The Ethical Spectacle, May 1995,

Alternate Realities: A Constitutional Right to Drive Cars

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, a chronosynplastic infundibulum opened up at my feet, and I fell through. Its so annoying when that happens! When I recovered, I was still in my own apartment, but in a parallel world.

I'm no sucker; I've had this happen enough times that I know the last thing you want to do in a parallel world is rush out of the house, until you figure out what is different. I have learned by experience that the right place to start is by looking at the U.S. Constitution. I opened up the familiar-looking volume, and here is what I found, in place of the Second Amendment I knew:

Transports of people and communications between places being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to conduct conveyances shall not be infringed.
A constitutional right to drive coaches, which undoubtedly evolved into a right to drive cars! This was an interesting development. I peered out the front window into the street.

In my own world, there is relatively little traffic on my street; in this one, cars--some were so huge, you could hardly call them cars-- were whizzing down the street at speeds of up to 250 miles an hour. Some of them looked more like tanks than automobiles, and some drove as much on the sidewalk as in the street. A vehicle with balloon wheels, driven by a boy so young his head barely cleared the wheel, drove halfway up my front steps, and then my neighbor's steps as well.

There were no pedestrians anywhere to be seen! I was afraid to leave the house and sat for over an hour, peering out, until it was almost midnight and things began to quiet down. Meanwhile, some neighborhood teenagers arrived, parking their cars half on the sidewalk, and leading me to notice something else: there were no parking meters or signs to be seen anywhere.

Just then, a strange creature came down the street, looking like the Michelin Tire Man. When he was under the streetlight just outside, I realized, from his hat, that it was a perfectly ordinary New York policeman, wearing an outlandish protective suit intended to save his life in case a car hit him. Since no-one had driven by in a few minutes, I felt emboldened to emerge from my house and speak to him.

Adopting my best imitation of a Norwegian accent, I approached the cop and explained that I was a reporter from a small Scandinavian country he had never heard of. He was glad to stand by my stoop a minute and chat, mopping his brow and perspiring immensely from the confining rubber suit.

"In my country," I said, "cars are regulated."

"I often wish they were here,"he said, "but the Constitution forbids it."

"Why do people feel so sure that the Constitution forbids it? Couldn't you have a licensing scheme without infringing it? In my country, no-one can drive until they are at least sixteen."

"In the earlier years of this century," he replied, "we had that too; but a very powerful lobby, the National Driver's Association, has succeeded in lining up enough Congressmen to put accross the idea that the Second Amendment is absolute."

"So," I said, looking around, "there can be no restrictions on speed?"

"Its been held unconstitutional."

"No regulation about parking?"

"When it was tried, the NDA screamed we were trying to take their cars away."

"No law against driving on the sidewalk?"

"An illegitimate infringement of the rights of drivers."

"Nothing illegal when that kid drove up these steps before?"

"There's an easement, sir, acquired by generations of drivers; look at the tire marks on the steps."

"I suppose children can drive at any age?"

"As a practical matter, they have to see over the wheel; but the law is silent on it."

"No license is required to drive a car?"

"The NDA said licensing requirements were only a way of knowing who had cars, so a tyrannical government could confiscate them."

"I suppose annual pedestrian fatalities are significant?"

"Many hundreds of thousands of people a year, plus drivers and passengers in vehicles; but the NDA said its the price we pay for liberty."

"What were those spikes I saw on the fender of several of the vehicles?"

"Oh, they're intended to pierce suits like these; but the NDA claims they are merely cosmetic, and any regulation against them would put us on the slippery slope to the banning of cars entirely."

"How do you feel about it?" I asked. "You have to walk around in that outlandish suit, and everyone on this block is afraid to come out of the house."

"What's a cop make in your country?" he asked, laughing, and took his leave.

I went back inside and waited for the chronosynplastic infundibulum that would return me to my own world. If I can learn how to get control of these things--if my special tachyon beam infundibulum integrator manipulator research bears fruit--one day I will travel in time, in my own or another reality; and when I reach the 1780's, I will warn the Founders of the extreme silliness of referring to any kind of machinery in the Constitution. :{)