Tech in new California cars will annoy drivers into slowing down

Beep, beep, you’re speeding! California just passed a bill that will require cars to warn their drivers whenever they’re speeding. The hope is to reduce the number of road accidents in the Golden State.

According to estimates by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 40,990 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2023, a 3.6% decrease from 2022, when 42,514 people were killed in crashes.

Despite the drop, which is obviously good news, 40,000 deaths are still way too many. So, the state of California is now adding a new element to its safe driving awareness campaigns.

From now on, California will begin requiring cars to warn drivers by beeping or flashing at them whenever they drive more than 10 mph over the speed limit.

The SB 961, passed in the California Senate, will require 50% of all new cars built or sold in the state to include passive speed limiters by 2029, and by 2032, the figure will rise to 100%.

According to the bill, the “passive intelligent speed assistance system” would be “[an] integrated vehicle system that uses, at minimum, the GPS location of the vehicle compared with a database of posted speed limits, to determine the speed limit, and utilizes a brief, one-time visual and audio signal to alert the driver each time they exceed the speed limit by more than 10 miles per hour.”

The bill still needs to pass the Assembly and be signed into law, but if this happens, the new regulation will apply to all passenger vehicles, and California will become the first US state to require passive speed limiters in new vehicles.

However, the idea isn’t exactly new. In late 2022, New York City announced and is now expanding a pilot program where hundreds of city fleet vehicles are fitted with a speed limiter that restricts a vehicle’s maximum speed and prevents it from exceeding local speed limits.

There are two modalities of a speed limiter: active and passive. California is implementing the latter one, which simply alerts and annoys drivers who are speeding.

With the active system, the technology activates and slows the vehicle down automatically by limiting the engine’s torque if the driver doesn’t react to the alert first.

The European Union is already far ahead. In July 2024, it will require every newly-introduced vehicle in the EU to have an “Intelligent Speed Assistance” (ISA) system.

Some worry that active speed limiters are coming but the European Commission says ISA doesn’t actually limit how fast you can drive – it simply attempts to dissuade you from unnecessary speeding.

“The ISA system is required to work with the driver and not to restrict his/her possibility to act at any moment during driving. The driver is always in control and can easily override the ISA system,” explains the Commission’s page about the technology.

Still, Europe will also require car manufacturers to incorporate an event data recorder that logs driving data. The data could determine if a driver was overriding the ISA alert in the case of an accident.