Biden’s infrastructure deal requires drunk driving prevention technology in new cars, but police won’t have remote access to a “kill switch.”
President Joe Biden signed his $1 trillion infrastructure deal into law in November 2021, allocating funding for everything from roads and bridges to high-speed internet.
Now, more than one year later, some people on social media are claiming the legislation requires all new vehicles built after 2026 to have a remotely accessible “kill switch” that others could use to shut down your car.
A tweet posted on Nov. 1 that’s been shared thousands of times claims that police or other government authorities would be able to access the remote switch.
Does Biden’s infrastructure deal require remote “kill switches” that police can use to shut down a car?
Claims that Biden’s infrastructure deal requires remote “kill switches” that are accessible by police are misleading.
The deal requires the development of technology that could “prevent or limit” vehicle operation if a person is drunk or otherwise impaired. But it’s not a remotely operated “kill switch” that police can use to shut off someone’s vehicle.
WHAT WE FOUND
The Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, signed by Biden in November 2021, doesn’t include any language about a “kill switch” that police and the federal government can access to stop your vehicle.
What it does include is a provision meant to prevent drunk driving deaths.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a federal agency that’s part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), said the legislation directs the DOT to issue a safety standard requiring the installation of advanced impaired driving prevention technology in new vehicles.
Under the legislation, this technology wouldn’t be installed in new cars until 2026 at the earliest.
Though there isn’t a precise definition for a “kill switch,” the term generally refers to an electronic switch that would cut power to a person’s vehicle, Jeffrey Michael, a distinguished scholar at Johns Hopkins University and road safety expert, said. The provision in the infrastructure deal “is not a remote kill switch that reports the driver to police,” he said.
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The infrastructure deal doesn’t describe specific technology, though it does say the system should be able to passively monitor a driver’s performance to identify whether they might be impaired or detect whether their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over the legal limit. If a person is impaired, the system could then “prevent or limit motor vehicle operation.”
That means the system in the car would detect impairment, and it would not be run by people or anything outside of the car.
This technology would be required as standard equipment in all new vehicles before they are sold.
Passive technology systems aimed at drunk driving prevention already exist today and others are in development, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a nonprofit that advocated for the legislation and worked alongside lawmakers.
Some of the existing impaired driving prevention technologies fall into several categories, Alex Otte, national president of MADD, told VERIFY:
One is driving performance monitoring, which includes technologies such as automatic braking, lane departure warning and lane assist that are already available as an added feature on many new cars, she said.
The second is driver monitoring. This type of technology could include cameras in the rearview mirror or the dashboard that monitor a driver’s eyes for signs of impairment.
Lastly, the technology could fall under the alcohol detection category, which could use breath or touch-based sensors to determine how much alcohol a driver has consumed. It would not require a driver to blow into a tube, as some people have claimed on social media.
“Depending on which technology is chosen, the car either won’t start, won’t move or will somehow disable the vehicle,” Otte said. “However, that is based on the technology in the car, and how it perceives whether or not the person is safe to drive.”
Otte added that “no one outside of the car,” including law enforcement, will be able to stop vehicles or prevent them from starting.
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The NHTSA is tasked with setting the standard for drunk and impaired driving technology in new vehicles within three years, or by 2024. Manufacturers would then be given two to three years to implement the technology.
There will be public notice and comment periods for the legislation, according to the NHTSA.
Some advocacy organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have expressed concerns about the technology and how it could impact people with disabilities.
Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, wrote in November 2021 that the provision raises questions about whether such systems could falsely classify people with certain disabilities as being intoxicated and where data that’s gathered might be stored.
In response, MADD said it “has confidence in the tremendous technological capabilities of the auto industry to develop a system that identifies signs of impairment due to alcohol and other drugs and does not negatively impact people with disabilities.”
“NHTSA’s rulemaking process will evaluate the best technologies to meet the Congressional mandate for passive systems that affect only drivers who attempt to drive while impaired,” the nonprofit added.
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