Auto Lobby Now Recommends Driver Monitoring Cameras

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

On Tuesday, the largest automotive lobbying group released a handful of safety guidelines related to driver monitoring for vehicles equipped with driver-assistance features. It’s pageantry designed to convince you and the rest of the world to embrace technologies that have already led to unsettling privacy violations. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation making recommendations for the industry is farcical because the AAI already represents just about every major player on the field, suppliers included. The only real outsider is Tesla, which the organization decided would make an excellent scapegoat for the broader tech agenda.

But there’s still merit to the discussion, especially if the only proposed solution is to let the industry watch us inside our cars 24/7.

We’ve often chided Tesla CEO Elon Musk for making lofty promises that never seem to follow the path outlined and allowing features like Autopilot and “Full Self Driving” (FSD) to be marketed irresponsibly — potentially promoting accidents related to the misuse of its products’ advanced driving aids.

However, going P. T. Barnum on the public is a smart way to sell them on new products. It’s something the whole industry engages in by varying degrees and there’s a long history of scandals that go back all the way to the invention of the automobile. The same goes for the bitter competitions we frequently witnessed between manufacturers.

Tesla is an upstart that positioned itself incredibly well with early adopters long before legacy firms had started taking electric vehicles seriously. It’s a threat and rivals have seen a weakness when it comes to Autopilot. Following a few high-profile crashes involving the system, and widespread abuse by stupid people, the world decided that every Tesla wreck would now be suspect. While we appreciate a critical eye, that’s also something that could be applied to any other manufacturer selling vehicles equipped with advanced driving aids — which testing has shown possess some issues.

The AAI had enough sense not to name Tesla in its release. But it’s pretty clear who they’re talking about.

“High profile crashes involving Level 2 systems where drivers were not appropriately engaged, erode consumer acceptance of and consumer confidence in Level 2 systems and could have implications for acceptance of more highly-automated vehicles,” said AAI CEO John Bozzella. “It was clear to our member companies that we needed to begin a public conversation about the important of effective driver monitoring.”

Ford and General Motors have both embraced systems that use driver-facing cameras that track eye and facial movements — and this appears to be the general trend the industry is taking, with the Alliance for Automotive Innovation suggesting they should become the norm for all modern cars. But Tesla doesn’t use them and it’s getting coyly bashed by not being part of the group. Bozzella has even said that the EV brand’s history definitely reduced consumer acceptance of semi-autonomous features.

But that hardly seems a fair accusation when bigger players have implemented similar systems and failed to adhere to any of the promised target dates of selling autonomous vehicles, despite years of hype. Any advancements that were made seemed to be funneled into their mobility projects, which turned into the industry’s catch-all excuse to advance connectivity features that leverage driver data.

Now they want to put cameras inside the vehicle that watch you pick your nose in traffic under the pretext of safety? Excuse our skepticism.

Whatever welfare advancements this tactic might offer have already been undermined by the industry installing systems that weren’t ready to deliver in the first place. The solution shouldn’t be to find ways to make the driver more accountable (and keep them legally liable) when technology fails, it should be withholding features until they’re ready to function as originally promised.

Meanwhile, the unholy marriage of industry and state continues with the AAI spending Tuesday to attend a congressional hearing led by Michigan Sen. Gary Peters (D). The lobbying group will undoubtedly recommend new regulations requiring driver monitoring. Congress is assumed to be generally receptive since it’s currently on a technology kick in the hopes that the U.S. can remain competitive with China. But the government is also hoping to shore up guidelines for autonomous vehicles without going overboard, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration having spent the last two years trying to get as many opinions on how to regulate them as possible.

It’s getting harder to remain objective on topics like this because the veneer keeps getting thinner. These initiatives are always framed as if they’re for the greater good. But our collective inability to think more than two steps ahead is making it impossible to test the theories in our heads to make a decision about whether or not the original claim was true. Driver-monitoring cameras seem like a bridge that isn’t worth crossing and would likely open the door to all kinds of privacy abuse from corporate actors. And whatever assurances the industry makes that the data won’t be misemployed cannot be wholly trusted because it has proven itself to have an extremely casual relationship with the truth.

[Image: Ford Motor Co.]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Apr 28, 2021

    These idiot manufacturers are sending me a clear message. A new car will not be in my future. The list is endless. Black boxes recording your every move. Advanced so called safety aides. Connected cars. Onstar. Insurance drive style monitors masquerading as discounts. And now auto pilot or Super Cruise that monitor you. Wake up people!

  • Stuki Stuki on Apr 29, 2021

    Incompetent halfwits, and those lobbying for them, can pretty much be guaranteed to "recommend" anything which entail totalitarian juntas forcing others to pay more; for stuff which costs near nothing to add (since any three year old of average competence can build it), but on the back of "mandates" and other machinations of the junta, will force people to pay lots more than that for it. This is what "public/private partnerships", previously referred to as corporatism/fascism, has always been about: Robbing the competent and productive, in order to hand the loot to connected idiots too dumb and useless to be able to do anything at all which adds real value. By, among other means, forcing productive people to pay connected idiots for stuff people don't want.

  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.
  • The Oracle These are all over the roads in droves here in WNC. Rarely see one on the side of the road, they are wildly popular, capable, and reliable. There is a market for utilitarian vehicles.