December 19, 2010

Forced to Noise

Filed under: business,current affairs,politics — Erik Dobberkau @ 16:27

Last friday US Congress passed a law on electric vehicles, which until then used to have two upsides: Their exhaust carbon footprint is eco-friendlier and they make a lot less noise. The latter is what the US Senators and Governors seemed to be concerned about, because the law they passed says that an electric vehicle must be audible so you can hear it approaching. It’s not too hard to imagine a bunch of elderly folks wondering what the difference between this new tech and their old tech is, suddenly having a rare Eureka moment: “It’s the sound! Yes! We need sound! Vroom!” (People who are more into conspiracies can feel free to prefer the idea that Big Oil has, ahem, brought in some persuasive, irrefutable arguments.)

When you think about it, this is not only nonsense, it’s madness. Instead of taking the leap forward, they took the step backward. What would have made sense is passing a law obligating car manufacturers to fit their cars with an autonomous telemetric system that recognizes people crossing the driving lane and automatically slowing down the car. This is not SciFi, these systems are already at hand. Of course today no one would buy this expensive extra because everyone believes they’re a good driver, it’s only the others who are the idiots. Instead of using the potential that’s available through electric vehicles and take it to the next level, which by the way also means a push for technology ventures (now there’s an incentive to improve these systems!) and enhances the circulation of money (re-defining “must-have-extra”), people with poor imagination minimized the benefit of innovation by taking the choice to make the new technology more similar to the old one. Car manufacturers now have to increase air friction to produce more noise, or install sort of a loudspeaker making noise, adding more weight—either way the mileage goes way down.

So now both advantages electric vehicles used to have could be gone in the future. What remains is increased cost, because service for these vehicles won’t become a lot cheaper if there are not enough models on the road. The consumer’s choice, again, is thrown back to where we’ve already been. Hint: It’s not where we should be going.

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