This week's announcement of a suite of vehicle safety systems has been described by road safety charities as the biggest life-saving change to automobile safety since the introduction of the seatbelt. The safety package is likely to be compulsory in new cars from 2022, provided EU member states do not object, after being agreed by the European Commission. The rules will be apply in Britain regardless of the outcome of Brexit, according to the Department for Transport.
The package contains 11 safety-enhancing systems, but the most controversial is a system that limits engine power based on the speed limit. This can be overriden by putting your foot down all the way, to allow for acceleration when needed, for overtaking for example. The EU predicts the entire plan could help avoid 140,000 serious injuries by 2038.
Some motoring organisations have argued that GPS and sign recognition technology is not yet up to scratch for a system like this, others have voiced concerns that the limited engine power could cause more problems than it solves. But none have wanted to outright condemn the measures - nobody wants to be the person against the seatbelt, after all.
My concern is that limiting speed will take all the fun out of driving; that in the name of safety, we must forfeit enjoyment. And in some ways, I agree. What is a little thrill compared to a human life? It seems obvious which one should come out on top. But if the law is to prioritise the reduction of risk above all else, surely it will need to crack down on other high-risk activities. Extreme sports have a huge risk of injury, and can't be justified as neccessary in the same way as car travel. Perhaps we should ban candles, which have a fire risk much greater than turning a light on?
The point is that safety cannot be the only concern when making decisions. Humans seek out thrills, and stopping us from seeking them out will have huge unintended consequences. Parents thought they were doing the right thing by keeping their children inside after fears of pedophiles rose in the 2000s; these children are now criticised for being addicted to their phones, for having no life experience or social skills, and suffer from a whole range of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. The 'nanny state' is often condemned, but never halted.
Eliminating the small pleasures in life, be it driving, cutting-edge shock-comedy, or even wood-burning stoves in the name of higher causes will produce a generation of depressed, directionless semi-adults with issues we haven't even imagined yet. Safety is all well and good, but what's the point in being safe if there's no purpose to it?
Perhaps the solution is to factor 'fun' into public health decisions; though I can't imagine it would hold much importance. After all, it's hard to argue against anything that stops people dying. What could be more important than a life?