Federal regulators recently reached a "voluntary compliance" agreement with the major automakers, under the terms of which they will fit all their new passenger vehicles with brake-shift interlocks by 2010. The devices are designed to prevent the gearshift of an automatic-equipped vehicle from being inadvertently moved out "Park" (and the vehicle set in motion) by a child fiddling around with the controls or just crawling around inside the vehicle.

Over the past decade or so, NHTSA has recorded about 212 "unexpected starts" of vehicles not equipped with interlocks - and seven fatalities. Chrysler Corp. has been the target of several lawsuits over accidents which occurred in minivans that lacked the interlocks.

But forget the interlocks for a minute.

What about the negligent parents who are leaving children inside a running vehicle, unattended? In all the news coverage heralding this magnificent safety concordat (instigated by the lawsuits and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who along with Republican Rep. John Sununu co-authored the Cameron Gulbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act), no mention whatever has been made of that decisive "first cause." Had the engine been turned off, the transmission put in "Park" and the key removed, it would not have been possible for the kids who got hurt to have set the whole horrible chain of events in motion.

Instead, it's the automakers' fault - and Hildebeast to the rescue.

"These tragedies are heart-wrenching, not only due to the unimaginable grief these families endure, but also because they are preventable," she wrote in a recent op-ed defending their legislation.

Well, yes - these tragedies were "entirely preventable." If, that is, the adults around at the time had exercised some common sense.

When a responsible adult is not behind the wheel the engine should always be turned off, the transmission put in "Park," the ignition key turned to the "lock" position and removed. This small precautionary step taken, it becomes next-to-impossible for the vehicle to move - no matter what little Cody or Ashlee is doing.

End of problem.

But since an ever-growing number of people (in particular, parents) apparently cannot be counted on to exercise common sense, we have to depend on politicians - and the government - to protect these dumbos from their own dim-wittedness.

Hillary and John also want to have the federal government require that all new vehicles leave the factory with "backover prevention technology" - sensors and even closed-circuit TV cameras built into the rear-end of a car or truck that sound the alarm if the driver's about to run over a toddler. Many new cars already offer this feature - but Hillary and John want to make it mandatory across the board.

Even if you don't have kids and don't drive a family-type vehicle. And even if you are the type of driver who takes a moment to be sure there's nothing back there before you back up. You'll get to pay for expensive equipment you neither need nor want.

This is the top-heavy solution to the problem of a handful of distracted (and arguably negligent) parents smooshing their own spawn under the family SUV or minivan. The parent involved can't be bothered to do the old fashioned thing and make sure no kids are crawling around the driveway before they begin backing up.

It's of a piece with lawsuits directed at manufacturers of riding lawnmowers, who have been blamed for a handful of accidents that occurred when a baby or toddler was killed by Backyard Bob. No one ever asks why Backyard Bob permitted a baby to roll around on the lawn while he was cutting the grass with dangerous power equipment - or dares to suggest that perhaps Bob might have looked where he was mowing instead of guzzling down another Milwaukee's Best.

Hillary and John also want auto-reversing power windows, and a new federal requirement that "... data on non-traffic vehicle accidents be collected (to) help raise awareness among parents of these dangers through a child safety information program."

It'll all cost money, of course - in the case of mandatory stability control technology and back-up sensors, at least several hundred dollars or more per vehicle based on the current prices of these features.

More basically, though, all this is stuff is just another brick in the wall our government is building around us - ostensibly, to protect us but in reality to keep us hemmed in behind the skirts of Big Momma and terrified of the dangers of the world outside.

A people capable of looking out for itself (and for its kids) doesn't need what the Hildebeast is selling

And that would be bad for business.