Unintended Consequences

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Ever wonder why people throw empty beer bottles out the window – rather than just throw them in the trash when they get home? Could any of it have to do with fear of being found in possession of an “open container” – and of the severe penalties that one would face in that event, even if one isn’t close to being legally “drunk” by the state’s own arbitrary standards (i.e., BAC level)?unintended consequences pic

I think so, yes.

Actions – including the state’s best-intentioned ones (giving them the benefit of the doubt) have consequences, not all of them foreseen and some of them contrary to what was (we assume) intended.

Revenue from motor fuels excise taxes – collected at the pump – are down because the government has been egging on the mass production of hybrid and electric cars, which use less gas. The more such vehicles there are on the road, the less tax revenue will be collected via motor fuels taxes. This, in turn, has led to talk of “drive-by-mile” taxing schemes, as a replacement for the taxes collected as a percentage of each gallon of gas we purchase.

What unintended consequences will “drive by mile” give birth to?

Cars are “safer” today  – in terms of their structural ability to protect occupants in the event of a crash – than they have ever been. But visibility from within is probably the worst it has ever been – due to the physical structure necessary to fortify the car, such as massive roof pillars, raised in the-air rear ends and tall doors –  making it harder to see what’s going on around you, which makes it more likely that a crash will happen.friedman quote

This was probably not intended – and perhaps could not have been foreseen.

It happened, regardless.

Volkswagen – and Audi and Porsche, which are part of the VW family –  are being crucified over admitted-to “cheating” on government emissions tests. The tests are so strict that complying with them has had the effect – generally, this is not just a VW diesel issue – of making diesel engines less economical to buy and to operate than they probably would otherwise be. This, in turn, has made it harder for a car company like VW – which to a great extent relies on the value of its cars relative to rivals as the primary driver of sales – to sell its diesel-powered cars. So – in order to keep them price (and fuel-efficiency) competitive, VW “cheated.”

The cars involved – by dint of using less fuel overall – probably emit less of the at-issue emissions overall. By “fixing” them, the government may have triggered another unintended consequence: More aggregate emissions – even if the individual cars are “cleaner,” according to the government’s tests.

It’s probably not intentional. But that’s immaterial.consequences picc

People are – in general – less attentive to their driving (and less skilled behind the wheel) than they were even just ten years ago. Could it possibly be due to the reflexive adoption of technological solutions to the problem of inattentive driving, which tend to absolve the driver of responsibility for driving the car? Is it surprising that people tend to pay less attention to the ebb and flow of traffic when the car automatically brakes and accelerates for them (i.e., adaptive cruise control) and – in a large and growing number of new cars – will alert them to the possibility of an imminent collision and (if they don’t) will take action to avoid it?

“Safer” cars that encourage less-safe driving. Who would have thought?

Cars (on average) last much longer than they used to, in part because of durability considerations imposed (de facto) by the need to meet federal emissions and fuel efficiency requirements. A new car’s emissions controls, for instance, are required by federal to be warranted for 100,000 miles.

As a result, cars now routinely remain everyday reliable for 15-20 years or about twice as long as cars traditionally lasted for most of the past 100 years.

What’s the unintended consequence?

Slow turnover.

The cars in service stay in service. Which slows their replacement by newer (and one presumes, “cleaner” as well as “safer” and more “efficient”) cars. Why buy a new car, after all, when your current car’s still running just fine? In this way, the government actually achieves what was contrary to its original overt purpose –  i.e.,getting the “dirty” (and “less safe”) cars off the road.

blue water splash
blue water splash

It might have been better, on balance, to let things progress naturally – rather than impose artificial (and top-down) solutions. Existing cars might not have been quite as crashworthy, or as fuel-efficient, or perhaps emitted more pollution. But they’d get retired sooner by more up-to-date designs, which would probably be more crashworthy, fuel-efficient and less polluting. Which, overall, would be of benefit to everyone, even the government.

Assuming, of course, those are the intended consequences.

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    • Hi Tz,

      Driverless cars annoy me for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that they will be programmed to operate at a Cloverfied pace. For “safety.”

      Being in one will be like when you’re caught behind some enfeebled old lady at the supermarket.

  1. Maybe the chimp will save us?

    Scientists on 3 continents now have evidence: Some chimps have entered the Stone Age. They’re not as far behind us as we thought.

    (The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric period during which stone was widely used to make implements with a sharp edge, a point, or a percussion surface. The period lasted roughly 3.4 million years, and ended between 6000 BC and 2000 BC with the advent of metalworking.)

    If libertarians help speed chimps through the tool production process. Especially superior to human peaceful bonobos through the stone age.

    And then quickly through a NAP version of The Bronze Age and The Iron Age.

    Once in the iron age they can help us fight our defensive battles along side us. Defend our redoubts in symbiosis with our extending the NAP to include all peaceful primates.

    Planet of the Peaceful Apes might finally be a reality.

    Ooooh. Help Me Doctor Zaius

  2. I generally agree with you, but I am a big fan of the adaptive cruise control on my new Subaru. I was no clover before, though.

  3. Eric, your comment about throwing cans out of your car reminded me of an incident in the early 80’s. My brother and I went to an old stomping ground, Kent, OH. In the 60’s and 70’s, as the home of Kent State Univ. it was a thriving scene of local bars. Each one unique, most with live music; you could even catch Joe Walsh and the James Gang and others for no cover charge. The law allowed for 18-21 year olds to drink “3.2” beer…the taps never dried up. As we were approaching the area where all the old haunts beckoned we were discussing the new 21 year old drinking age. We figured it would only drive those between 18-21 to get their beverage of choice(since you HAD to be 21 Everclear was now on the menu because, heck, 3.2 was gone and everything else was equal on the black market) and consume it in their car. We no more spoke those words than a black Firebird roared around the corner toward us. The passenger door flew open and out came about a case of empties. The Firebird roared off into the night.

    Thanks, Liddy Dole…say Hi to Eva Braun when you see her.

  4. I hear you on the visibility issue. I drive a 2010 Sentra and when I’ve had to drive other vehicles the visibility has been terrible. The last time it was a Hyundai Elantra and it felt like I was in cardboard box with little holes cut out of the front, back and sides to see.

  5. Hi Eric i have interesting articles about autonomous cars. I think it is good that someone like Engineer from one of the best tech university in the world says that full autonomous cars (without steering wheel and pedals) is very bad idea. Here articles links: http://news.mit.edu/2015/no-driverless-cars-1013 and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-a-mindell/driverless-cars-and-the-myths-of-autonomy_b_8287230.html
    And i one more article about that Toyta dont want to build robo cars. Toyota will build cars with autonomous technology that will improve people driving skill: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/05/science/toyota-artificial-intelligence-car-stanford-mit.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0
    For me it is good news. Something change. What do you think about this all?

  6. The visibility problem is real. Several times I’ve failed to notice someone coming at me from the side because of the driver’s side A pillar. If they and you are going just the right speed, you won’t see them until it is too late.

    Milton Friedman mentioned the problem with safety in Free to Choose – in this case with drugs. Approve something that is unsafe, it becomes Thalidomide II. Don’t approve something which is, those who die aren’t counted.

    There are economies that get you to 80% – 80% clean, 80% efficient, 80% safe. Maybe you can if you are patient, to 95%. The problem is the success makes the government think they can overrule physics (or things like “gun free zones” will never have guns in them). So they mandate 98%, then 99.5% often contradictory things. They can’t mandate price. So you might be able to get a good car that meets everything – for $1 million.

    If they really want, just make everything past the 95% point an option. Helicopter moms might want the side curtain airbags. Someone where fuel is expensive might want the extra mileage (images of the old Chevy Diesel). Maybe pay a smog tax to get a decent diesel – VW owners might prefer a few hundred dollars and keeping their cars working right (and the total emissions difference is tiny) rather than having their car lemonized. (Milton Friedman suggested an effluvium/pollution tax to handle the smog problem, which would then weigh the 95/98/99.5/99.999% clean).

    • I was recently backing a new Toyota Sienna? minivan. Good thing for the backup cam since I couldn’t see doodly otherwise behind me.

      Anyone else a fan of the new Peterbilt long nose? Really short windows and windshield, perfect for early and late Tx. sun and of course, their signature windshield visor. Side cab moved forward so the driver can stay hidden from sun and otherwise. Should be good with dark tint to avoid seatbelt tickets. I can’t see the driver and I’m on the same plane. I wonder when auto drivers are going to catch on that you can get a seat belt stop and install it below the top belt holder. Might be a pain for seat mounted belts though. Well, there are some big rig drivers here. Stay safe Brian. I’ll call today if I can or just call me if you’re not sleeping. Another day, same Santa Rita run for me.

      • 8, I’m thinking of buying a used Sienna for Powwow season. It looks big enough to haul my whole setup without having to trailer anything. Have you driven one enough to tell me anything about it?

        • Ed, I’ll have to ask the wife. I just positioned it for loading. I know she thought it was huge and hungry compared to full size cars, even the Charger. In order to help her see, I laid down every seat and pulled the headrests off on the front, a much more pleasant things she says and it appeared to me. I need my head to lie back a bit, not pushed forward from my shoulders, a bitch I have with several new cars. It’s probably good for camping though, looks to be plenty of room.

          She out of it now but I’ll ask manana or whenever I get back from one of those thankless runs tomorrow. If it weren’t for insurance and registration costs I’d much prefer a single axle tractor with a 20 foot sleeper, RV style. Don’t laugh. I see them commonly enough and often with a similar sized trailer of the RV style….inside.

          • I don’t usually camp at the powwows, I just set up an awning and tables to sell beads. The Sienna looks like it will haul everything and when it’s unloaded will just be driven to a motel.

            Last year, I used my PT with a clamp on roof rack for the tables. I made the spring circuit before the wreck. Now I’m a little too stove up to be loading a roof rack, though the Sienna has a good rack. The idea of spending the bucks for a cargo van is kind of a show stopper for me right now.

            Thanks for getting back to me on this.


            • Ed, now I know what you want it for it sounds better all the time. Should be plenty room for 8′ tables and then a great deal of height inside as well as width. It’s a big thing. Seems like even the front passenger seat folds down. I don’t think GVWR will be a big deal since it seats eight or so. It would probably pull a large trailer. I see a plethora of aluminum trailers being pulled by all sorts of things these days, even those tiny Chevy crossover things.

              I always wanted an aluminum horse trailer style thing with a front steering axle and a rear axle at the rear end. They pull easily and follow the tow vehicle with none of that side to side swap of tandem axles next to each other.

              Coming in today I saw a Tahoe pulling an aluminum car hauler(small one)with a small car on top. They had it loaded perfectly equal so it was the tail wagging the dog. If they’d just moved that car forward a foot and a half it would have pulled just fine. People are afraid of tongue weight, the best thing going. I moved the fifth wheel forward on the rig I was driving today. It made it much better, esp. in the whoop de doos.

              • Yeah, I think I’m gonna get one. They seem to be particularly long lived vehicles, too- 200k+ is still a moderate mileage on a used one, for about $3k.

                As to tongue weight, the farmers here use gooseneck 5th wheel trailers towed by 1 ton duallies. They’ll run a tractor as far forward as it’ll go on the trailer when they move them to another field. Now I know why.

            • Hi Ed,

              Some thoughts on the Sienna: It’s a very nice bus. But it is a bus. Calling it a “mini” van tickles me. But, aside from its size (which can be a handful) it drives beautifully and you could live in one. The drivetrain is pretty reliable, too.

              • Yep. Compared to other minivans, the Sienna is indeed a big’un. I like that about them. Once the rear rows of seats are out, it would be a killer cargo car, to coin a phrase.

  7. Tax by mile instead of fuel consumption could have the “unintended consequence” of a viable private road network. Once people are using transponder systems and other tollgates on a regular basis there’s no reason the marketplace couldn’t introduce competition by building a road for less money (no need for federal work crew pay) and possibly better maintenance. My thinking is that the private road would start out as a premium product, with reduced traffic, possibly higher speed limits and smoother ride.

    Except that it will either be declared illegal or Uncle won’t allow interconnection to their road system.

    Don’t worry about new car sales cratering: The trend of adding on all sorts of new options that didn’t exist last year, along with the systems integration approach to navigation, HVAC and entertainment systems mean if you want the latest and greatest stuff, you’ll need to buy a new car. This “feature creep” will eventually be met with backlash (ask Microsoft) and someone will come in with a basic automobile again, with only the government mandated requirements.

    • I know a guy in Mexico with a taxi fleet. He uses almost exclusively Nissan sedans not available in the US. He told they were super-reliable, comfortable and have lots of room inside as well as the trunks(I can attest to that). The drivers really like them since they handle well, stop well and need only occasional maintenance. I tried to compare them to a Nissan made for the US but found nothing similar in body style. Chrome bumpers, manual transmissions, basic radios, etc. A friend there had a tiny Chevy with a tiny engine, good power and great fuel mileage but not a body style you’ll see in the US. There was another Chevy vehicle there that looked like a tiny unibody El Camino, very popular I suppose since there were a great many of them. Volkswagen has a plant there and the country is replete with various models you won’t find in the US except for the Jetta and the next model larger although without the US monikers. White is the main color although some of the newer vehicles had various colors, mostly light ones. I saw two black vehicles in the entire country, mine and the head of the Mexican DEA who drove a black Ford Bronco with all the bells and whistles and may have been the only other 4WD vehicle besides mine….well, maybe some Ford Ranger’s had 4WD but I didn’t notice it(very popular in Mexico, imported from the US and only the pre-computer models), I helped the neighbor install a clutch in his and tune it. Since vehicle lifts are rare as are expensive jacks, using timbers to jack up one side with a bottle jack and other timbers to gradually raise one is common.


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