By on April 27, 2021

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.]

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35 Comments on “Auto Lobby Now Recommends Driver Monitoring Cameras...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

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  • avatar
    ajla

    “erode consumer acceptance of and consumer confidence in Level 2 systems and could have implications for acceptance of more highly-automated vehicles”

    Oh-no?

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    If it’s not either Level 0 or Level 5, I don’t want it. Nothing in between.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    If driver monitoring becomes mandatory – and cannot be turned off – then I am out of the new-vehicle market permanently. Not only are there the privacy issues mentioned by Matt but I am going to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a vehicle that will spy on me and constantly, relentlessly and mindlessly require that I prove myself worthy to be behind the wheel? Exactly who – or what – is serving who here?

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      @ Steve Biro

      I’m already out of the new vehicle market and will stay that way. I could finance a C8 tomorrow but, at 50 years old, I’d rather wrench on my fleet of not-Internet-connected V8s.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      It looks like I should buy stock in companies that make mirrored sunglasses.

    • 0 avatar
      tomLU86

      ..if mandatory and cannot be ‘turned off’…

      How will you know if it is honestly turned off? If you put some ‘strategic pieces of tape’, to be sure, as some one suggests, chances are you will get a big annoying warning like “PLEASE SERVICE IMMEDIATELY” or “PLEASE REMOVE COVER”, or maybe even “IN EMERGENCY MODE, SERVICE IMMEDIATELY” which may affect or limit some functions of the vehicle, for example, no speeds over 55mph.

      In conjunction with the other changes in the world, I’m starting to see a picture develop: “The Truth About Cars” is that the powers that be don’t want mass-individual ownership of vehicles, and that’s what they are incrementally working toward.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “If driver monitoring becomes mandatory – and cannot be turned off”

    F this noise, if they continue to drive toward absolute dystopia let’s bring on the EMP.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      It’s dystopia, but it’s also easily defeated with a couple strategically placed bits of electrical tape.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve Biro

        “It’s dystopia, but it’s also easily defeated with a couple strategically placed bits of electrical tape.”

        Well, yes – as things stand right now. I can easily imagine either the government requiring – or the automakers helpfully providing – methods that disable the car if said monitoring is blocked. Much in the way some are suggesting built-in auto breathalyzers work. Already, if you pull the plug on automatic braking in some vehciles, the antilock brakes won’t work. They’ll find a way to intertwine these systems with critical vehicle functions.

        Or perhaps your insurance company won’t cover you unless you agree to said monitoring. Or it could be a condition of your driver’s license. The courts have consistently upheld the idea that driving is not a right – but a privilege extended by the state. And that you do not enjoy the same right to privacy in your vehicle as you do in your home.

        Remember, most vehicles will soon be connected to the internet 24/7. They’ll be able to check… and most people will cry uncle sooner or later.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I feel an infomercial coming on for “super tape” which can block all the human spyware.

      • 0 avatar

        “but it’s also easily defeated with a couple strategically placed bits of electrical tape.”

        But what do you think reformed police is for?

  • avatar
    DungBeetle62

    We don’t need a camera and the associated costs and complexity involved. I’m sure whatever weight sensor used to tell the airbag there’s a normal-sized human in the passenger seat does 95% of the work for 5% of the price.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Yep. Are we really debating the installation of complex hardware to ensure that a vehicle’s driver stays in the driver’s seat?

      • 0 avatar
        Steve Biro

        You tell me Art… from the Associated Press:

        “The principles say that any vehicle with such a system (partially automated driving systems) have driver monitoring as standard equipment. Cameras should be considered to make sure drivers have eyes on the road, and the monitoring systems should be designed so they can’t be “disengaged or disabled” while the partially automated systems are working, according to the list of principles.”

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          May be next they want to equip public bathrooms with cameras to make sure my @$$ is over the dumpster so my load does not miss the target.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            “May be next they want to equip public bathrooms with cameras to make sure my @$$ is over the dumpster so my load does not miss the target.”

            Damn…. You must have a big arse if you sh!t in a dumpster.

            You must be that famous hacker the past president talked about,

            “It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”

  • avatar

    I would enjoy blowing up the OBD insurance company snitch module but I would probably render myself unuinsurable, ticket and accident free records regardlessbb

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Giving a third party device that is likely built in China for pennies and is also internet connected access to my vehicle’s control systems seems like a great idea. The automakers who spend millions on this stuff have struggled to isolate their infotainment systems in a secure manner, but I’m sure Flo and Jamie down at Progressive will get it right.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    This is a typical Stalinist tactics.

    1. Create a problem (load vehicles with useless nannies)
    2. Lie about expediency and importance of the problem (drives is a problem because they screw with autopilot and thousands will die because all of them want to ride in the back seat)
    3. Offer a solution nobody can do anything about (we will monitor the driver, pass info to the insurance company, etc)

    These nannies became a cheese in the mousetrap. Only cheese was free. But you will pay for all of this.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    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!

  • avatar
    stuki

    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.

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