Recently I found a safety orange envelope waiting in my mailbox from the E-ZPass Violations Processing Center.
Wait. What violation?!?
[Cue the chung-CHUNG sound from “Law and Order”.]
I nervously tore it open in the elevator. The letter inside said that when I applied for my E-ZPass account, I agreed to approach and pass through an “E-ZPass Only” lane at the posted speed limit.
Fair enough. After all, what kind of maniac speeds through a toll plaza?
Well, me, apparently.
It seems that on the way to my family’s end-of-summer getaway I’d managed to blow through Interchange B2 (that’s the Taconic to I-90 in layperson’s terms) at a blazing 26 mph.
There was no fine, but there was a warning that the next violation would result in the suspension of my E-ZPass privileges for at least 60 days.
Yikes! My mother’s on that account! I immediately imagined her unable to pass through the toll on the Triborough or the RFK or whatever they’re calling it now, a cacophony of horns blaring as traffic backed up behind, and she sobbing plaintively to the TBTA officer:
“But my son gave me this E-ZPass so I could pass easily. I don’t understand!!!” “Yeah, sorry lady, but we’re gonna have to take you to jail now.”
And not only was I a bad son, but the letter also said I was a danger to both the Thruway Authority’s employees and my fellow travelers.
I felt guilty and ashamed. But once those feelings subsided I felt…happy, because this letter represents a big potential to make drivers accountable for their own behavior.
After all, for a culture so obsessed with security, our application of it is hopelessly distorted. Never mind the bomber whose father had told the FBI he was a terrorist, or the ongoing security theater at the airport. I’m not even talking about the assault weapons available next to the fishing rods at Walmart. I’m talking about security obsession with a thing you use every single day.
No, not your gun, Jed Clampett. I’m talking about your TV.
Being the sort of philistine who speeds through toll plazas, I also have a TV, and I use it to stream content from providers such as HBO. Yet it seems like every time I want to watch HBO GO, they first make me go to my computer and enter a special access code in order to prove I’m a legitimate paying subscriber, not some schnorrer glomming onto someone else’s account.
You’d think I was about to launch a nuclear missile, not watch “Game of Thrones.”
My car, however — not quite a nuclear missile, but certainly a deadly weapon — requires no such electronic validation in order to operate. My insurance policy could be expired, or my license could be suspended, yet all I need to start and drive this potential death machine is the key.
And what about my phone? Not only does it know when I’m getting into my car, but it also guesses my destination and pings my smart watch, which gives me the traffic report and tells me how long it’ll take me to get there. Yet even though it knows everything I’m doing, it won’t tell me when I’m speeding, or lock its keypad when I’m driving so I can’t text and get distracted. And forget about giving the police information about how I was driving before a crash.
Why this far into the 21st century do I not have to enter some sort of authentication code to confirm that my privilege to drive is still valid before I can start my car? Think about how often you’ve read a story about a driver with a suspended license maiming or killing somebody. If only we secured our cars half as vigorously as we do our premium entertainment, then at least some of these tragedies might never have happened.
Every street in the city and beyond should have technology that reads your E-ZPass or something like it. If you’re driving dangerously, you should at the very least get a scary orange letter in the mail. If you hit somebody and leave the scene, the police should be able to find you immediately. And if your license is suspended or revoked you should not be able to start your car.
“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” it should say coolly, sending a Kubrickian shiver down your spine.
Indeed, your car, phone, your E-ZPass, your license, your registration, your insurance, your phone — all of these could be used together to make sure you’re a legitimate driver operating your vehicle safely, yet we don’t connect the crucial circuits that would make such a system work. Why? Because we have a misguided fear of “Big Brother,” and we resent being monitored while we operate our gasguzzling freedom machines.
Meanwhile, your internet-connected smart TV that makes you prove your legitimacy before it lets you watch “Veep”? It’s listening to every word you say.
We’ve already proven ourselves more than willing to sacrifice some privacy in exchange for entertainment. We’ve also accepted the security protocols that protect us and the television networks. Perhaps it’s time we were as forthright when it comes to driving. This is the age of connectivity, and it’s about time we looped in the cars.