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California Bill to Regulate Vehicle Speed and Reduce Road Fatalities Introduced in State Senate
Tuesday, January 30, 2024
On January 24, the Speeding and Fatality Emergency Reduction on California Streets (SAFER California Streets) Package was introduced in an effort to increase safety on California roads.

California state Senator Scott Wiener introduced a bill last week aimed at significantly reducing road fatalities. The Speeding and Fatality Emergency Reduction on California Streets (SAFER California Streets) Package (Senate Bills 960 & 961) is a first-in-the-nation effort to curb roadway fatalities, which have been on a steep rise since 2020 according to TRIP, a national transportation research group.[1]

The legislative package would require certain new vehicles built or sold in California starting from model year 2027 to be equipped with “speed governors” restricting motorists from driving more than 10 mph over posted speed limits. Senate Bill 961 permits the vehicle operator to temporarily override the speed governor function. The new requirement would not apply to emergency vehicles, and would authorize the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol to authorize the disabling of the system on other vehicles based on specified criteria.

A speed governor, also known as Intelligent Speed Assistance (“ISA”), is technology that uses GPS and in-vehicle cameras to limit vehicle speed based on where a vehicle is driving. The technology uses cameras already built into vehicles to recognize roadway signs in addition to using GPS mapping software to identify the posted speed limit. It can alert drivers through audible warnings (bells), haptic warnings (vibrations), increased resistance on the accelerator pedal, or reduced engine power. Some automotive manufacturers already offer some or all of these features in their newest models, often used by drivers as a form of cruise control.

These systems can function through software installed in vehicles, and through smartphone apps that collect data on behalf of an auto manufacturer. Vehicle data collection is already under increased scrutiny from California’s Privacy Protection Agency. Where vehicles are equipped with a new speed governor or ISA technology that collects personal data, including geolocation information, auto manufacturers will need to ensure they properly disclose this data collection to consumers.

All About Safety

Senate Bill 960 also requires that Caltrans, the state transportation agency, make physical improvements like new crosswalks and curb extensions on state-owned surface streets to better accommodate vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, the disability community, and transit users.

Senate Bill 961 further requires every truck with a gross vehicle weight rating exceeding 10,000 pounds manufactured, sold, or registered in the state to be equipped with functional side guards on both lateral sides of the vehicle, to reduce the risk of cars and bikes being pulled underneath a truck during a crash. The bill requires the side guard to be able to provide crash protection for mid-size vehicles colliding with a trailer at up to 40 miles per hour.

Will Speed Governors Become the Norm?

Intelligent Speed Assistance will be required in all new vehicles sold in the European Union beginning in July of this year. Under the General Vehicle Safety Regulation (EU) 2019/2144, the devices must warn drivers when they have surpassed the legal speed limit of a specific roadway. The European Commission has been clear that, “[t]he ISA system is required to work with the driver and not to restrict his/her possibility to act in any moment during driving. The driver is always in control and can easily override the ISA system.”[2]

California street safety advocacy groups, including SPUR and Walk San Francisco, support Senator Wiener’s proposed legislation. Fleet owners may be receptive to it as well, as they often face liability risk from crashes.[3] Still, the bill is likely to face opposition from the automotive industry and car owners who may view the legislation as too restrictive.

[1] The bill was further motivated by the National Transportation Safety Board’s call for new-car technology to reduce speeding after the Board’s investigation into a fatal multivehicle collision in Las Vegas, Nevada last year. See “NTSB Calls for Technology to Reduce Speeding in All New Cars,” November 14, 2023, available at https://www.ntsb.gov/news/press-releases/Pages/NR20231114.aspx. In its recommendations, the Board called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to (among other things) require ISA systems in all vehicles that, at a minimum, warn a driver that their vehicle is speeding.

[2] “Intelligent speed assistance (ISA) set to become mandatory across Europe,” available at https://road-safety-charter.ec.europa.eu/resources-knowledge/media-and-press/intelligent-speed-assistance-isa-set-become-mandatory-across.

[3] New York City launched a pilot program to test ISA technologies on NYC fleet vehicles, announcing positive results from the program in January 2023. See “Mayor Adams Announces Results of Successful Pilot Program to Reduce Speeding and Hard Braking in City Fleet Vehicles,” available at https://www.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/027-23/mayor-adams-results-successful-pilot-program-reduce-speeding-hard-braking-in.

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