California Bill Threatens to Impose Speed Governor on New Cars

Grimes Canyon Road, Moorpark, California Unsplash/Sterling Davis

In an effort to curtail road deaths in his state, California Senator Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco) introduced a pair of bills, SB 960 and 961, last week. The bills are part of the Speeding and Fatality Emergency Reduction on California Streets (SAFER California Streets) package. SB 960 would require the state’s transportation department, Caltrans, to upgrade infrastructure to better accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, disabled citizens, and transit users. Those changes include new crosswalks and curb extensions, but SB 961 would mandate a manufacturer-installed speed limiter on all new cars beginning with the 2027 model year.

The bill also mandates underride guards on trucks to prevent the risk of cars and bikes getting caught beneath them in a crash.

The speed governor would arrive in the form of smart devices that could automatically cap a vehicle’s speed to just 10 miles above the posted legal limit. The bill would exempt emergency vehicles and would also allow the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol to authorize the system to be disabled on other vehicles based on specified, as yet undisclosed criteria.

Brandan Gillogly

The impetus for the pair of bills, says Senator Wiener, is the rise in traffic fatalities in the state. “The alarming surge in road deaths is unbearable and demands an urgent response. There is no reason for anyone to be going over 100 miles per hour on a public road, yet in 2020, California Highway Patrol issued over 3000 tickets for just that offense. Preventing reckless speeding is a commonsense approach to prevent these utterly needless and heartbreaking crashes.”

According to a recent report from TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit, between 2019 and 2022, California traffic deaths increased by 22 percent. Nationwide, the figure was 19 percent. The report adds that 4400 people died in car accidents in California in 2022.

Speed governors are nothing new. Many semi-trucks and fleet vehicles come equipped with them. Many new private vehicles, too, including new Volvos (112 mph), already have speed limiters on them. More often than not, these kick in at triple-digit velocities that most motorists rarely, if ever, approach.

The technology proposed uses GPS to verify local speed limits and prevent cars from going 10 miles per hour over that threshold. Among a number of unanswered questions, it’s unclear from the language of the bill how this would impact cars used, for example, as daily drivers during the week and then for track days on the weekend. Such questions and use cases will require consideration as the SAFER California Streets package moves through the legislative system.



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    The fact is that traffic laws reflect the lowest common denominator in terms of driver competence and vehicle capability. For example one instance you have a 20 year old car, 175k on the odometer, brakes need service, steering gear worn to sloppiness, and bald – under inflated tires, or a rotted,clapped out 1/2 ton truck, traveling on our roads at the same speed as a well maintained car – not necessarily an expensive luxury car. Also the drivers that are licensed in North America are notoriously ignorant of autos, the maintenance, operating systems and rudimentary driving skills.
    Licensing in Europe is much more difficult to pass. You have to know auto maintenance basics, systems and hazard avoidance and skid control.
    By the way the speed limit on most highways is 140 km/hr – 85 mph (most highway traffic moves 10-15 km in excess of this).
    Also they never travel in the left lane, it is used for passing. And there is “0” alcohol and drug tolerance.
    Check the statistics…

    Imagine trying to pass a truck on a two lane rural highway. You are halfway through the pass a the governor kicks in. That spells head-on collision.
    On the interstates lane jumping, tailgating, and road rage will spiral out of control.

    “Speed governors are nothing new. Many semi-trucks and fleet vehicles come equipped with them.” Not in PA; truckers on the interstates and turnpike will tailgate you and push you off the road if necessary, at speeds most would never travel.

    The Bill presupposes that “speed” is, of itself, “reckless”. Studies have proven that “speed” is not the issue. In fact, some States have raised speed limits because they cannot prove this California Bill’s premise. Instead, they have proven the opposite. The old catch phrase “Speed Kills” just is not true. People can be killed when driving 30 or 40 mph. Or less. A genuine study should include all traffic deaths and at what speeds.

    Bad manners and inattentive drivers are the biggest hazards on the road today. Expect solutions as your new vehicle is capable of issueing a ticket to you, intact with the evidence. Speed cameras are becoming plentiful. Look around you will see the need.

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