Are We Really Fine With Government Required Driver Monitoring And Remote Kill Switches?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

With the HALT Act having passed in 2021, the United States is less than two years away from making driver-monitoring technologies standard equipment. While this issue has been downplayed by the legacy media for years, the main reason was because the Department of Transportation hadn’t yet decided what form the equipment would take.

At the same time, consumer advocacy groups and a smattering of automotive enthusiasts have been sounding alarm bells relating to user privacy. With the government suggesting that these systems not only be ubiquitous in all new vehicles by 2026, but likewise communicate with law enforcement and even remotely deactivate a vehicle, there are some serious concerns about how they may serve as a giant violation of our collective rights.

Sadly, with no firm rules on how this is to be implemented, it’s hard to stage an effective defense. However, we do know that it will update the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and that manufacturers have already been given a timeline to comply with the updated rules. The legislative text cites combating drunk driving as the HALT Act’s primary goal and it cites data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) stipulating that a significant number of fatal accidents from 2019 were the direct result of intoxicated motorists.

While the group is funded by the insurance industry, and has everything to gain by seeing this law come into effect, its data on drunk driving is mirrored by local law enforcement. Even if you don’t like the proposed solutions, drunk driving remains a serious issue in the United States. But the IIHS likewise claimed that implementation of “advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology” would save 9,400 lives annually. That’s a big number, and entirely speculative before these systems have even completed development.

If you’re someone who follows my informed blathering on this website, you’re familiar with my penchant for going through industry regulations and pointing out how utterly backwards they often end up being. The process usually starts out trying to address a real problem and spends the next several years being compromised and rolled into legislative packages that include dozens of unrelated items and government spending proposals nobody voting even bothered to read. But not before the requisite industries send their lobbyists to try and pivot any new rules to their advantage and fund the campaigns of relevant officials so that they’re guaranteed to remain supportive.

These are often good ideas that are spoiled by legitimized government corruption and/or ignoring the realities of the situation. But it often amounts to trying to force a square peg down a round hole. While there are countless examples of this taking place across a myriad of industries, the automotive sector seems to have more than most.

The full name of the HALT Act (H.R.2138) is actually the “ Honoring Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate Drunk Driving Act of 2021.” Passed last year, the rule directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to prescribe a motor vehicle safety standard that requires passenger motor vehicles manufactured from 2026 onward to be equipped with advanced drunk driving prevention technology.

This includes the following, as stipulated in the legislation: A system that monitors a driver's performance to identify impairment of a driver, passively detects a blood alcohol level equal to and exceeding 0.08 blood alcohol content OR detects impairment and prevents or limits vehicle operation.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) has led the bill since its inception and joined with the Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for the announcement of an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in December of 2023.

“Drunk and impaired driving has brought so much pain to families across the country, including the Abbas family, whose lives the HALT Act honors and remembers. At their funeral, the classmates of the Abbas children looked at me and said, ‘We have the technology to stop this, why haven’t you done something?’ Today, we can tell everyone who has lost family, friends, and loved ones that we are making progress to keep drunk drivers off the road,” Dingell stated at the time. “The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking announced today by NHTSA is an important step toward making this commonsense safety equipment standard in all vehicles, and when it is finalized, will save thousands of lives every year. Not one more family should have to suffer the loss of a loved one due to a drunk driver, and I will keep fighting until we get this done.”

That statement is brimming with pathos and ethos. But the logos angle happens to be tragically absent here. Nobody seems to have actually considered the ramifications of trying to implement something like this on a permanent, national basis.

Considering that installing a breathalyzer or blood-testing kit that one would need to use each time they wanted to drive sounds a little too complicated, the probable solution is an in-cabin camera that tracks your every move — because that’s the technology that presently exists. While there are companies working on the former concepts, they're having trouble finding a workaround for when a sober person has to drive around a car full of intoxicated passengers that all need to breathe the same air.

The European Union has established a similar framework designed to reduce “distracted driving” by mandating dashboard cameras to all future vehicles along a similar timeline. The system tracks head and eye movements in real time to determine whether or not a driver is actively involved in safe behaviors. While the United States has embraced a slightly different objective, it’s looking like the resulting solution will be the same.

In fact, we’ve already seen these devices equipped to certain automobiles boasting certain driver assistance features from companies like Subaru, Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, and Mercedes-Benz. Meanwhile, other companies have marketed them as ways of taking photos of your friends while on the road or monitoring your family on a long drive.

My assumption is that automotive manufacturers likewise see this as another valuable data resource now that they’ve effectively pivoted to being information brokers thanks to connected car technologies. Although the ultimate irony is that all of this vehicular spyware effectively came about because the industry claimed to be building self-driving cars. When those failed to manifest, the industry solution was to provide semi-functional aspects of that original concept and then constantly monitor the driver or annoy them with relentless warning noises.

While these items aren't the only things that have jacked up the price of modern vehicles, they’re certainly a major contributor. Worse still, they don’t even appear to be reducing the number of fatal accidents we’ve seen on the road in recent years. Those numbers have actually gone up as cars have become more tech heavy.

Another issue is the fact that the proposed technologies won’t be something every manufacturer can comply with. Smaller brands that have somehow managed to survive decades of aggressive regulations already, don’t have the data hubs and connected vehicle technologies to execute something like this. All companies are legally obligated to comply and those that cannot will go out of business or stop selling on our market. Meanwhile, any models that do stick around will become more expensive.

At present, Senator Thomas Massie (R-KY) seems to be the highest-profile member of congress actively fighting the plan. He’s backing a bill led by Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) called the “ No Kill Switches in Cars Act.”

While it has seen some bipartisan support in the House, it’s still broadly viewed as a Republican bill and hasn’t seen a lot of support from Senate Democrats. Its primary objective is to “repeal a requirement for the Secretary of Transportation to issue certain regulations with respect to advanced impaired driving technology, and for other purposes.” That seems to be just eliminating the concept of a kill switch, not necessarily preventing in-car surveillance using camera systems.

It’s also being aggressively opposed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and a coalition that includes several members of the alcohol lobby that are eager to improve their image. Technically an non-governmental organization (NGO), about one-third of MADD’s funding comes from government grants, and MADD is known for aggressively lobbying elected officials.

Whatever the outcome, a lot of people have told me anecdotally that they’re done with modern vehicles. Like me, many are already annoyed by the ludicrous pricing on today’s automobiles and aren’t terribly interested in being spied on and monetized by a product they don’t even feel like they own. Furthermore, any new vehicle I purchase will be modified to disable factory spyware and any government representative who says I cannot do that will have the worst day of their entire life.

[Image: Mercedes-Benz, CC7/]

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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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  • El scotto El scotto on Jun 26, 2024

    Y'all signed in to the internet to comment on here. Sorry, your VPN is sharing your data. The shark fin on your vehicle? Leaking data. Your cell phone? Giving away so so much data. Unless you live in a shack with no telecoms and use quarters to make phone calls, data is being collected on you. What chagrins so many is that their data isn't valuable enough to be monetized. This goes doubly so for the trolls on here, nobody cares. End the end, Posky gets to be a hero for the zeros.

    • See 5 previous
    • Zerofoo Zerofoo Yesterday

      ""What chagrins so many is that their data isn't valuable enough to be monetized."

      If this is true, why collect it?" To use your data against you at a future time silly rabbit.

  • Bd2 Bd2 on Jun 26, 2024

    I am a major proponent of the Patriot Act and support this measure.

  • VoGhost Fantastic work by Honda design. When I first saw the pictures, I thought "Is that a second gen Acura NSX?"
  • V16 2025 VW GLI...or 2025 Honda Civic SI? Same target audience, similar price points. Both are rays of sun in the gray world of SUV'S.
  • FreedMike Said this before and I'll say it again: I'm not that exercised about this whole "pay for a subscription" thing, as long as the deal's reasonable. And here's how you make it reasonable: offer it a monthly charge. Let's say that adaptive headlights are a $500 option on this vehicle, and the subscription is $15 a month, or $540 over a three year lease. So you try the feature for a month, and if you like it, you keep it; if you don't, then you discontinue it, like a Netflix subscription. In any case, you didn't get charged $500 up front the feature. That's not a bad deal.In my case, let's say VW offers an over the air chip reflash that gives me another 25 hp. The total price of the upgrade is $1,000 (which is what a reflash would cost you in the aftermarket). If they offered me a one time monthly subscription for $50 to try it out, I'd take it. In other words, maybe the news isn't all bad.
  • 2ACL A good car, but - at least in this configuration -not one that should command a premium. Its qualities just aren't as enduring as those of Honda's contemporary sports cars. For better or worse, this is a formula they remain able to replicate.
  • Jalop1991 I just read that Tesla's profits are WAY down "as the electric vehicle company has faced both more EV competition from established automakers and a slowing of overall EV sales growth." This Cadillac wouldn't help Tesla at all, but the slowing market of EV sales overall means this should be a halo/boutique car. Regardless, yes, they should make it.