Parents of teenaged drivers can now keep track of their kids' driving habits - including how fast they're driving - with an onboard digitized nanny called CarChip (see that plugs into any modern vehicle's Electronic Control Unit (ECU), the computer "brain" that runs the car's systems. The device can record up to 75 hours of driving data, which may then be downloaded and viewed on a PC by the parental units.

Fleet operators already use such technology to discourage (or even physically prevent) their drivers from exceeding the posted limit, or driving too may hours in succession, etc.

How long before it becomes standard equipment in your next new car?

Consider yourselves warned.

For as sure as Christmas comes in December, you can bet that "safety" advocates are going to push for just exactly that. As the Chicago Tribune reported, "Safety experts hope that one day automakers will use existing technology to make it impossible to start a car without wearing a seat belt or to exceed pre-set speed limits." (Italics mine.)

Who will dare argue against this? To do so would like to trying to answer the infamous trick question, "When was the last time you beat your wife?" To even suggest that driving faster than whatever the speed limit happens to be might not necessarily be dangerous is to open oneself up to a fusillade of hysterical abuse from those who believe any speed limit is holy writ. Period.

Who else sees a happy future? State and local governments that depend heavily on "revenue" from traffic tickets - and the insurance cartels who use trumped-up traffic tickets as pretexts for "rate adjustments."

Today (for the moment, anyhow) most states have raised their posted limits on highways 10-15 mph beyond what they were prior to 1995 - when Congress finally repealed the loathsome 55 MPH "National Maximum Speed Limit" law that had been imposed some 20 years previously. Despite predictions of mayhem, accident and fatality rates did not climb along with the higher speed limits - calling into question the cry that "speed kills!"

If so, why did it not kill this time? Has driving 65, 70 or even 75 mph simply become "safe" by dint of an overnight changing of the numbers on a sign? Or was it perfectly safe to drive that fast all along?

The answer is obvious.

But had technology like the CarChip been around during the '70s and '80s and through the mid-1990s when the 55 mph limit was in force, driving would have been even more of an ordeal than it already was. They tried to condition us to Life in the Slow Lane by requiring that new car speedometers read no higher than 85 mph - and if that didn't work (it didn't) by dogging us with tickets and radar traps. Even so, these tactics didn't keep us from exercising our own judgment - and driving at speeds that seemed reasonable for conditions, no matter what the sign by the side of the road happened to say.

Tickets be damned.

The odds were good you could evade Johnny Law - and get away with thumbing your nose at the Double Nickle. At least, most of the time.

Today, the advent of the computer-controlled car opens up an ugly new chapter in enforcement technology and Big Momma-ism. What the alliance of Roscoe P. Coltrane, Joan Claybrook and their friends in the insurance industry never managed to achieve in their time is now something that could be put into place overnight. And which would be much harder to get around.

With GPS and Radio Frequency ID (RFID )transponders, it's possible to both record and transmit, in real-time, data about your driving habits - as you drive. Not only is it technologically possible to control your speed, it's just as easy to record all incidences of "speeding," no matter how furtive or brief. And automatically debit your bank account for the fine.

Onboard "black box" data recorder are already standard equipment in many new vehicles. And guess what? Even though it's your name on the title and you're making the payments, according to the courts, you don't "own" the data stored in the black box. It may be collected and used against you, without your consent -let alone a warrant - at least under current legal doctrine. That may change - but don't count on it. We live at a time when the Supreme Court has given its approval to the forcible "taking" of private property for the private gain of a shopping mall or new condo development. Money talks. So does power. The insurance cartel and multi-tiered levels of government have both, in quantity.

They're not going to let this opportunity pass.