Move to ax drunk-driver ‘kill switch’ in autos gains ground in Congress

House Republicans and a few Democrats came close to blocking federal funding for a mandate that will soon require new car technology to measure driver behavior and shut down vehicles if drunken driving or other impairment is detected.

The measure failed in a late-night vote on Tuesday, but 199 Republicans and two Democrats voted for it, indicating a growing concern in Congress about the new mandate, which was included with little notice in a massive bipartisan infrastructure funding bill that President Biden signed into law in 2021.

The provision, now law, requires car manufacturers by 2026 to equip new vehicles with cameras and sensors aimed at detecting intoxication and eventually other dangerous driving behaviors. The new technology must be designed to prevent cars from operating if the sensors determine the driver is impaired, under the mandate.

The mandate and developing technology has stirred criticism and concern on Capitol Hill and beyond by those who warn that in-car monitoring will be intrusive and imperfect, and could leave motorists stranded.

“I think it’s going to be a train wreck,” Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican, told The Washington Times on Tuesday.

Mr. Massie argued on the House floor that the mandated technology will be akin to requiring a “kill switch” in new vehicles, along with cameras and other equipment that will record driver behavior and performance.

All of it, he argued on the House floor, is unconstitutional.

“It almost sounds like the domain of dystopian science fiction,” Mr. 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.”

His measure would have blocked the mandate’s funding for one year.

It was defeated 201 to 229, with 19 Republicans voting against it.

Proponents say the technology will save thousands of lives by preventing drunken driving, which has generally been on the decline for three decades but contributed to more than 13,000 fatal auto accidents in 2021.

Democrats justified the mandate, arguing there is no constitutional right to endanger lives when driving drunk.

“You don’t have the right to engage in potentially fatal activity,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, Michigan Democrat who helped write the law two years ago, said it would lessen the burden on the police while saving lives. She named the law after a Michigan family killed by a drunken driver.

“It does not require a kill switch. It simply requires passive technology to help us prevent drunk driving,” Ms. Dingell said.

Mr. Massie read the law on the House floor, including the mandate that the new technology prevent motor vehicle operation if it deems the driver impaired.

“That’s a kill switch,” Mr. Massie said. 

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