The House of Representatives recently voted down an amendment aimed at stopping legislation that would mandate the implementation of kill switches in all new vehicles starting in the year 2026
In November of 2021 the federal government passed the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), at the cost of 1.2 trillion US taxpayer dollars to be allocated up to fiscal year 2026.
The purpose of the bill, originally introduced in the INVEST In America Act, was to invest in various transportation and infrastructure projects highlighted by the Biden administration to meet certain transformative goals to significantly reframe the future of US infrastructure to “remediate environmental harms, address the legacy pollution that harms the public health of communities, create good-paying union jobs, and advance long overdue environmental justice”, according to the white House fact sheet.
However, as TFTP reported at the time, as is the case with the majority of legislation various superfluous items were tucked deep inside the thousands of pages that had little if nothing to do with infrastructure.
One of the more nefarious inclusions buried within the bill was an initiative politicians lauded as a means of curbing motorists driving under the influence; a so called “kill switch” mandated to be implemented by automotive manufacturers in all new vehicles beginning in the year 2026. Seemingly a safety device, it would allow for the passive monitoring of a performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether or not that driver may be impaired. Which would then “prevent or limit motor vehicle operation if an impairment is detected.”
While on the surface this technology may seem as though it is prioritizing the well-being of drivers, privacy advocates have voiced numerous concerns regarding the measures intrusiveness and language that appears to leave the door open for abuse by corporations or other government agencies. As it will be ran on an “open” system, containing at least one backdoor to allow authorized third parties, such as law enforcement, to remotely access the system’s data at any time.
Former US representative Bob Barr lambasted the legislation, saying —
This is a privacy disaster in the making, and the fact that the provision made it through the Congress reveals — yet again — how little its members care about the privacy of their constituents.
The lack of ultimate control over one’s vehicle presents numerous and extremely serious safety issues; issues that should have been obvious to Members of Congress before they voted on the measure.
For example, what if a driver is not drunk, but sleepy, and the car forces itself to the side of the road before the driver can find a safe place to pull over and rest? Considering that there are no realistic mechanisms to immediately challenge or stop the car from being disabled, drivers will be forced into dangerous situations without their consent or control.
The government kill switch, now included in the language for H.R.4820 – Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriation Act, 2024 has faced backlash as Republican Representative from Kentucky Thomas Massie recently put forward an amendment challenging to strike the kill switch from the legislation, calling it “a type of dystopian science fiction“. Warning that the nascent technology could misinterpret navigation of icy roads in a blizzard or other road conditions as impairment and then strand motorists.
“In order for a car to be smart enough to know that you’re not driving well and to capture all those conditions accurately, the car would almost have to be smart enough to drive itself,” Mr. Massie said. “It’s literally a back-seat driver.”
On the evening of Tuesday November 7th the House of Representatives held a debate on the amendment. Unfortunately Massie’s efforts to remove the kill switch from the legislation failed by a vote of 229 to 201. 210 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted against the amendment, while only two Democrats sided with the 199 Republicans who voted in favor of it. Eight other members abstained from participating in the late-night voting session.
Since the introduction of the bill publications such as USA Today, The Associated Press, and Snopes have attempted to downplay the concerns about the mandate, issuing “fact checks” asserting that referring to the technology as a kill switch was “alarmist” and “hyperbole”. Going so far as to label claims by Massie and others as “false” because, according to AP, “none of the options being considered would include the risky move of lurching a fast-moving vehicle to an abrupt stop”, as if that is the primary concern of the mandates detractors.
Yet as we can see such framing of the issue by mainstream media is deliberately disingenuous as the language of the bill itself openly states that the technology would prevent the operation of a motor vehicle in the event that such undesired behaviors were detected. Labeling such concerns as “false” takes away from the very real consternations regarding invasions of privacy and unwarranted surveillance, and excessive governmental overreach restricting the fundamental right to freely travel.
In addition to actually posing a danger to drivers based on whether or not the technology is capable of discerning between impairment and necessary corrective driving based on obstructed road conditions; these questions regarding draconian travel restrictions are also not unwarranted.
For example once such a kill switch is implemented, should the government then later arbitrarily decree that restrictions to movement are necessary for the greater good of public safety in the event of an emergency, such as with the lockdown mandates of the COVID-19 pandemic, would they then be free to shut down our access to our privately owned vehicles with the push of a button?
Obviously such actions would be grossly authoritarian, and yet in the hindsight of Covid-1984 insanity doesn’t seem like it would be that unlikely. Especially as some members of the global warming doomsday cult push rhetoric advocating for climate lockdowns as a means of reducing carbon emissions.
Despite the latest attempt to scrap the kill switch having failed it is likely to continue to face opposition from the likes of Massie and others. For Americans who are concerned about the impacts it may have upon their civil liberties, the best course of action would be to raise awareness about this issue, informing others about the bill and its consequences, contacting their representatives, and galvanizing public opposition to kill the kill switch mandate before automakers begin the mass implementation of the technology.
We have two years to do something before this dystopian vision becomes a reality.