Saturday, September 08, 2007

New SUVs Can't Give You 20 Miles Per Gallon, But They Can Remind You To Buckle Your Seatbelt...63 Times

The Anchorage Daily News published a couple of stories today of interest. First, they've published a story about a new study showing that polar bears could be extinct in as little as 50 years because of shrinking sea ice if present climatological trends continue. Conventional wisdom holds that global warming, fueled by human activity and in particular, hydrocarbon emissions into the atmosphere, are exacerbating what might otherwise simply be a natural warming cycle.

While we don't want to hold ourselves hostage to experts, it would seem like we, as the pre-eminent nation in the world, would want to lead a worldwide campaign to make ourselves less dependent upon hydrocarbons through discovery, exploitation, and ultimate mass deployment and production of less-polluting alternative energy sources. One would think that by now, over 100 years after the invention of the standard internal combustion engine, we would have developed a genuine alternative by now, instead of mere "hybrids". One would think that the oil companies might want to show a little more financial gratitude by contributing a small chunk of their windfall profits towards further bankrolling alternative energy initiatives rather than pouring their profits into the pockets of already-overpaid CEOs.

Unfortunately, according to a Community Voices column by Alex Sheshunoff published in the Anchorage Daily News on September 6th, 2007, the newest SUVs, rather than shattering the elusive 20 MPG barrier, instead remind you to buckle your seat belt...63 times. According to Sheshunoff, that's the number of times the reminder chime beeps if he doesn't buckle his belt. Click HERE to read the full column.

And Sheshunoff is no scofflaw - he buckles his seat belt 99 percent of the time by his own admission. But there's that one percent of the time that, in his own words, "I also like to use a drive-up ATM or check my mailbox without initiating my own test of the Emergency Broadcast System".

And when he complained to the local dealer, he was told that it was required by Federal law, and that it could not be legally disconnected. A call by him to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed this information.

Interesting. Federal law doesn't require the automakers to increase mileage on SUVs, but they do require seat belt reminders to chime...63 times.

Wonder why the Feds picked "63"? Is their some hidden significance to this number? Did some obscure think tank study assert that seat belt usage dramatically increased after 62 chimes? Why didn't they pick alternate numbers, like "14", or "88"? Probably because the ADL or SPLC would have bitched about those numbers. LOL!

And Sheshunoff informs us that the number of mandatory "chimes" has actually INCREASED with each passing year. His 1997 Toyota Camry chimes only five times. So, like others similarly discomfited, he discovered an online forum of like-minded people. He discovered that one forum member even found a way to disconnect it. But he warns that unless you do it just right -- clip a certain wire, twist a spring just so -- you could also disconnect the airbag. Sheshunoff took a pass, however.

However, compared to Ford, Toyota is merely a warm-up act. The Ford Motor Co. has now introduced its "BeltMinder" system, which beeps for five minutes. And guess what - they found that it increases seatbelt usage by a whopping five percent. Unfortunately, based upon the tearjerking emotional canard that "one death is too many" or other simular nonsense, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to copy Ford's "BeltMinder" and mandate an industry-wide, five-minute seat belt chime. If our government were an action hero, its name would be Overreactor. And I've yet to see any ballot measure asking US what WE they think of all this safety nonsense. Note: A couple of good articles providing instruction on disabling BeltMinder can be found HERE and HERE.

But at least you can still start and drive your vehicle without buckling up (although how long will that last before some safety wanker decides to mandate an actual "interlock" system?). This may not be the case in the future, at least for those who've committed DUI. The extremist Mothers Against Drunk Driving is pushing for breathalyzer ignition interlocks for those who've been convicted of DUI. Not a bad idea - except some safety wanker will eventually decide that such a person could evade the interlock by borrowing or stealing a non-interlocked car. Then it will become a mandatory accessory on ALL vehicles. The vast majority of us who obey the laws will once again be require to cater to the paranoia of an extremist group and suffer personal inconvenience on THEIR behalf.

Polar bears are not in jeopardy because seat belt alerts don't chime long enough. They're threatened in part because we're pumping too many hydrocarbons into the atomosphere. It's time for government to address real issues and cater to the general public interest rather than to obsess with feelgood agendas designed to pander to paranoid security moms.

Ain't this nanny state great?

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