(Caution. Contains satire. Best if taken with food for thought.)
In 1908, the first Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line. More than a century later the motor car has been granted the same constitutional guarantees that other technological innovations (cf. handguns) have always enjoyed.
The 28th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States—popularly known as the “EasyRider” Amendment—was ratified earlier this week by Montana, which had waited for pride of place by being the final state required. The amendment says, simply but stridently:
“Mobility being necessary to the wellbeing of a free state, the right of the people to keep and operate motor vehicles shall not be infringed.”
Speaking via smart phone from his car in Whitefish, Paul Trigger, president of the National Road Association (NRA), effused that the 28th Amendment was a “green light” for motorists throughout the nation.
“With EasyRider finally in place,” Trigger said, “a caravan of regulations and statutes” that have long frustrated the American motoring public will “be driven into permanent detour.”
Asked for details, the NRA president said that seatbelt laws and other onerous, so-called “safety” regulations would be the first to go. The checklist of nuisances is endless, Trigger noted. “Not only seatbelts, of course, but high-spec baby seats for infants and airbags for everyone and roll bars for convertibles.”
Citing the latter (although he lives in the northwestern part of Montana he often drives a convertible), Trigger repeated a mantra beloved by “EasyRider” proponents:
Cars don’t roll over people; people roll over cars.
With the 28th Amendment in place, he said, vehicles free of these nanny-state nuisances will soon be rolling off the assembly lines. Meanwhile, Montana’s freedom-loving motorists could simply ignore them.
“The next thing to go”—no pun intended, Trigger said with a chuckle—“is speed limits.” Trigger remembers his father—also a car-rights proponent—telling him how in the 1970s President Jimmy Carter had imposed a nationwide speed limit of 55 mph. Even today, he noted, speed limits can drop from 80 to 35 mph in the blink of an eye. And this in Montana, a state whose motorists have always understood that a reasonable and prudent speed is, well, “reasonable and prudent.”
“Are gun owners limited to the purchase of small-bore weapons?” Trigger asked. “Of course not,” he answered, referring to an earlier constitutional amendment. “EasyRider” simply acknowledges that motorists, too, have rights. The right to “reasonable and prudent” driving, he repeated.
“The next thing to stop,”—again, no pun intended—”is government-issued driver licenses,” he said.
Trigger ridiculed the “monopoly that has allowed state governments to distinguish between responsible motorists and unsafe drivers. Far better to leave these distinctions in citizens’ hands.”
He noted that his organization was already at the forefront of coordinating citizen-centered driver training.
“Look at our website,” he suggested. We did. It read: “The NRA is recognized nationally as the gold standard for safe driver training, developing millions of safe, ethical, responsible motorists and instructors. Whether you’re a new automobile owner in search of training, or an experienced motorist looking to support others, the NRA has a course for you.”
Who is a safe driver? Trigger’s response was immediate: “The EasyRider Amendment allows Americans—not state governments—to decide for themselves.”
And then Trigger aimed at another of EasyRider’s principal targets, the vehicle identification number, or VIN. A VIN is indelibly stamped into the engine of your vehicle. It is also registered in a database of owned vehicles. Which is to say a database of vehicle owners. Which is to say a database of American citizens.
This database is huge. It’s bigger than the one that Russian hackers have stolen from Yahoo. It’s bigger than the files that Google keeps on Americans. (Well, maybe not THAT big.) Trigger wanted us to “imagine this database falling into the wrong hands,” namely, Russia. Pop-up ads targeted at consumers on the basis of car ownership patterns would be only the beginning.
VIN proponents, Trigger noted, often argue that the database is a crime fighter, making grand theft auto more difficult, making bad guys easier to find. He ridiculed the idea, though. Better to simply “lock your car and take your keys,” he said.
He also pointed out that the automobile has been alone among commonplace technological innovations subject to registration.
“Are we compelled to register our radios and TVs,” he asked. “In socialist Europe, maybe. In the U.S. of A., never. Kitchen appliances? Don’t be silly. Handguns? Unconstitutional. And now, with the 28th Amendment in place, the VIN database is history.”
When Trigger reached his garage in Whitefish he said that he had enjoyed the chance to “whoop it up for the 28th Amendment” but that it was time to park. We posed one final question. In 1919 the 18th Amendment introduced Prohibition in the United States; in 1933 the 21st Amendment repealed the 19th. Would Trigger relinquish his EasyRider rights if a future Amendment were to reverse the 28th?
“I’ll give you my steering wheel when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” he replied.
Interesting food for thought.
Bruce A. Lohof is a native of Montana. A former professor and a retired diplomat, he lives in Vienna and in Red Lodge.