Deregulating Ourselves to Death

This NPR story about differences in car safety is not about “eliminating regulations”, which Trump has promised to do, but it may as well be. Check out what happens to the crash test dummy in the car that’s sold in Mexico.

In short, that dummy dies. In the same car that’s made for sale in the U.S., that dummy probably has a scraped knee.

One of my first memories of political discussions in my family was about seat belt laws. I was 9 when Reagan was elected, and he quickly started to unravel regulations that Carter had put in place. That included getting rid of mandatory seat belt laws in 1982, at the request of the auto industry. Instead, the government ran a campaign — paid for by U.S. tax dollars — to encourage the use of seat belts. At that time, seat belt use was incredibly low. Just 12% of people voluntarily buckled up.

I was one of the ones who didn’t buckle up. On a one-mile drive to soccer practice in my dad’s Ford Maverick, we were hit from behind while stopped. The force of the blow sent us into the next car, which was also stopped. I crashed into the windshield head first with enough force to send a crack through the glass all the way back to the driver’s side. I suffered what was surely a terrible concussion, but that wasn’t something you went to the hospital for back then. So I was very lucky. Another couple of miles per hour, and I would have surely broken through the glass.

Businesses would surely rather have consumers “choose” to be safe instead of being safe by default. That way, they can sell products for less money. If you’re like me, that kind of “choice” is pretty ridiculous. It assumes the average consumers are like computers doing insurance actuarial tables in their head when making a decision on buying a vehicle. And it assumes car manufacturers and dealers aren’t going to try to hide that information from consumers.

Reagan’s decision to terminate those regulations was overruled by the courts. Since 1982, deaths from traffic fatalities have gone down over 60%. Of course, even with pretty strong safety regulations, there is still choice about traffic safety, and it turns out that deaths are related to education level still. And the effect is really high. Traffic deaths for people with just a high school education are more than twice as high as for college graduates per mile driven.

As regulations start to get trashed in the name of “liberty” for businesses to sell more, the lesson is clear. That cost is going to be transferred directly to the consumers, who simply won’t be as safe anymore. Wealth inequality when things like this happens also gets worse. In the next four years, we’ll see Obamacare scrapped, the FDA hampered, the EPA disabled or even eliminated altogether, and hundreds of other big and small safety measures sent to the trash.

The working class that was so excited about Trump will bear the heaviest burden from these changes. The fact is that the working classes doesn’t believe government has served them. Now they’ll see how government has served them in very hidden ways. When they get sick from their cheaper food, when they are bankrupted by seeking treatment for those sicknesses, and possibly when they are killed by the cars that aren’t as safe, I hope they understand they voted for those changes.

Unfortunately, all the rest of us have to live with those decisions, too. So be careful out there everyone. And buckle up!