In most cases, excessive regulation doesn’t surprise me all that much. It usually focuses on familiar industries, such as automobiles. So, for example, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration came up with a rule mandating that all cars and light trucks sold in the United States have rearview cameras, it wasn’t a great shock.
But every now and then, regulators do something that catches me off guard. This is from the Economist:
Vancouver’s ban on doorknobs in all new buildings, which went into effect last month, … has provoked a strong reaction from the door-opening public and set off a chain reaction across the country as other jurisdictions ponder whether to follow Vancouver’s lead.
Wait, what?? They are banning doorknobs? I confess that this threw me when I first read it. Were they going to require some sort of Star Trek-like eyeball scanning device, along with an automatic door?
Turns out it wasn’t anything quite so techonoligcally advanced. They just want “levered doorhandles” instead. Here’s their rationale:
The war on doorknobs is part of a broader campaign to make buildings more accessible to the elderly and disabled, many of whom find levered doorhandles easier to operate than fiddly knobs. Vancouver’s code adds private homes to rules already in place in most of Canada for large buildings, stipulating wider entry doors, lower thresholds and lever-operated taps in bathrooms and kitchens.
I would have thought doorknobs were pretty easy to deal with, but OK, maybe levers are easier. But I’m not sure how you go from “some people find levers easier” to “everyone must use levers!”
Furthermore, perhaps levers are too easy:
True, elderly and disabled people find it easier to operate doors with handles. But so do bears. In British Columbia, bears have been known to scavenge for food inside cars—whose doors have handles, knob advocates point out. Pitkin County, Colorado, in the United States, has banned door levers on buildings for this very reason. One newspaper columnist in the pro-knob camp has noted that the velociraptors in “Jurassic Park” were able to open doors by their handles.
Obviously, bears don’t vote (nor do velociraptors), so we probably can’t attribute these developments to regulatory capture by the bear lobby, which wants easier access to people food (are campers getting more careful with their “pic-a-nic” baskets these days?). Nevertheless, something seems a little off in the regulatory process in Vancouver.
Simon Lester is a trade policy analyst with the Cato Institutes’ Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies. His research focuses on WTO disputes, regional trade agreements, disguised protectionism and the history of international trade law.