Got a lead foot? California weighs law that would limit cars’ ability to speed

Got a lead foot? California weighs law that would limit cars’ ability to speed

Lead foot drivers take notice: You can rev the engine all you want, but cars sold in California may soon be unable to speed.

A new bill introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, would require new cars to be equipped with technology that would prevent them from going more than 10 mph over the speed limit — wherever they are.

Weiner’s bill, SB 961, will be considered by lawmakers this spring. If approved, starting in 2027, new cars would be equipped with “speed governors” or an “intelligent speed limiter system” that would tap into the same geolocation technology that provides real-time mapping and traffic information to motorists to limit the vehicle’s ability to exceed local speed limits. Popular apps like Waze and Garmin GPS display the posted speed limit and how fast a car is traveling.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” said Wiener. “It does not make sense to allow people to drive 20-30 miles over the speed limit.”

The bill would apply to model years starting in 2027. Though the technology would limit cars to driving more than 10 mph over the posted speed limit, it calls for a temporary override feature for emergency situations where the driver may need to go faster. It would not apply to emergency vehicles — ambulances, fire trucks and police patrol cars.

Wiener said he introduced the bill out of safety concerns, noting an alarming rise in roadway fatalities. State figures from the California Highway Patrol and California Office of Traffic Safety show statewide traffic fatalities rose from 2,835 in 2011 to 4,285 in 2021.

The state’s mileage death rate — fatalities per 100 million miles traveled — has risen from 0.87 in 2011 to 1.38 in 2021, a concerning trend in rates that had been declining from the 1930s through 2010.

The National Transportation Safety Board, after investigating a multi-vehicle pileup in North Las Vegas that killed nine, recommend a requirement for intelligent speed assistance technology in all new cars, and said speeding-related crashes killed 12,330 in 2021, about a third of all U.S. traffic fatalities.

“This crash is the latest in a long line of tragedies we’ve investigated where speeding and impairment led to catastrophe, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said at the time.

New York City a year ago announced that a test program using the technology on city fleet vehicles improved speed-limit compliance and reduced incidents of “hard braking” that indicate unsafe driving. The city’s pilot program allowed a 15-second override of the speed-checking technology.

Wiener said he’d “be happy to drop the bill” if there’s a federal requirement for the technology nationally. But he said he’s not too worried about California car buyers motoring over the border to neighboring states to get their hands on a car with unlimited potential to earn them a speeding citation.

“We hear that argument every time we have a new safety regulation in California,” Wiener said. “There’s always a certain number of people who will do that, but generally people won’t. It will at some point be a federal requirement.”

The California New Car Dealers Association has not yet taken a position on the newly introduced legislation, which Wiener said has no formal opposition yet and is headed for a committee hearing this spring.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the trade association for U.S. automakers, said in a statement Thursday that it would accept a requirement to include such technology on vehicles as part of a broader “safe system” approach advocated by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Wiener said the public has accepted roadway safety requirements that initially got some pushback, such as seat belts, infant car seats and motorcycle helmets.

One such law that didn’t gain acceptance, however, was the national 55 mph speed limit. U.S. officials imposed the National Maximum Speed Law in 1974 in response to the 1973 oil embargo as a fuel-saving measure, restricting speeds to a maximum 55 mph on federal interstate roadways. In its first year, road fatalities declined 16.4%, according to a 2009 American Journal of Public Health study.

But over the years it was routinely ignored and Congress passed legislation in 1987 allowing states to raise the speed limit to 65 mph, and in 1995, removed federal speed limits altogether. The 2009 study concluded that higher speeds led to a rise in road deaths and said “our data support reinstating lower speed limits.”

Drivers weighing in Thursday at a San Jose Chevron station on Wiener’s “speed governor” were split on the idea.

“If you’re going more than 10 over, that’s probably a little too quick,” said Jake Maroney, 19, of San Jose as he gassed up his black Chevy Camaro. “I don’t think I’d have a problem with it.”

But Mansour Mohamadi, who was filling his black Mercedes CL 500 at a nearby pump, wasn’t so sure. Such a requirement in California would likely prompt him to shop for his next car out of state, he said.

“A lot of people in the Bay Area love their cars,” said Mohamadi, a San Jose State University engineering student. “It would cause a big uproar in the car community.”