In 2021, President Joe Biden signed the so-called “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” into law. In true DC fashion, the actual components of the bill far surpassed its title. Among the many things Democrats slipped into the more than 1,000-page bill was a provision that pertained to drunk driving.
The bill seeks to prevent alcohol-related driving fatalities by making “drunk and impaired driving prevention technology” mandated equipment in all new vehicles. How would this work? Basically, all new cars sold after 2026 would be federally required to have an automatic “kill switch” installed that would shut the vehicle down if it detected the driver was driving erratically in a way that suggests they may have been drinking.
According to a USA Today “Fact Check” (which we’ll get into in a minute), “Section 24220 of the bill directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop rules that would require new cars to be equipped with technology that ‘passively monitors the performance of a driver,’ identifies whether they may be impaired and prevents or limits motor vehicle operation ‘if an impairment is detected.’” (Emphasis added).
This provision in the bill has, of course, caused concern for anyone with even the slightest knowledge of how the government works. Should the government have the power to force private companies to install anything on their vehicles? That’s actually the correct question, as doing so is not only an infringement on capitalism and the rights of business owners, but it will also waste taxpayer resources on enforcement and inevitably make cars more expensive for all Americans. (The development and implementation costs will be passed onto them in the form of higher prices.)
Republican Congressman Thomas Massie recently tried to take action to get ahead of this impending car crash of a mandate, introducing an amendment that would defund the measure this week.
Notably, a stunning list of Republicans joined Democrats in voting down his plan.
Again, one doesn’t need to be a history buff or even have been alive all that long to recognize how this kind of power will almost certainly be used beyond the initial “reason” given for its existence. And that’s how you lose your rights.
Politicians claim we need X policy to prevent Z bad thing. People really hate Z, they’re afraid of it, so they readily hand the government whatever power it claims it needs to stop Z.
One need look no further back than the Patriot Act post-9/11. The government claimed it needed this power to monitor communications between foreigners who may be terrorists. The American people said ‘Yes, of course, what could be the problem? Stop the terrorists!’
And then the government used the Patriot Act to create a mass surveillance system that monitored the communications of basically everyone, including Americans, and shredded the 4th Amendment’s right to privacy.
Clearly, this kind of mandate could do the same thing. Yes, it’s being put in place to purportedly stop drunk driving. But once it’s in place, that puts us one huge step closer to the ability to use it for other means—and it’s deeply naive to think the government won’t seize that ability at some point in ways that will erode basic civil liberties and harm innocent Americans.
It appears the “fact-checkers” at USA Today are that naive, though. Earlier this year, they put out a piece pushing back on those who had concerns with this mandate and tried to gaslight people into thinking it didn’t even exist. Their reasoning is so chocked full of doublespeak it actually hurt my brain to read.
They seriously wrote, “the bill does not direct a kill switch to be implemented in cars…it just requires technology that would DISABLE the vehicle.”
In their jumbled logic, they go on to try to say that because the bill just pertains to drinking and driving it’s not technically a kill switch. And I quote, “the legislation does not direct the agency to require a kill switch – a device that allows someone to shut off a vehicle remotely – that law enforcement or government officials can access.” Oh. So as long as the vehicle just cuts itself off versus requiring a third party to do it, it doesn’t count?
With media like this, who needs government propaganda?
Yes, giving a third party (government or otherwise) the ability to shut off your vehicle remotely would be even worse than the current mandate. That doesn’t make what they’ve done ok. While the specifics of what the technology will look like to meet the mandate’s requirements are still being flushed out, the language of the bill does provide some insight into what the mechanisms might entail.
The language requires that automobiles be able to passively monitor the performance of a driver. As Massie pointed out in his floor speech, “not the blood alcohol content, but the performance of a driver.” It says the technology should be able to accurately identify whether that driver may be “impaired.” As Massie again pointed out, “not drunk, impaired.” And that it then must “prevent or limit motor vehicle operation.”
So, even beyond the foreseeable ways the government could potentially seize this type of technology and abuse it down the road (say preventing anyone who doesn’t pay their child support from turning on their car), there are also immediate, pressing problems with the plan on its face.
Not only is this description very much in line with what most people would consider a “kill switch” (sorry USA Today, but whether the vehicle gets shut down remotely or shuts itself down is actually pretty immaterial to the driver) but the descriptions here are quite arbitrary.
“What if you’re a single mother and you’re out in bad weather and you’re trying to avoid some obstacles—ice perhaps—and you’ve swerved three times and your dashboard says ‘swerve one more time and you’re going to be put over to the side of the road.’ That you’ll have 100 yards to park this vehicle, in the middle of nowhere, with your children in the backseat.” Thomas Massie challenged his colleagues. “This is what will happen if this is implemented.”
Freedom of movement IS an essential, fundamental right. It’s also a core component of free-market capitalism—free markets require free movement of labor.
We’ve seen little consistency on that lately. Both Democrats and many Republicans supported lockdowns and the numerous travel restrictions that came with them. Both parties significantly limit immigration and even refugees (one party just has better rhetoric on the matter).
So, the kill switch is really just the latest of a mounting pile of infringements on this liberty, and based on Massie’s vote count, the only free movement we’re currently seeing is in Congress: away from capitalism and the Constitution.