Is Uncle Sam about to put his boot on your car brake?

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Uncle Sam Zeroing in on Automobile ‘Kill Switches’ and ‘Dead Pedals’

Drivers here in the United States had better get ready for federal mandates that will enable government to prevent cars from exceeding the speed limit in real time. This move has been a long time coming, and it is very real.

The federal government first became rally serious about regulating the cars we drive in the late 1960s with the passage of legislation containing the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), and the creation of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Uncle Sam’s obsession with motor vehicle “safety” shifted into high gear in 1970 with the establishment of one of the Nanny State’s favorite offspring, the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA). 

Now, a half century later, with a toolbox that includes GPS and communications technology light-years ahead of that which first powered the Apollo astronauts to the moon in 1969, Washington is gearing up to mandate both drunk-driving and speeding “kill switches” in passenger vehicles. For this “life-saving” mission, the NHTSA and the NTSB, with a combined budget of more than $1.0 billion and a cadre of many hundreds of true believers, are upping pressure on car makers to install what it euphemistically calls “Intelligent Speed Adaptation” (ISA) systems. 

While mandates such as those that prevent a vehicle from being driven if the driver is intoxicated are not quite ready for prime time, as I wrote back in November 2021, requirements for such devices already are locked into federal law. Right now, apparently responding to pressure from Washington, New York is implementing a program to test “speed limiter technology” on its fleet of city-owned vehicles

Outfitting vehicles with what Gotham’s Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi has referred to as a “dead pedal,” is made possible through “telematics” technology, happily provided to municipal, state, and federal governments by private companies to help promote “safety, efficiency and convenience.” 

Companies marketing this technology and governments itching to use it to control drivers have little, if any, concern for privacy or freedom, factors that in years past were primary reasons why Americans purchased cars – to go where they wanted when they wanted. No longer will this be the case if Uncle Sam and his state and local progeny get their way.

The most recent push for this driving-limiting, ISA technology was hatched in Europe, where automakers already are required to install speed-governing kill-switches in all cars manufactured within the European Union. This is hardly a new phenomenon. Historically, many privacy-invasive policies, such as massive surveillance cameras throughout major urban areas, start in Europe and migrate across the Atlantic to our shores. 

The driving force behind this latest effort is the European counterpart to our NTHSA — the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC).

After programs such as Europe’s ISA mandate gain a foothold in a liberal enclave like New York City, citizens who might otherwise object to such nanny-ism soon thereafter become accustomed to the intrusive, but always “safety-inspired,” measures. Limited pilot programs morph into state-wide and then nation-wide mandates. It is a slippery slope to which Americans who actually care about privacy and individual liberty have become sadly accustomed.

Making government’s job in this regard easier than it would have been a decade or two ago, is the fact that for many Millennials and Generation Z-ers, driving a car, much less actually owning one, no longer seems a high priority and has not been for a decade now. Moreover, with electric vehicles such as Teslas already acclimating American drivers to cars that perform many functions for them, it is but a small step to accept cars that will not accelerate beyond a government-determined “safe” speed, or that are drivable only with a “sober” person at the wheel.

Americans of driving age but who no longer see the need or desirability of owning and driving a car for personal freedom, coupled with the millions who consider “protecting the environment” the holiest of all human goals, are enabling Washington to make substantial headway to deprive us of one of the few ways in which individuals could freely exercise their privacy and freedom – driving a car without Big Brother telling them when they can drive and at what speed. You’d best enjoy that freedom while you can.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.