New York weighs ban on spinner hubcaps
New York State senator John Sabini is proposing a ban on spinners, those custom hubcaps that rotate independently of the wheels for, uh, aesthetic effect.
Nick Beaudrot sees the proposed ban as an excess of the nanny state. If it's just an aesthetic objection, I'm inclined to agree.
Regardless of the objective merits of the plan, I'll bet there's also a lot of dog whistle racial and class politics behind this proposal. The impetus to ban spinning hubcaps probably has more to do with dislike of the kind of people who tend to have them than with a sober assessment of public safety priorities.
Let's face it, the last thing New York needs is a fresh excuse for the cops to disproportionately ticket young black men.
However, I think Nick is too quick to dismiss the safety argument. It's not just that these spinners are distracting in the sense of being conspicuous or garish.
Hubcaps that rotate independently of wheels can send misleading cues to other drivers about how fast a car is moving--subconsciously, drivers expect that hubcaps are rotating at the same rate as the wheels behind them. Obviously, there are other cues, and drivers generally compensate just fine. However, it seems plausible to me that a split-second miscalculation based on a spinning rim might occasionally contribute to an accident.
A commenter at endgadget put it well:
morcheeba @ Feb 18th 2007 4:18PM
It's not that spinners are distracting... it's that they inhibit my ability to determine if a car is stopped or not. Yeah, of course I look at the car in general to see if it's moving, but the wheels are a good sign, too. Not only am I looking at the direction the wheel is aimed*, I also look at the top of the wheel, which moves at twice the speed of the car.
Personally, I think they look awesome. But, as a motorcyclist, I need to use every piece of information available to me. Most car/bike accidents are left-turning cars who fail to yield -- I need to know if they see me, and I have found that eye contact is not 100% reliable.
So, summary... put spinners on trunk-mounted wheels (which also look awesome... hey, I'm a child of the 70's!). I love under-car lights. Bring on the LED rims... Put as many distractions on the car as you want -- just don't conceal the intentions of the driver (and, yes, that includes limo tint on the driver's side window).
* Don't get me started on turn signals.
So, cognitive psychologists, do spinners pose a safety risk? An auto customization lobby group says there's no evidence that spinning hubcaps are dangerous. But they're not exactly disinterested. Where should I look for an independent assessment of the risks associated with spinners?
I can see a legitimate cause for concern in theory. There are plenty of anecdotal reports of accidents and near-accidents blamed on spinners.
Even if the spinners only pose a slight risk, I think there's a strong justification for banning them. These are decorations, they should be fun and harmless. It's not fair to ask the public to accept even a slight additional safety risk for the sake of someone's car decorations.
It's not like spinning rims are the only way to decorate your hubcaps. Check out these classy LED hubcaps. They can flash your phone number, "Call me!", or even a full-color picture of the driver. Best of all, it's immediately clear that the driver isn't going anywhere with that pickup line.