The Feds want speed reduction technology in every new car. Are American drivers ready?

On a Saturday afternoon in January 2022, a 2018 Dodge Challenger ran a stop sign in Las Vegas, accelerating to 103 miles per hour and flying through the intersection at a red light. The Dodge hit the right side of the Toyota Sienna minivan, which was carrying seven passengers, causing four other vehicles to collide. The driver and passenger of the Dodge, as well as every passenger in the minivan, died.

The National Transportation Safety Board, a US government agency that investigates such accidents, found that in this scenario and many others like it, a technology that limits the speed of vehicles could reduce the scale of this tragedy. The driver, who was found to have cocaine and PCP in his system that impaired his judgment, had a record for breaking the speed limit.

The NTSB concluded that intelligent speed-assist technology (ISA) should be standard equipment on all new vehicles to prevent unnecessary deaths. It’s not enough, the agency argues, to rely on states to prevent driver-impaired driving and repeat driving. The agency, which does not have the power to make regulations, called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to mandate to use this technology going forward.

“This crash is the latest in a long line of tragedies we’ve investigated where speeding and impairment led to disaster, but it didn’t have to,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said in a statement. “We know that the key to saving lives is redundancy, which can protect us all from human error that happens on our roads. What we lack is the collective will to act on the safety recommendations of NTSB.

How it works

ISA technology relies on a vehicle’s GPS location and matches it with a database of posted speed limits and onboard cameras to determine the legal speed limit. Passive ISA systems warn the driver if the vehicle exceeds the speed limit through sound, visuals or haptic alerts, leaving the driver responsible for slowing down the vehicle. Active systems can make it difficult to increase the speed of a vehicle, or even completely limit it from going, above the posted speed limit.

Some Americans may be troubled by the idea of ​​an active ISA system that limits their freedom of movement. Limiting any freedom strikes at the core of the American libertarian psyche and can be considered government overreach. Americans generally have a general distrust of government interference and regulation, and may admit that limiting speeds is just the beginning. Some may argue that ISA technology could hinder a quick escape during an emergency situation.

From a technological standpoint, different sign designs and time-of-day speeds can make it difficult for ISA technology to be reliable.

That said, it cannot be denied that speeding is one of the main causes of traffic deaths. According to recent NHTSA data, nearly one-third of all deaths are traffic-related the direct result of acceleration.

Europe first

In Europe, ISA technology will be mandated for all new vehicles by 2022, according to the European Commission’s General Vehicle Safety Regulations (GSR), which requires vehicles with 90% accuracy for ISA systems. The GSR also includes requirements for mandatory advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), including emergency automated braking systems and lane assistance technology.

Volvo recently announced it EX30 electric car with Google Built-in there is a passive ISA technology, which makes it eligible for GSR certification. Google Built-in, which is also present in brands such as Chevrolet, Renault, Polestar and Honda, relies on Maps rather than the car’s cameras to get accurate speed limits. The Maps team analyzes traffic trends, gathers local data and cross-references street view or third-party partner data, according to a blog post by Siddarth Shashidharan, a product manager at Google Maps.

Appeal to automakers

After its investigation into the Las Vegas crash, the NTSB also asked 17 automakers, including BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda and VW, to equip new vehicles with speed assist features. The agency recommends that vehicles have at least a speed warning system, but it is likely to support stronger action.

The NTSB has asked NHTSA to act on the adoption of ISA tech before. In 2017, the agency asked NHTSA incentivize adoption of the ISA through the New Car Assessment Program. As of February, NHTSA is currently reviewing public comments and is expected to post a final decision on the matter in 2023.

The NTSB also recommended that NHTSA conduct research and develop guidelines to help states implement a pilot ISA program that would limit vehicle speeds for repeat offenders. New York has developed a pilot of such technology and is consideration of the law.

Having a passive ISA system in cars seems like a no-brainer, considering the amount of ADAS that goes into new cars today, most of which promise to drive your car for you in some status. Lawmakers also introduced, for example, law around driver monitoring systems, which can detect when a driver is tired, distracted or under the influence and take action.

TechCrunch has reached out to NHTSA for more information on the status of such an order.

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