- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 5, 2009

Consumers nationwide should protest to a hyperactive California regulatory agency on the verge of ruining automobile global positioning systems and other safety features. Because California is such a large market, car manufacturers trying to comply with Golden State mandates might change auto designs nationwide.

At issue is a rule being considered by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) threatening to require all cars and light trucks sold in California after 2012 to feature metallic reflective window glazing to keep interiors cool and thus use less air conditioning. Less AC, goes the theory, would mean lower carbon emissions.

Toyota tried this approach back in 1989-94, and it was a disaster. The problem is that the new windows would reflect radio waves, thus highly compromising the use of GPS units, garage-door openers, laptop computers, satellite radio systems, parolee ankle bracelets, wireless medical equipment and cell phones. CARB admits the mandate would interfere with radio signals but is poised to promulgate the new rule later this month anyway. A 15-day public comment period would follow, during which alert consumers could overwhelm the bureaucrats with objections.

The new windows would add about $250 to the cost of each vehicle. Cars with sunroofs, and perhaps convertibles, probably would not comply and thus could effectively be outlawed. Drivers trapped in their cars after accidents couldn’t call 911.

The proposed regulation even could be counterproductive. Destroying GPS capability could lead to increased emissions that more than counteract the reduced use of air conditioning. An industry study this year showed that drivers using GPS reduce carbon emissions by 24 percent by virtue of taking shorter routes and not getting lost. That’s 10 times the expected benefit from the CARB proposal.

The rule would be particularly infuriating because it’s unnecessary. Manufacturers have offered at least two other nonmetallic methods - using light-absorbing materials rather than reflecting materials - to reduce the warming effect of sunlight on cars. Those methods do not interfere with radio signals and are cheaper.

Reflective-window-glazing mandates would be a disaster. California regulators should not impose them on state residents - or, by extension, on the rest of us.