Moving backwards with government assistance

When I was younger and considerably more irresponsible than I am now, I bought a used car for almost nothing, which the guy sold me because the (automatic) transmission had conked out and he couldn't move it. Actually, the car could be moved, but only in reverse. The transmission was dead in all forward gears, but in reverse it operated as would any other car. While the car was a little over four miles from where I lived at the time, it occurred to me that if I could just get it home without having it towed (which would have cost more than I paid for the car) I would have a great deal. To do that, though, I would have to drive it in reverse for four miles across town.

Yes, I was crazy enough to do it. My thinking was that when you drive a car in reverse, people usually have enough common sense to understand what that entails, and they just sort of shrug while you slowly work your way in reverse past them -- presumably to get back to wherever it was you wanted to go but made an error, or to return to that parking space you missed. Obviously, driving in reverse is not a good idea at peak traffic times, so I figured I would drive the disabled car home at a time well into the wee hours of the morning.

It was much easier than I thought it would be. The only hard part was craning my neck while driving. I wrapped my right arm around the passenger headrest, and just kept going. What made it even easier was the fact that at 3:00 a.m. the lights in Berkeley are almost all timed, so I didn't have to sit at lights idling with the brake on looking like I had gone through the light and idiotically stopped without continuing "forward." There were a few other drivers on the road, but they had more important things to do than worry about a car backing up. All they were interested in was me getting out of their way and their staying out of my way -- and how on earth would they have known that I was driving a car in reverse for over four miles?

So I made it home. My neck was sore as hell the next day, though.

The reason this bizarre true story from my past came to light is that Glenn Reynolds linked a very irritating article about government run amok.

Federal regulations are to require backup cameras on all new cars by 2014.

By 2014 all new cars sold in the U.S. will have a factory installed back-up camera. These rear-view cameras, already standard on many luxury cars, could help prevent 300 death and 18,000 injuries. It's the law!
All I can say is that law would have spared me a very sore neck if they'd had the cameras back in the old days. I wish they'd had them!

Except I'm wondering whether that's the purpose. Does the government really want to facilitate long distance driving in reverse? Hardly. I think the idea is the ongoing idiot-proofing of everything. The reason there are so many accidents caused by people driving in reverse is that there are so many incompetent drivers on the road who either don't or who can't look before backing up. The latter include fat people, people with back problems, and the elderly, and a whole host of clueless people who simply do not have the manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination, brains, whatever it is you call it. For reasons that defy logic and common sense, the government experts who run everything are bound and determined to make it easier for them.

What they don't realize is that they're also going to make driving in reverse a lot easier for the people who are young, coordinated, and above all video-game savvy. I'm glad I'm not a teenager, because I can just see backup camera facilitated reverse street racing as the Next Big Thing. It's more fun than flying under instruments-only conditions.

Be the first on your block!

Hell, they're probably doing it already.

I'm sure it's a neat game once you get the hang of it.

Probably becomes second nature.

Almost makes me wish I were young so I could experiment.

(Everything will be so much safer.)

posted by Eric on 12.07.10 at 11:20 PM


I am confused, I always thought these were less safe, because of the narrow angle of view. When i turn and look I can see everything. Maybe as you say they are safer for people who can't turn as well. They are really only good to make sure dogs or children aren't behind you when you first start backing up. But won't tell you that a kid is running across the street and that you are on a collision course and will hit him 3 seconds later.

Putting more gadgets in a car won't make people drive more safely, in fact, there is a name for a phenomenon that increasing the safety (or feeling of safety) leads to people taking bigger risks. Streets that are built up actually encourage drivers to go faster. Just as federal insurance encourages banks to gamble with that first 100k. So will these merely encourage people to back up more recklessly, thinking "I don't see anything in my camera" and not actually look side to side to see if someone's coming?

Maybe we should make drivers tests harder, and require people to pass the driving portion more often. I never knew how many people are horrible drivers (and how bad a driver even I was) until I started cycling to work. Most drivers don't even know the laws let alone how to drive safely.

plutosdad   ·  December 8, 2010 12:40 PM

Either they work or they don't. It doesn't matter whether I like big or small government, it matters whether there is evidence that they make operation of the car safer.

I don't know know the research in this field. Someone who does might be able to point us to the facts.

Don   ·  December 8, 2010 3:09 PM

Make backing up seem safer, and people won't be as careful. I predict accidents will increase.

LarryD   ·  December 8, 2010 3:38 PM

Could be. At least your prediction is testable. Surely someone has done the test and has the results already?

Don   ·  December 8, 2010 3:57 PM

And self-righteous government types will continue to scold car makers for their products that are too expensive and get lousy gas mileage (due to the weight of all the safety crap they require).

Bram   ·  December 9, 2010 8:05 AM

We had less of an excuse for taking our first car out for a spin in a cats and dogs rainstorm without functioning windshield wipers. I told my brother how many feet or inches he was from the white line, and he drove.


I do remember seeing a semi truck at one truckstop smoothly back from across the back parking lot, an dline up between two other semis parked with just enough space for one semi between them. I was VERY impressed.

Me, when I back up a car ten feet, I tend to squiggle the car a bit.

Tennwriter   ·  December 9, 2010 11:34 AM

...Excellent story Eric...LOL...:-)

mike   ·  February 25, 2011 3:32 AM

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