Regulating Your Status Symbols

12 April 2005

In another magnificent act of stupidity your government (and mine) has found a way to protect us from ourselves. Craig Cantoni is all over it!

A life is worth $9.8 million but not $10
By Craig J. Cantoni
April 11, 2005

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has just announced that tire sensors will be required on vehicles beginning in 2008. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently issued a report showing that car ownership costs are the second highest household expense in the U.S., second only to housing costs and three times as much as medical costs.

Maybe the two agencies should talk to each other. That way, the NHTSA would know how its regulations have increased the cost of car ownership over the years, one regulation at a time.

The establishment media could help. Instead of reporting that the U.S. has a medical cost crisis, they could start reporting that the nation has a car cost crisis. At the same time, they could change the way that they cover new safety regulations.

The current way is to report the cost of a new regulation and the estimated lives that it will save. For example, in reporting on the tire sensor regulation, the media said that the cost of a dashboard warning light for low tire pressure would average only $59 per vehicle and would save 120 lives a year. No mention was made of the cost per life saved.

After conducting five minutes of Internet research and using fourth-grade math, I calculated the cost. Apparently, reporters either don’t think that readers are worth five minutes of research or can’t do fourth-grade math.

By the time that all vehicles are equipped with the tire sensors and the first 120 lives are saved, the cost will be $13 billion, or $108 million per life, based on the NHTSA estimates. After that, the annual marginal cost will be $9.8 million per life.

Of course, these costs are accurate only if the NHTSA estimates are accurate. Unlike the media, I don’t accept the NHTSA numbers at face value.

First, it is doubtful that the government really knows how many deaths are caused by low tire pressure. We do know, however, that safety advocates have a record of exaggerating dangers and underestimating the cost of safety regulations. Second, the government’s cost estimates don’t include the cost of repairing the sensors when they inevitably malfunction, or the cost of lawsuits when trial lawyers claim that deaths were caused by malfunctions. Third, it is doubtful that the government knows how many drivers will ignore a dashboard warning light and drive with low tire pressure.

On the last point, I have two cars with dashboard warning lights that are always blinking red. Both are giving a false indication that there is something wrong with the emission control system. I have fixed the ersatz problem by placing black electrical tape over the lights.

This is not to suggest that I would ignore low tire pressure. I check my tires every two weeks, adding air when necessary with an air compressor that cost $120. My “tire sensor” is a hand-held digital pressure gauge that cost $10, or 17 percent of the cost of a government-mandated tire sensor. And it can be used on more than one car.

Evidently, many people don’t think that their life is worth the $10 cost of a tire gauge. But our compassionate, munificent government thinks that their life is worth $9.8 million to the rest of us.

* * *

Mr. Cantoni is an author, columnist and founder of Honest Americans Against Legal Theft ( He can be reached at or

Filed under: