Car safety equipment: an example of a “technical” obligation for wasteful trade
As if import tariffs and technical barriers to trade aren’t toxic enough to undermine the European Single Market that apparently depends on them, there is another form of economic corruption that European states foist upon their dozy consumer-electorates.
This type of corruption is the obligation for wasteful trade and it typically forms part of a series of other non-economic obligations whose breaches trigger a cash-fine.
One of the best examples of the latter is the list of “safety equipment” that car drivers need to have when driving in Europe… and each country is different!
This list, compiled by the AA, summarises the variation of laws that apply. Some laws are consistent, including those whose obsolescence is now unquestionable (e.g. “original registration document”, a relic of an era when no-body had colour laser printers at home and the forging of such documents was so hard that it would be a big criminal enterprise to try to forge such documents; nowadays, all such registrations would/should be electronic to comply with basic common sense).
Too many of these laws vary. Clearly, if safety were the real issue, then the standards would be congruent between all countries.
For example: the warning triangle would be practical only if it is large enough to be seen from over a kilometer away. Fine, but such devices would fit on an open-backed truck, not inside the boot of the standard saloon car. Thus, the warning triangles that consumers apparently need to buy are pathetically small and therefore offer zero benefit to any road user.
Worse, to deploy the small triangle at all means that the driver would need to walk a long way away from his vehicle on the road… and expose himself to avoidable danger as a consequence. So the only sensible use of a mandatory piece of safety equipment is itself dangerous. And only a few of the countries who mandate the triangle also mandate a reflective vest! One simply couldn’t make it up!
The mess of laws relating to car safety represents classic European wonky thinking, yet none of car safety law is particularly difficult to figure out. Yes, the range of road environments between countries can vary considerably. The road environment can even vary within the same county, e.g. southern Finland compared to northern Finland, especially in winter. One standard clearly can’t fit every environment, but the difference in law does not perfectly match the difference(s) in road environment. You might expect vehicles in Finland to require resilience against being hit by a reindeer, especially in rutting season, but some such protections (e.g. cow bars) are banned in Britain, even though Britain has a similar risk in its moorlands. So why have European governments made such a hash of it?
The answer can only be that European law generally follows the demands of pressure groups, including lobbyists, instead of a top-down, rational, logical, objective policy calculation.
We can thus conclude that, for these laws, “car safety” is actually a smokescreen, a mere excuse to introduce such laws. The real objective of these laws can only be economic protectionism for vested interests, who lobbied hard for a law of “drivers need to buy my client’s products regularly and keep it in their car, even if it’s next to useless.” A brilliant example of corruption that results in the “obligation for wasteful trade”.
As for child safety seats, the matter just gets even more absurd. Child booster seats that meet Italian standards don’t meet French standards, so the world’s safest child booster seat (if one exists) would fail to comply with at least one of those two countries’ laws. According to the AA, the Italians appear to have understood that point, to the extent that if you drive in a foreign-registered car, then your foreign child booster seat law applies, and not local Italian law. So if your country’s safety standard is lower than that of Italy, you can lawfully breach Italian safety standards. The net result is so absurd, it demonstrates the futility of having the safety standard in the first place (let alone the law!). Again, one simply couldn’t make it up!
And all of this, along with import tariffs, is just fine and dandy in the European Single Protectionist Zone.
At least the European Commission has documented the consequences of the problem, producing a website that summarises each country’s requirements, in a way that makes quick comparison between countries impossible. Wasn’t the European Commission supposed to be calling for the Single European Driving Zone as part of the Grand European Project?