In November 2021, former US Representative from Georgia Bob Barr wrote a little-noticed political column claiming that buried inside President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure legislation was a dangerous provision that would go into effect in five years.
“Marketed to Congress as a benign tool to help prevent drunk driving, the measure will mandate that automobile manufacturers build into every car what amounts to a ‘vehicle kill switch,’” wrote Barr, who was the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president in 2008.
Like most Americans, I had never heard of this alleged “kill switch” until a few days ago when Representative Thomas Massie, a libertarian-leaning Republican, proposed to strip the mandate’s funding.
“The right to travel is fundamental, but the government has mandated a kill-switch in new vehicles sold after 2026,” said Massie. “The kill-switch will monitor driver performance and disable cars based on the information gathered.”
Nineteen Republicans joined all but one Democrat in opposing Massie’s amendment, which failed.
True or False?
The claim that the feds would mandate that every new motor vehicle include technology that could disable the vehicle seemed ludicrous. So I started Googling.
To my relief, I saw several fact-checkers at legacy institutions had determined the “kill switch” mandate was not true.
“Our rating: False,” said USA Today.
“ASSESSMENT: False,” said the Associated Press.
“We rate it Mostly False,” concluded PolitiFact.
(Snopes, a reliably left-leaning fact check group, was a little less conclusive, saying the claim was a “mixture” of true and false.)
Unfortunately, my relief evaporated once I looked at the bill itself.
Sec. 24220 of the law explicitly states: “[T]o ensure the prevention of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology must be standard equipment in all new passenger motor vehicles.”
The legislation then goes on to define the technology as a computer system that can “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle” and can “prevent or limit motor vehicle operation if an impairment is detected” (emphasis added).
How the system will make this determination is unclear, as is the government’s potential role in apprehending suspected drunk drivers (more on that later).
But the law’s language could not be more clear: New motor vehicles must have a computer system to “monitor” drivers, and the system must be able to prevent vehicle operation if it detects impairment.
It’s true the words “kill switch” are not used.
But there IS a mandate for a computer that can disable vehicles. pic.twitter.com/IlbQfed1wQ
— Jon Miltimore (@miltimore79) November 17, 2023
“No Mention in the Bill of a ‘Kill Switch’”
How fact-checkers determined the “kill switch” narrative to be false is odd, especially since the articles don’t deny Barr’s central claim: The legislation mandates a computer system that will monitor driving performance and be able to disable motor vehicles.
The Associated Press conceded the law would “prevent or limit motor vehicle operation” if the system suspects the driver is impaired, even “disable a vehicle from being operated.” So did USA Today and PolitiFact.
To arrive at their conclusion that this car-killing mechanism is just a fantasy, fact-checkers resorted to sleight of hand. A common tactic was to debunk social media posts that were actually false or unfounded, like the popular claim that the systems would be required to alert law enforcement if the drivers were deemed impaired.
“None of the technologies currently in development would notify law enforcement,” the Associated Press assured readers.
In an odd bit of uniformity, each of the fact-checkers said spokespeople for groups who support the system, such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), told them they would never support giving law enforcement access to the system.
My personal favorite, however, was PolitiFact.
“[We] found no mention in the bill of a ‘kill switch,’” PolitiFact concluded.
The idea that the absence of the words “kill switch” in the bill is evidence that a disabling mechanism doesn’t actually exist in the legislation is nothing short of gaslighting.
‘Secure in Persons and Effects’?
The unpleasant truth is that lawmakers slipped into a massive spending bill a mandate that stands to require all new vehicles to have AI-driven technology that can disable your vehicle if the technology determines you’ve had one beer too many. And fact-checkers are using headlines to make it sound as if the legislation does no such thing.
It’s true there is currently no mechanism in the legislation that…