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New Law Proposes Mandatory Vehicle Speed Limiters

The California State Legislature has introduced a bill proposing that new vehicles in California be installed with speed limiter technology to stop vehicles from traveling more than 10 miles per hour above the posted speed limit. Drafted by San Francisco state Senator Scott Wiener, Senate Bill 961 (available here) would apply to cars and trucks of the 2027 model year and later which are sold or manufactured in the state. If passed into law, Senate Bill 961 would make California the first state to mandate such technology in new autos.

The proposed legislation comes in response to the alarming rise in traffic-related deaths in California and nationwide, particularly during the pandemic. Speed has been identified as a contributing factor in approximately a third of these fatalities, as per the National Safety Council. Furthermore, the National Highway Safety Administration reported over 40,000 traffic deaths in 2022.

Senator Wiener emphasized the critical need for speed limiter legislation, citing the rising number of severe injuries and fatalities on roads both in California and across the country. He argues that the bill is a logical step in enforcing existing speed limits and ensuring road safety.

The proposed legislation would significantly alter driving habits in California. For instance, on highways with a 65 mph limit, vehicles would not be able to exceed 75 mph - a speed that some would consider "slow" for fast-lane driving on certain stretches of California highways. In residential areas with a 25 mph limit, the maximum speed would be 35 mph. Importantly, the bill exempts emergency vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks and grants the California Highway Patrol discretion to override the speed limiters in certain situations, provided it doesn't pose a public safety risk.

Speed limiters, also known as "Intelligent Speed Assistance" (ISA), use a combination of GPS and camera systems to control a vehicle's speed based on its location. The GPS pinpoints the vehicle's location and matches it with a database of speed limits, while the camera system reads road signs to provide real-time speed limit data. The ISA then automatically adjusts the vehicle's speed to ensure it does not exceed these limits. Some automakers, such as Hyundai, already incorporate such features in their latest models, which they claim function similarly to cruise control.

The concept of using technology to limit vehicle speed as a means to reduce traffic accidents is not novel. Various highway safety organizations have called for federal legislation on this matter, and the National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended that the federal government at least mandate warning systems for speeding in vehicles. While urban planning groups like SPUR and street safety advocates support the bill, it may encounter resistance from the auto industry and drivers who perceive it as an overreach by the state.

It is unclear at this time whether Senate Bill 961 will be passed into law, but in either case, it's introduction marks a landmark in addressing speeding-related fatalities and sparks a broader conversation on integrating technology for public safety.


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