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Muffled Threats

Two mundane problems threaten 1st world populations and, through them, people everywhere. First, there is the problem of finding a home for the garbage they generate.

A more urgent difficulty involves our love affair  with automobiles.

The garbage issue has been proving to be somewhat manageable. People have been reducing, reusing and recycling. They are tolerating 'lift limits', bag tags and fees to discard refrigerators and tires.

Our love affair with automobiles is more intractable. The need for roadways, parking facilities, the mayhem caused by traffic accidents, global warming, the health and environmental consequences of pollutants... continues to rise.

Analogues of 'lift limits' and 'bag tags' tend to be regressive. Licence fee and gas tax increases only interrupt the travel plans of poor people , or businesses unable to pass costs to customers.

Toll roads – such as the #407 highway across the top of Toronto – are the thin edge of a two-tier road system. In the future, the wealthy will enjoy superb highways, while the the rest of us suffer gridlock. In the meantime, transit systems are poorly subsidized, and passenger trains  fewer and farther between. Bicyclists are kin to tree-huggers. They should be listened to politely lest they run amok, but otherwise ignored.

As has often been observed, part of the problem is that automobiles encourage fantasies of autonomy, worth and anonymity. Automobiles come and go as drivers please. Passengers ride on computer-designed suspensions: Point and glide; point and be transported!

The problem is getting worse. Not only are urbanites increasingly in need of psychological fixes (and prone to road rage when interrupted) modern automobiles are increasingly adept at delivering such anodynes. Along with superb sound systems, on Star navigation, collision avoidance and back up assists ... today’s vehicles proceed along highways in majestic silence. Wind noise has been vanquished with cunning fuselages. Exhaust gases – rife with carbon monoxide and other pollutants – whisper away outside hermetically sealed interiors.

The fact that these gases are inhaled by passengers in following cars does not seem to be an issue.

In any event, the magnificent silence of the modern automobile suggests a solution. A simple change to The Highway Traffic Act could duplicate the user-pay regimen helping manage garbage problems.

Some intrepid government-in-waiting (Canada's Green Party comes to mind) could promise to pass legislation prohibiting mufflers on passenger and recreational vehicles.

Buses and commercial vehicles would continue as they are, but muffling privately owned combustion engine vehicles should be made illegal. In such a world, people would only fire up  family chariots for cause. Frivolous trips would diminish. Swains would no longer seek to impress girls with deafening rides across town.

Traffic officers could put aside radar equipment: If a car goes by that can't be heard ... ticket books could come out.  No Muffler legislation would dramatize an important truth: Automobiles are seductive,  dangerous contraptions. Prohibiting mufflers would create a user-suffer environment analogous to garbage bag tags. They would provide an 'early warning system'  benefiting the enlarged population of bikers, pedestrians and transit users that would result.

Finally, muffler- banning legislation would encourage the migration to electric vehicles. However, because EVs are only somewhat better than gasoline, these vehicles should be required to bark out unpleasant exhaust sounds as well, a need  Elon Musk's farting Teslas may have anticipated.