America: The Land of the Free. A place where you have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and property. The nation founded upon freedom and, in some ways, rebellion.
It’s no secret that we Americans value our rights and our freedom above all else. Many are horrified by the idea of allowing our government to interfere with our lives, even if it may be in our best interest to do so.
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz illustrated this ideal rather well last week in a speech directed towards the NRA, explaining why he is the best candidate to represent their goals. Cruz cited his efforts in defeating gun control following the shooting in Newtown, CT, that saw 20 children and 6 adults dead. Ignoring the fact that crushing the grassroots efforts of a broken community is a questionable reason to vote for a candidate, Cruz made it clear in his speech that he subscribes to the logic of thousands of other Americans: No one, not even the government, can take away the rights of law abiding citizens.
Although we’d like to think we live a life free of regulation, we actually do live a more controlled society than many would think. The automotive industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the United States, but we encounter these regulations every day without the blink of an eye.
Let’s paint a picture, shall we? The year is 1921. There were 13,000 automotive deaths in the past twelve months. Of all the automotive accidents this year, 25% were fatal. If you were to compare these same values to today, the contrast is astonishing. Though 42,000 people lost their lives in car accidents in 2003, only 1.5% of accidents were fatal. So what exactly has been done over the past 80 years to make driving a car so much safer?
A car collides with a tree circa 1920
By far the biggest contributor to the decrease in fatalities is the safety standards set by the US Department of Transportation. Before an automobile can hit the market, it must meet an exhausting list of 595 safety standards, regarding features ranging from Airbag on-off switches to windshield wipers. Included on this list are standards for seatbelts, which became mandatory in most states in the 1980s.
Aside from actual modifications to the cars themselves, there are external regulations as well. One of these key regulations is the introduction of a mandatory license to drive. In 1903, Massachusetts was the first state to require a car-owner to take a test in order to become a licensed driver. The trend caught on with the rest of the nation the late 1920s and early 1930s. Now, there are driver education classes for teenagers coming of driving age to further ensure that the people on our roads know what they are doing.
Similar to the beginnings of the driver’s license, speed limit signs first became a reality in 1901 in Connecticut, before becoming popularized in the late 1940s. Today, speeding laws are enforced by police officers, as driving at excessive speeds is punishable by law.
The crumpling mechanics of modern cars, designed to protect the driver, can be seen above.
It was an 80 year effort of trial and error, but the United States was able to decrease its vehicle fatality rate from 25% to 1.5%, which is pretty incredible.
Obviously, as is the case with any rule, there are still people who ignore driving laws. However, just because some people choose not to follow the law, we do not just eliminate all driving regulations, because they work. In fact, they work so well that the majority of vehicle fatalities occur only when these laws are being violated. Considering the fact that guns are on track to surpass cars as the leading killer of Americans this year, maybe it’s time to regulate this industry a little more too.
So how exactly do gun laws and automotive laws relate? Well, it’s easy to see how some of the strategies instituted with auto regulations can be copied for gun laws. Guns can be designed to be safer, and the unsafe ones can be made illegal. Background checks really aren’t all that different from having to get a driver’s license. There can be mandatory safety classes. There’s honestly so much we could be doing to make guns safer, yet we choose not to because we care more about freedom than safety.
There will always be rule breakers, but people breaking rules is not a rationale to not have a rule in the first place. And neither is the fear of having something taken away. Regulation can work, and will work. It just needs time.