Nations must require safety rules for cars

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Newsflash! Government regulations in the free market economy aren’t always the terrible intrusion many believe them to be.

Yes, there can be unnecessary rules, procedures and paperwork that can burden businesses and add cost to consumers. It is in everyone’s best interest to root out those “unnecessary” regulations and remove them from legislation and from government agency enforcement.

But to be fair, were it not for government regulations regarding the auto industry, as an example, there would have been thousands more deaths and injuries in this country. In 1972, 54,598 traffic fatalities were recorded in the United States. Then the government (and members of the public) got involved and started to require things such as seat belts, antilock brakes, car seats for children, air bags, electronic stability controls and lower tolerance for drinking and driving. In 2011, there were 32,885 deaths, even though the number of miles driven had more than doubled.

It is an indisputable fact these safety regulations save lives. And they were not added to the vehicles through a magnanimous gesture on the part of the auto industry.

But, you may say, we have to pay more for our cars for all this protection.

That may not necessarily be so. A recent report by The Associated Press found that car manufacturers in Mexico add or leave out safety features based on where the car will be sold. If it is to be sold in Mexico or many other Latin American countries (which require almost no safety protections), the features are missing or considered an “option.” Yet, the price of the cars is almost identical to the cars that are shipped to the United States or Europe (which have stringent safety requirements).

Traffic deaths in Mexico rose 58 percent between 2001 and 2011. Over the same decade, the U.S. reduced traffic deaths by 40 percent. According to The Associated Press, the death rate in Mexico, when comparing fatalities with the size of the car fleet, is more than 3.5 times that of the United States.

It’s shameful that automakers are willing to sacrifice lives to pad profits. And Mexico is no small player. It is the world’s fourth largest exporter of cars, even though it has no homegrown brands.

It is time Mexico and other Latin American countries wake up and realize that one of the reasons governments exists is to protect their citizens. They should band together and bring their safety standards in line with the U.S. and Europe.

Sometimes the government has to wield a hammer to make businesses do the right thing. Especially when it is a matter of life or death.

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