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In the weeks since the initial passage of a massive 2021 U.S. infrastructure bill, a slew of rumors surrounding its exact contents persisted.
Snopes readers sent our team one such claim that argued the bill required all new vehicles to be equipped with a “mandatory backdoor kill switch” that could potentially be accessed by law enforcement to “shut your car off.” The claim appears to have originated in a post written by former Rep. Bob Barr, a Republican-turned-Libertarian from Georgia, for the right-leaning publication Daily Caller on Nov. 29, 2021.
“Buried deep within the massive infrastructure legislation recently signed by President Joe Biden is a little-noticed ‘safety’ measure that will take 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.
Coverage of this section of the infrastructure bill was largely hyperbolized and reported in a way that, in some cases, evoked fear and stirred negative emotions. Even so, in his post, Barr called the measure “disturbingly short on details.” A read through the text of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed Congress in December 2021 and has since become law, did prove to be somewhat vague.
We found that Section 24220 outlined regulations for “Advanced Impaired Driving Technology.” (You can read that section of the bill here and here by doing a keyword search for “drunk.”) But there are some important nuances to note.
What Does the Bill Say?
A closer look at the text revealed it is true the federal government gave itself three years to establish a rule that would require new cars to be “equipped with advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology.” However, what that new technology will entail had yet to be determined. Furthermore, a host of factors may extend the 2024 deadline for the new rule. Lastly, there is no mention of a “kill switch” that law enforcement could use to “shut your car off.”
In the final bill text, lawmakers reported that one-third of all highway fatalities in the U.S. every year are associated with alcohol. In 2019 alone, more than 10,000 deaths involved a driver with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of the legal limit of .08 or higher, 68% of which resulted in a BAC of nearly double the legal limit. Because the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that drunk and impaired driving prevention technology could prevent more than 90% of those driving fatalities annually, Congress now calls for impairment-detecting technology to “be standard equipment in all new passenger motor vehicles.”
Addressing the ‘Kill Switch’
The U.S. Department of Transportation has three years from the bill’s passing to issue a final rule within three years to define how passenger motor vehicles manufactured after the effective date of that rule will be “equipped with advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology.” But there are a host of factors that may allow for a deadline extension.
While there is no mention of a “kill switch” that could be accessible by law enforcement in the bill text, the legislation does not define exactly how the technology would limit impaired driving. Rather, the contents of the bill simply define the equipment to be a system that can:
- Passively monitor the performance of a driver to accurately identify whether they are impaired.
- Prevent or limit operation if impairment is detected.
- “Passively” detect whether the BAC of a driver is equal to or higher than the legal limit. In such cases, the system could “prevent or limit motor vehicle operation if an impairment is detected.”
More questions remain about the requirements set forth in the bill, such as who ultimately has access to the data collected by the vehicle and how such information could be used.
Simply put, the infrastructure bill requires that lawmakers establish regulations to include technology in new vehicles that would limit or prevent impaired driving, but it does not define the parameters of said technology. Such information won’t be available until the rule is written in its entirety.
For the sake of transparency, we have embedded a PDF of the full section text below:
BARR: Biden’s ‘Infrastructure’ Bill Contains Backdoor ‘Kill Switch’ For Cars. https://dailycaller.com/2021/11/29/barr-bidens-infrastructure-bill-contains-backdoor-kill-switch-for-cars/. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
BARR, Bob | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives. https://history.house.gov/People/Listing/B/BARR,-Bob-(B000169)/. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
“BIDEN INFRASTRUCTURE BILL: MANDATED KILL SWITCHES COMING TO CARS IN 2026.” Muscle Cars and Trucks, 17 Dec. 2021, https://www.musclecarsandtrucks.com/biden-infrastructure-bill-vehicle-kill-switch-2026/.
Butler, Zach. “Congress Mandates Tech In New Cars To Prevent Drunk Driving By 2026: News.” The Fast Lane Car, 10 Nov. 2021, https://tflcar.com/2021/11/congress-infrastructurebill-car-drunk-driving-tech-mandate-news/.
“Congress Mandates Tech In New Cars To Prevent Drunk Driving By 2026: News.” The Fast Lane Car, 10 Nov. 2021, https://tflcar.com/2021/11/congress-infrastructurebill-car-drunk-driving-tech-mandate-news/.
“Does a ‘Hidden Tax Credit’ Pay Half of Journalists’ Salaries?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/hidden-tax-credit-journalists/. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
Murphy, Mary Alice. “Kill Switches Are Coming To Your Car.” Grant County Beat, https://www.grantcountybeat.com/columns/opinion/undeniably-right/69543-kill-switches-are-coming-to-your-car. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
New Law Will Install Kill Switches In All New Cars. https://news.yahoo.com/law-install-kill-switches-cars-170000930.html. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
Symes, Steven. “New Law Will Install Kill Switches In All New Cars.” Motorious, 5 Jan. 2022, https://www.motorious.com/articles/features-3/kill-switches-new-cars/.
“Text of H.R. 3684: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Passed Congress Version).” GovTrack.Us, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/117/hr3684/text. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
“You Searched for Daily Caller.” Media Bias/Fact Check, https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/search/daily caller/. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.