With gas prices climbing, so is the popularity of fuel-efficient cars. AltTransport.com, a site “dedicated to giving you the latest news and the smartest analysis of the shift towards smarter and more efficient modes of transportation,” reports that “with gas prices rising, car manufacturers are starting to see some of their most fuel-efficient cars fly off the shelves.” A call to the Smart Car Center in my area reveals that their sales are currently about double the usual; seven sales by mid-month rather than the usual three to five.
While the Smart Car may get good gas mileage and fit into tight parking places, how “smart” is it really? The April 2012 issue of Consumer Reports is now out and features the best and worst cars of 2012. The Smart Car didn’t make the list, nor did it receive a “recommended” rating in the “Hatchback: fuel-efficient class”—where its overall road test rating is 28 of a possible 100.
The April issue’s “Safety” section states: “Even a small car with a good crash-test rating will bear the brunt of a crash with a larger sedan, SUV or pick up.” The issue also states that “motor-vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people 5-34 years old and that they amount to more than $99 billion a year in medical and lost-work costs because of injuries.” Crash tests show the Smart Car is “jarringly stupid.” Video from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that in a crash with a mid-size Mercedes C-Class sedan, “the Smart ForTwo is not only pulverized, with the passenger compartment getting squashed, but it goes airborne like a beach ball.” Just how “smart” is that? Is gas mileage more important that safety? I’d call it “stupid.”
Like burgundy is 2012’s “new black” for fall—serving as a “new neutral hue” that “will soon become the new backbone of your fall wardrobe”—and sixty is the new forty because “people are living longer today, they're healthier, and they're enjoying life more,” “smart” is the new “stupid.”
Labeling something “smart” has the automatic implication that it is right and better—when in fact, like the Smart Car, it may be “stupid” (or, at least, have foolish elements).
The April 2012 issue of Consumer Reports has a section titled: “Stopping car crashes with smarter cars,” which focuses on how “talking cars can protect you.” The systems are several steps up from electronic toll collection or the use of drive-by weigh stations favored by truckers. These V2X systems allow cars in the same area to communicate with each other over a wireless network, exchange data about each vehicle’s speed, location, and direction of travel. Consumer Reports admits that “to some this might seem like a Big Brother approach to monitoring driver behavior,” but says: “such a system has the potential to help drivers avoid” crashes. Sounds “smart.” But, Justin Brookman, director of the Consumer Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, points out: “The concern is that once you set up a mechanism to collect data for one admittedly beneficial use, there are no intrinsic limitations on that data being collected retained, transferred, and used for other purposes.”
We’ve recently seen the collection of data being done without consumer approval as in the case against Google and Apple. On January 23, the US Supreme Court ruled that use of a wireless GPS device attached by law enforcement to monitor a vehicle, without a court order as required for wire taps and other types of monitoring the citizenry is unlawful, a violation of the 4th Amendment. Yet, unauthorized data collection is one of the primary concerns facing consumers in states with mandated “smart” meters.
If you live in a state that is not requiring smart meters, you may not know what they are. Smart meters replace your standard analog electric meter with a digital one that can be read from a central office rather than a meter reader visiting your home—thus eliminating hundreds of jobs. President Obama says they are “devices that will have a direct benefit for consumers who want to save money on their electric bills.” They will “Allow you to actually monitor how much energy your family is using”—“even by the hour.” But these smart meters allow others to “monitor” your electricity use as well. Additionally, the next generation of smart meters will probably have controls that let the electric company turn off your electricity at peak times—or, perhaps, if you use too much.
Addressing smart meters, Mark Levin, talk show host and author of Liberty and Tyranny and Ameritopia, says: “I don’t need some smart meter telling me when to increase or reduce the heat. We also know when the peak periods are—when we are home! That’s when the peak periods are. Think we are that stupid?” He captures the concern so many feel when he says: “It is there to monitor you and dictate to you.” He concludes, “The less information they have about real American citizens the better.”
Opponents of mandatory smart meters believe that they violate constitutional and statute matters, in that they include unreasonable, invasive networking elements to detect, record, report and exploit private customer energy consumption and other personal information, without receiving prior customer agreement. In response to increasing customer objections to the smart meters, many states are now proposing opt-out programs—often with high fees for the customers who do not cooperate with the plan. Without fully understanding the implications, paid for with taxpayer dollars doled out through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (stimulus funds), thousands of Americans have given up freedoms.
Like the Smart Car, smart meters sound good. The Smart Car does get good gas mileage, but it is dangerous. Smart meters can help manage how energy is used and keep power reliable, therefore keeping customers happy. But smart meters need to be something that people ask for, not something that is forced upon them; something that rewards ratepayers with lower rates for allowing their appliances to be turned off at peak times, not something that charges penalties to opt out.
And we haven’t even touched on the smart grid.
When you hear something being touted as “smart,” beware. Chances are that it is a marketing technique designed to make you think you should have something that is really “stupid.”
Burgundy is the new black. Sixty is the new forty. Smart is the new stupid.