Vehicle Kill Switches – Another Step in Government Overreach

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

Most of us, including politicians, pay little attention to the details that appear in the bills that eventually become law.  The Biden Administration's Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act or H.R. 3684 is a prime example of how certain aspects of a bill can be used for what could be nefarious purposes under the guise of providing a benefit to Americans. 

Please understand that I am not trying to condone certain illegal activities, rather, the purpose of this posting is help us all to better understand how governments are increasingly infringing on what little remains of our privacy and our rights.

We all know that impaired driving is a big problem and that governments address the issue through the implementation of impaired driving laws.  In H.R. 3684 the Biden Administration is throwing its hat into the ring as we find in Section 24220 quoted here (my bolds throughout):

SEC. 24220. ADVANCED IMPAIRED DRIVING TECHNOLOGY

(a)   Findings.–Congress finds that—

(1) alcohol-impaired driving fatalities represent   approximately 1/3 of all highway fatalities in the United States each year;

(2) in 2019, there were 10,142 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in the United States involving drivers with a blood alcohol concentration level of .08 or higher, and 68 percent of the crashes that resulted in those fatalities involved a driver with a blood alcohol concentration level of .15 or higher;

(3) the estimated economic cost for alcohol-impaired driving in 2010 was $44,000,000,000;

(4) according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety,  advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology can prevent more than 9,400 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities          annually; and

(5) to ensure the prevention of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology must be standard equipment in all new passenger motor vehicles.

(b) Definitions.–In this section:

(1) Advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology.–The term “advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology'' means a system that–

(A) can-

(i) passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify  whether that driver may be impaired; and

 (ii) prevent or limit motor vehicle operation if an impairment is detected;

(B) can-

(i) passively and accurately detect whether the blood alcohol concentration of a driver of a  motor vehicle is equal to or greater than the blood alcohol concentration described in section  163(a) of title 23, United States Code; and

(ii) prevent or limit motor vehicle operation  if a blood alcohol concentration above the legal  limit is detected; or

(C) is a combination of systems described in subparagraphs (A) and (B).

Advanced Drunk and Impaired Driving Prevention Technology Safety Standard.  

Subject to subsection (e) and not later than 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall issue a final rule prescribing a Federal motor vehicle safety standard under section 30111 of title 49, United States Code, that requires passenger motor vehicles manufactured after the effective date of that standard to be equipped with advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology.

To allow for manufacturer compliance, the compliance date of the  rule issued under subsection (c) shall be not earlier than 2 years and not more than 3 years after the date on which that rule is issued."

There is the key; if the system interprets that your behaviour indicates that you are impaired, it can prevent or limit the operation of a vehicle.  Given the passive nature of the technology, it will always be "on" in the background, monitoring the operator's behaviour and their driving technique.  

How could this technology work?  The most likely technology at this point would be using an analysis of an in-vehicle video system which is focussed on the driver as quoted here from an ACLU commentary on the issue:

"1.) Video analytics technology (as we discussed in this report) has made great strides but continues to work poorly in many respects. In particular, a number of driver monitoring products are based on “emotion recognition” algorithms that are so problematic as to basically constitute snake oil. The visual detection of intoxication would seem to be an even harder problem.

2.) Would such a system falsely classify people with certain disabilities as being intoxicated?  Such a system would require every car to have a built-in camera focused on the driver. Would that video be stored, or processed in real-time? Would that camera be available for other applications? If so, would the data all flow to the same place?

3.) Would the system check the driver when they start their car, or continuously monitor them while they’re behind the wheel? The latter concept would involve the collection of far more data. It would also raise questions about how a car that is in motion — and potentially in the middle of merging onto a highway — could be safely disabled.

4.) Will the system minimize false negatives (allowing some people to drive even though they’re drunk) or false positives (missing fewer drunk people but preventing more sober people from starting their cars)? Every system has errors, but depending on how sensitive you make it you can tilt the balance between false positives and false negatives."

Basically, there are two questions to be answered:

1.) What will happen to all of the data that is collected by the system?

2.) If the system detects an impaired driver, how will it respond?  Will it involve the use of a kill switch to disable the vehicle?

There is little doubt that this technology raises significant privacy issues as well as reversing the "burden of proof", resulting in a guilty until proven innocent scenario.

While the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act does have the potential to address and repair the deteriorating state of America's infrastructure, there is a catch.  There is always a catch.  This technology being recommended in the Act is being sold to Americans as a safety measure, however, it could prove to be a tool in the hands of governments that want to control the sweaty masses.  If a government-mandated kill switch, for lack of a better term, is installed in every vehicle at some point in the future, it has the potential to allow governments to restrict access to privately owned vehicles at any time and for any reason (think reducing greenhouse gas emissions by limiting an individual from driving more than a prescribed distance over a period of time).  The all-knowing and all-seeing government is here and disguising itself as a force for good, selling us a product that may not be in our collective best interest.

In case you were wondering, H.R.3684 was signed into law by Joe Biden on November 15, 2021 as shown here:

Vehicle Kill Switches


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