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Saving lives and reducing pollution is easy

Technology could help on both fronts Automotive columnist: , Updated:

Technology could help on both fronts

If Canada's really worried about highway safety and air pollution, why don't we just order the car companies to sell vehicles that will accelerate sedately to the legal speed limit and go no faster?

Sedate launches and moderate speeds would go a long way toward reducing fuel use and, it follows, air pollution, and the slower a car goes the less likely it is to run into something or someone (the driver has more
time to stop and the car's less likely to be in a physical condition that ends in loss of control) and that would help with safety.

See how simple that is?

It's certainly not that such a reality would be hard or even expensive to create, since it would require only a new software code for all of those electronic engine controllers in new cars, or the addition of those to cars that don't have them already.

Auto companies would create computer code that wouldn't let a car go from 0 to 60 kmh (a good maximum speed on urban streets) in less than six or seven seconds, and not allow them to get to 120 kmh (a good highway speed) until they'd passed a transponder by the side of a high-speed, non-urban road that allowed them to go faster.

Since there are people who would undoubtedly rewrite that code so they could speed and continue to endanger other members of society, black boxes that keep a record of a how fast a car goes could also be added. The police could easily download that information to allow for the timely issuance of tickets and points, and a new and harsher set of engine behavior codes could be installed in the offender's vehicle.

And if that didn't work, cars could be recoded to follow some other rules that worked better.

Technically, this stuff is not that big a leap for the auto industry. It shouldn't even add cost to the car, since it has to have a computer code that tells it how behave in any case. Even if the extra technology did cost extra, think of the money to be saved from using less fuel and medical care.

Okay, it may be too late to say this, but please don't start sending me angry e-mails about civil liberties and all that stuff, because I know all that already.

I'm just trying to make the point that we could actually take some serious but simple steps to deal with the problem of highway safety and air
pollution if we really wanted to, but apparently we don't. As a society, we are not ready to let our elected officials get serious on these issues.

Instead we sit around clucking and tutting over the state of the world before jumping in our 400-hp sedan or SUV to drive less than a kilometre to buy briquets for a barbecue. This simple act allows us to emit more than our fair share of crap into the air in a short time while also putting the people and animals we pass on the streets at greater risk.

Better that we allow our elected officials no more leeway than bans on certain aftermarket street racing equipment and longer jail sentences for insecure idiots racing over-powered production cars after they kill innocent people than we do something that might inconvenience us personally in some minor way.

The worst part of all this is that nearly every single one of us would feel exactly the same way if someone they loved died from breathing polluted air or from being run over by a speeding car, and you know that's true.

It's a pity we don't have the foresight or the guts to take sterner actions before we lose someone we love. As long as we're not inconvenienced and it's someone we don't know who's dying and suffering, we're okay with doing nothing but acting concerned.