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Will Sacramento Invade Your Car to Limit How Fast You Can Drive?
Opinion
By Opinion
Published 2 months ago on
February 24, 2024

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California senator proposes speed limiters on cars beginning in 2027.

Speed limiters could be temporarily disabled by drivers or manufacturers.

The proposal raises concerns about privacy and safety on the road.


Do California lawmakers ever sleep? It seems they stay up nights coming up with new ways to intrude into personal lives. They want to control our thermostats. Bar educational choice. Erase worker freedom. Banish plastic products. Decide how we can defend our families and homes.


Kerry Jackson

Opinion

Now one state senator wants to invade our automobiles – while they’re still allowed to be privately owned. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, wants to require cars to have governors that will limit their speed.

Senate Bills 960 and 961, wrapped together in the Speeding and Fatality Emergency Reduction on California Streets Package, are, according to Wiener’s office, “a first-in-the-nation effort to make California roads safe and accessible to all users.”

SB 961 requires “certain vehicles,” starting “with the 2027 model year, to be equipped with an intelligent speed limiter … that would limit the speed of the vehicle to 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.” The top speed would be determined by “the GPS location of the vehicle compared with a database of posted speed limits.” The system could be temporarily disabled by the driver and “​​fully disabled by the manufacturer or a franchisee.”

Legislation Isn’t Fully Baked

Under what conditions the systems can be disabled is unclear – maybe in crisis situations, such as a medical emergency, or, in California, running from a wildfire? – which suggests that maybe the legislation has not been fully thought out.

Wiener justifies yet another government trespass onto private affairs – requiring automakers to build the system into every car they sell in California is clearly an imposition by the state – is necessary because “the alarming surge in road deaths is unbearable and demands an urgent response.” He has, in essence, said “what’s another regulation?” when there are already so many rules and safety laws in place.

The highest speed limit for cars in California is 70 mph on freeways in rural areas. In bordering states, the top limits are 80 mph (Nevada), 75 mph (Arizona), and 70 mph (Oregon). Anyone who’s driven the highways in these states knows that those limits are often violated, and in some cases for good reason: drivers on occasion need to speed up to prevent an accident. Escape techniques that require accelerating beyond the posted limit are even part of driver’s education instruction: “Sometimes it is necessary to speed up to avoid or lessen impact forces in a collision.”

“If you have a skilled driver, you’ve just limited his ability to use speed to react to get away and protect while driving a vehicle,” Rep. Mike Bost, an Illinois Republican said last year during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing over a federal proposal that would mandate speed limiters on trucks weighing 26,001 pounds or more.

An Idea That Could Lead to More Deadly Accidents

Briefly breaking the speed limit to safely pass a slower car is also generally accepted. But a system that automatically limits speed could make doing so riskier. It’s not hard to imagine that being unable to reach the speed to make a safe pass on a two-lane highway could result in a head-on collision.

The governors also raise privacy concerns. If a speed-limiting system restricts movement, could it not also track it, as well? All of Europe has mandated use of an ​​intelligent speed assistance system, which doesn’t override the driver but sends a warning when the speed limit is exceeded. It “involves an aircraft-style ‘black box’ to record speed plus driving and location data,” the Daily Mail reports, and “has sparked fears that the era of the ‘nanny state’ is arriving,” according to the British Express.

Bartlett Cleland, PRI senior fellow for technology and innovation, says the way the California system would be structured means that “data collection and use would be an issue.”

“And I wonder who bears responsibility when the tech goes haywire. Ever had your GPS show you are driving in a building? I have.”

No one doubts that speed can kill. There’s no way around it. But are we to believe the best way to increase safety is to mandate governors? Isn’t it possible that greater law enforcement presence would make auto travel safer? Or that higher fines for speeding violations that sharply increase with every additional citation would help?

Some buyers will want cars with speed limitation devices, especially parents of young drivers. If manufacturers want to offer it as an option, no one will object. But yet another mandate is going to provoke backlash. Not every Californian is eager to comply with the steady stream of edicts that flows from Sacramento.

About the Author

Kerry Jackson is the William Clement Fellow in California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

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