all vehicles by 2007 that comes on when any one of the tires is less than 25 percent full. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the move would cost consumers about $70 per vehicle or about $1.1 billion for the nation. The agency points out, however, that keeping all tires properly inflated would save more than $1.5 billion in fuel and maintenance costs. And that’s not counting the savings in lives and property damage from crashes in which under-inflated tires play a role.
These regulations, if implemented, would cost Americans far more than the $70 they’ll pay when they buy a new car, however. The rules would chip away a little bit more at our self-sufficiency, personal responsibility and liberty. The more government takes care of us, the more we expect it to. Each new set of safety rules adds to the power of government. In our quest for safety, we’re ceding more of our birthright freedoms to those who would safeguard us.
That’s not to say government doesn’t have any business making rules to protect lives and property. There are many aspects of society in which individuals working independently simply cannot get the job done. Traffic laws are a good example.
An argument also could be made for requiring tire-pressure lights in view of the fact that under-inflated tires can contribute to crashes in which innocent motorists can be injured or killed. But in a free society citizens make their own decisions and live with the consequences. If a motorist fails to keep his vehicle properly maintained and someone is injured or killed as a result, he should pay the price society decides is proper for his failure. Knowing ahead of time that one will be held accountable can be a big incentive to properly maintain our vehicles.
It’s not a lack of safety regulations that endanger Americans, it’s a lack of personal responsibility. We should tell government to take care of the things we cannot do for ourselves, such as national defense, and allow the rest of us to check our own tire pressure.