Editor’s note: This satirical commentary was originally drafted for online newsite, “Last Best News,” but has been freshened up to fit the circumstances of today.
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, for example, handguns, have always enjoyed.
The 28th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States – popularly known as the “Easy Rider” Amendment – was ratified earlier this week. Simply but stridently, the Amendment says: “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 White Fish, Montana, Paul Trigger, President of the National Road Association (NRA), effused that the 28th Amendment was a “green light” for motorists throughout the nation. “With Easy Rider 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 the state, he often drives a convertible), Trigger repeated a mantra beloved by “Easy Rider” proponents: Cars don’t rollover people; people rollover 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, America’s freedom-loving motorists could simply ignore them.
“The next thing to go is speed limits,” he chuckled.
Trigger remembers his father –also a car-rights proponent – telling him how in the 1970s 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 gunowners limited to the purchase of small-bore weapons?” Trigger asked. “Of course not,” he answered, referring to an earlier constitutional amendment. “Easy Rider” simply acknowledges that motorists, too, have rights. The right to “reasonable and prudent” driving, he repeated.
“The next thing to stop 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,” he said, “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 Easy Rider Amendment allows Americans – not state governments — to decide for themselves.”
And then Trigger aimed at another of Easy Rider’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 data base 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 “image this database falling into the wrong hands,” like Russia.
Pop-up ads targeted at consumers on the basis of car ownership patterns would be only the beginning.
Pro-VIN elements, Trigger noted, often argue that the database is a tool for fighting crime, making grand theft auto more difficult and 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 data base is history.”
In 1919, the 18th Amendment introduced Prohibition in the United States; in 1933 the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th. Would Trigger relinquish his Easy Rider 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.
Bruce A. Lohof is a native of Montana. A former professor and a retired diplomat, he lives in Red Lodge and Vienna.