- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2003

Last week, the bureaucrats at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced a new regulatory scheme to standardize dashboard control displays, warning lights and function indicators for every single car model sold in the world. According to the agency, an international standard should make some controls on all vehicles identical. It is common for people to scream about how the government should stay out of their bedrooms. We want meddlesome feds out of our drivers’ seats.

NHTSA’s regulatory history is hardly august. For an example of the bright ideas NHTSA geniuses come up with, one need only recall the clumsy, strangling automatic seatbelts they forced automakers to install before airbags became standard equipment. These annoyances were mandated despite the fact that seatbelt use already was increasing dramatically. Overzealous federal regulation almost made the convertible extinct, and it was a leading contributor to the death of great British sports-car marques, such as Triumph, MG and Austin Healey. Now, they want a Porsche 911 to have the same controls as a Ford Focus.

Unfortunately, the agency is getting worse under President Bush’s appointee, Jeffrey Runge, M.D. The list of Big Brother initiatives he is pushing makes our alarm bells go off. During his first week on the job, Dr. Runge enthusiastically endorsed traffic cameras, which are unreliable and trample on due process by issuing tickets and fines to an owner without any proof who might have been driving his vehicle. He also has stated that a black box to record a driver’s every move should be mandatory on every automobile in America. According to one Detroit auto executive, Dr. Runge has become “the government’s No. 1 SUV basher. He twists every bit of data against manufacturers.”

NHTSA recently has dedicated its brainpower toward finding some regulation that will guarantee safe tire pressure on every car on the road. Somehow, we think motorists can check that at the gas station. But nevermind individual responsibility: At every turn, NHTSA takes a stand that more regulation and government harassment is the solution for greater safety.

We understand that the federal government is a leviathan with lots of jobs to fill, and that a conservative president’s appointees are not all going to be politically impressive or ideologically solid. But there has to be a minimum standard — especially for a pro-business conservative president — because there is so much in our out-of-control bureaucracy that needs to be restrained.

Millions of Americans who voted for Mr. Bush did so partly to get a break from nanny-state overregulation. Conservatives do not vote Republican to get stuck with federal administrators, such as Dr. Runge, who seem to believe we are just one more federal regulation away from mandating a safe world. He should be given his walking papers.

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