Rep. Thomas Massie’s (R-KY) effort to defund a federal “kill-switch” mandate failed last week by a vote of 229 to 201.
But the Kentucky Republican’s push to kill the controversial provision, part of President Joe Biden ’s $1 trillion 2021 infrastructure law, gained an unlikely ally: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
Ocasio-Cortez was one of a few Democrats who joined Massie in opposing the mandate, which requires all motor vehicles manufactured after 2026 to include technology that can immediately turn off vehicles “if impairment is detected.”
Massie said he spoke to the fiery New York congresswoman who said she had “genuine civil liberty concerns.”
“It almost sounds like the domain of science fiction,” Massie said. “That the federal government would put a kill switch in vehicles that would be the judge, the jury, and the executioner on such a fundamental right, as the right to travel freely.”
During debate last night on my amendment to defund the 2026 kill-switch mandate for cars, some Democrats claimed the technology wouldn’t monitor or disable cars. Here’s the actual law I had to read to them:— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) November 8, 2023
My amendment failed. Link to the roll call vote: https://t.co/YWufj9C2C3 pic.twitter.com/JDN1TltaDo
Democrats took to the House floor to deny that the bill does what Massie describes.
“It does not mandate kill switches,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), “and it doesn’t monitor how you drive.”
Dingell apparently did not read the legislation she voted for, however.
The text of the legislation, which supporters argue could reduce drunk driving, explicitly defines the technology as a system that can “monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle” and “prevent or limit motor vehicle operation.”
Despite this, many Republicans joined Dingell in opposing Massie’s amendment, including Reps. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and Nancy Mace (R-SC), both of whom have in the past painted themselves as champions of civil liberties.
Supporters of the “kill switch” have been aided by fact-checkers, includingthe Associated Press, who insist the characterization is false — even though they concede the law would “prevent or limit motor vehicle operation” if the system suspects the driver is impaired.
So when Massie says the legislation is something out of science fiction, he has a point. Indeed, the kill switch sounds like something you’d read in a Philip K. Dick novel. Dick, whose novels inspired popular Hollywood films such as Blade Runner and Total Recall, worried society would become so obsessed with crime prevention that lawmakers would begin to crack down on “crimes” before they even occur.
Dick popularized the concept of “pre-crime” in his famous work The Minority Report, which features a police unit that uses clairvoyant “precogs” to arrest murder suspects before they actually do anything wrong.
Government mandating a system that requires all motor vehicles to be subject to immediate disablement because a driver might be impaired is a pretty good example of what the author feared, what one Dick scholardescribed as the “gradual whittling away, in the name of security, of the core legal principles of due process and ‘innocent until [proven] guilty beyond reasonable doubt.’”
None of this is to overlook or discount the social cost of drinking and driving, which claims the lives of more than 10,000 Americans each year.
The question is, to what extent are we willing to create a police state to monitor and control the lives of free people in the name of safety? To what extent are we willing to sacrifice our privacy and civil liberties, including the right to travel freely without our location being tracked and our behavior monitored?
These are important questions, and it’s encouraging to see political leaders as diverse as Massie and Ocasio-Cortez taking them seriously.
That’s precisely why they should be publicly discussed and debated. Unfortunately, that never happened.
Instead, a mandate that could profoundly affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people was quietly slipped into a $1 trillion spending bill, likely as a boondoggle for companies that stand to benefit from their technology being included in millions of new vehicles.
Fortunately, 2026 is still a few years away. Massie has time to fight the mandate to make sure people remain “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches,” as the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution requires.
He also has time to convince the public and his fellow lawmakers that the provision does in fact contain a “kill switch,” which they would know if they actually read the legislation.
It’s a tall order. Lawmakers are loath to admit a mistake. But, with Ocasio-Cortez in his corner, the Kentucky congressman’s chances of scoring a victory for civil liberties just got a little better.
Jon Miltimore ( @miltimore79 ) is managing editor of FEE.org, the online portal of the Foundation for Economic Education. Follow his work on Substack.