California Lawmaker Proposes ‘Speed Control’ Restrictions Over Private Cars

In a move sparking widespread debate, San Francisco-based California state Sen. Scott Wiener (D) has introduced legislation that could fundamentally alter driving in the Golden State. Under this bill, new passenger vehicles and large trucks sold in California from the 2027 model year would be mandated to have “intelligent speed limiters.” Using GPS and onboard cameras, these devices would cap speeds at 10 miles per hour above the posted limit.

According to Wiener, the rationale is to curb the recent spike in road fatalities. “The alarming surge in road deaths is unbearable and demands an urgent response,” he said. But is this approach a mere safety measure or a slippery slope toward more undue government surveillance and control?

Critics of the bill, including state Sen. Roger Niello (R), argue that the proposal is an overreach. “Mandating speed-limiting controls on all vehicles, when the vast majority of drivers are not reckless, is just simply government overreach,” Niello stated, emphasizing the need for more law enforcement instead.

The balance between public safety and personal freedom is at the heart of the controversy. While the intent to reduce traffic fatalities is commendable, there’s a growing concern over the extent of government intervention in daily life. By its very nature, this technology relies on tracking vehicle location and controlling vehicle function, raising serious questions about privacy and autonomy.

The concept of intelligent speed limiters isn’t novel. The European Union will soon require all new vehicles to have similar devices. However, the EU gives manufacturers a choice between active systems, which physically limit speed, and passive systems, which alert drivers when they exceed speed limits. Wiener’s proposal, in contrast, leans heavily toward active control.

Supporters of the bill, like Marc Vukcevich, Director of State Policy for Streets for All, argue its necessity by citing tragic high-speed collisions. “There’s no reason that a vehicle should be able to exceed the speed limit,” he asserted. However, this viewpoint simplifies the complex dynamics of road safety, overlooking other factors like driver behavior, road conditions, and vehicle maintenance.

Moreover, the potential for technology failure or misuse cannot be ignored. Relying on GPS and database accuracy for speed control could lead to unintended consequences in areas with outdated or incorrect speed limit data. Also, the ability of drivers to temporarily override the system, as proposed, could negate its intended safety benefits.

California’s approach contrasts starkly with methods like New York City’s pilot program, which outfitted municipal vehicles with speed limiters, or Honda’s technology displaying speed limit signs to drivers. These initiatives focus on awareness and voluntary compliance rather than enforced control.