New technology can make speeding impossible. Should all cars have it?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

Speeding is illegal, but just about every driver still does it. The results are deadly. More than 100,000 people died in speed-related crashes in the United States between 2010 and 2019. The number of traffic deaths has only gone up since then.

It’s clear that America’s current system of enforcement, which includes an estimated 41 million speeding tickets written every year, isn’t enough to persuade drivers to take their foot off the gas. There’s a new method that can make speeding less likely, or even impossible, and at least one government agency wants it installed in every new car in the country.

Earlier this month, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a recommendation for the U.S. to require automakers to install technology called intelligent speed assistance (ISA) in every new vehicle they sell.

Many cars on the road today have built-in speed limiters, but those mechanical solutions affect only the maximum speed the car can go — and some of them cap speeds as high as 155 mph. ISA uses GPS to automatically register the posted speed limit on any given road then intervenes to either prompt drivers to slow down or even force them to. Some versions of ISA trigger an annoying beeping sound. Others do the job themselves by reducing power to the engine until the car reaches a safer speed.

There is tech available right now that we know will save lives.Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board

Why there’s debate

Advocates say the technology would save thousands of lives a year and finally solve the problem of speeding, which has plagued communities since the earliest days of the automobile. They argue that ISA can be combined with better traffic enforcement, speed cameras and safer road design to dramatically improve the safety on America’s roads.

But critics, including car manufacturers, worry that ISA could create its own hazards if it malfunctions at the wrong time or prevents people from accelerating when speed is necessary to avoid a dangerous situation. Others question how many lives an ISA requirement would actually save because only new cars, which make up a small percentage of the vehicles on the road, would have it installed — and many drivers would either ignore or even disable the systems in their vehicles.

There’s also the fact that a large share of Americans like to drive fast and would see any rules preventing them from doing it as an attack on their freedom. “They want to control how far you go, how fast you go. … It’s about control,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham said on her show Tuesday night.

What’s next

The European Union will require all new cars to have ISA technology starting next year. At the moment there doesn’t appear to be much momentum within the U.S. government to take up the NTSB’s recommendation and the same thing here. That said, Congress did pass a law two years ago that will force automakers to make “drunk and impaired driving prevention technology” standard in their vehicles that could go into effect as soon as 2026.

Perspectives

ISA is important, but it’s not enough

“If we’re serious about getting crash deaths down, we need to use all of the available tools that we have. And putting speed limiters on all vehicles would be a significant and a very important step.” — Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, to Michigan Radio

The government intervenes in how we drive all the time

“Governments large and small have been controlling your actions on the roads since the first mass-produced cars hit the market.” — Erin Marquis, Jalopnik

Trends in driving and car design make ISA even more necessary

“U.S. traffic deaths are skyrocketing because the cars that are going faster and faster on our roads are also bigger and heavier than ever before, so such a move would obviously be a good idea. We’ll see if American stupidity and stubbornness allow it to happen.” — Dan Kois, Slate

Nothing else that we’ve tried has worked

“Speeding is now a factor in almost a third of the crash deaths in the U.S. The traditional approaches to reducing that toll all have significant limitations.” — David Zipper, Fast Company

Drivers shouldn’t be forced to put their safety in the hands of tech that will almost certainly malfunction

“Frankly, much as I admire the effort to reduce accidents, it sounds horrific — both annoying, and worrying, because traffic sign detection doesn’t always work, which brings its own dangers.” — Chris Chilton, Carscoops

ISA wouldn’t make nearly as much of a difference as its supporters say it will

“Let’s say, drop of a hat, every vehicle 2023 model and later needs a speed limiter. Well, the average vehicle age in the United States is a shade over 13 years old.” — Thomas Hundal, auto industry writer, to Marketplace

Americans would rebel against ISA no matter how many lives it saves

“Imagine being forced to go 25 mph on an empty road engineered for people going twice as fast, in vehicles engineered to go four times as fast. People wouldn’t buy big muscle cars because they would never get to open them up. People would get incredibly frustrated. … It’s why ISA will never happen.” — Lloyd Alter, Treehugger

Even with ISA in every car, U.S. roads will still be far too dangerous

“On U.S. roads … many legal speed limits are set high enough to all but guarantee death or serious injury to people outside vehicles, and roads themselves are designed to tacitly encourage motorists to travel even faster.” — Kea Wilson, Streetsblog USA

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