Republicans Vote with Democrats In Favor of Driver Sensors and Kill Switches in Cars

Photography by Andrew Evans

Photography by Andrew Evans

House Republicans have chosen to vote with Democrats requiring all new cars to have kill switches from 2026 onwards.

Neatly tucked away in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are provisions that could affect car enthusiasts as well as run of the mill regular car owners. One provision of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – HR 3684 Section 24205 – requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to mandate ISG (Idle Stop Go) on new internal-combustion vehicles. Another provision – HR 3684 Section 24208 – requires inclusion of automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping technology for crash avoidance. HR 3684 Section 24209 mandates that the NHTSA research camera-based interventions to detect and reduce driver distraction, disengagement or complacency. HR 3684 Section 24220 mandates the installation of advanced technologies to prevent drunk and impaired driving. This section includes equipment which can listen to sounds inside the car, monitor conversations, and track eye movement using cameras and sensors. The purpose of Section 24220 is to prevent drunk driving, but critics have raised concerns about its impact on privacy as it gives the government and car manufacturers broad powers.

Recently Republicans, led by Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) brought to the floor an amendment to defund Section 24220.  They were unsuccessful. 

Critics feel Section 24220 could lead to privacy violations by corporations under the direction of the Federal government. Will the Artificial Intelligence monitoring the vehicle be able to distinguish between a driver swerving to avoid an obstacle in the road or due to impairment? Critics also worry whether the AI can differentiate between a driver rushing to the Emergency Room or participating in illegal activities. Lastly, many express concern that car manufacturers could legally collect, store, and sell personal data from car owners, similar to class action lawsuits currently alleging manufacturers do when a motorist connects their phone to a car’s infotainment system.

In a 229 to 201 vote the House rejected Thomas Massie’s (R-KY) amendment which would have defunded Section 24220.  Nineteen Republicans sided with the Democrats.  The Republicans voting to preserve funding for Section 24220 included Bilirakis (FL), Carey (OH), Fitzpatrick (PA), Fleischmann (TN), Garbarino (NY), Garcia (CA), Joyce (PA), Kean (NJ), Kiley (CA), Kim (CA), Kustoff (TN), Lawler (NY), Mace (SC), Nunn (IA), Salazar (FL), Smith (NJ) and Thompson (PA).

For many years courts have ordered the installation of immobilizers in vehicles owned by individuals convicted of drunk driving. The driver must blow into the immobilizer before starting the car. However, Section 24220 would allow car manufacturers and the government to test the air within a vehicle’s cabin. How would the car would differentiate between the breath of a designated driver and an intoxicated passenger?