Speed ​​assistance technology at the heart of California's bill

A California bill advancing in the state legislature would require all cars and trucks sold in the state to be equipped with speed assist devices. Another provision removed from the bill would have required trucks to install side underride guards.

The Senate voted 22-13 in favor of the revised bill, which aims to reduce traffic fatalities by introducing mandatory speed warnings.

“Passive intelligent speed assistant”

Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) is behind the nation's first proposal to mandate speed assistance systems.

The original version of his bill, SB961, required all cars, trucks and buses manufactured and sold in the state to be equipped with speed limiters. These devices limit the vehicle's speed based on the speed limit for that stretch of road.

Wiener justified his actions by citing an “alarming increase in traffic fatalities” in the state. He pointed to a 2023 TRIP report that found that traffic fatalities in California increased 22% from 2019 to 2022. In comparison, the increase in the U.S. as a whole is 19%.

In addition, the California Office of Traffic Safety's 2023 Traffic Safety Report found that one-third of all traffic fatalities in the state from 2017 to 2021 were due to speeding.

Despite those statistics, he amended the bill in committee after hearing concerns about using technology to prevent drivers from exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph for any reason.

The amended bill would instead require vehicles manufactured or sold in the state to be equipped with a “passive intelligent speed assist system.” The warning system would emit audio and video signals to alert drivers when they are traveling 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.

The system is to be phased in over an eight-year period. By 2029, half of all new passenger cars, commercial vehicles and buses manufactured or sold in the state would have to be equipped with the warning system. By 2032, all new vehicles would have to be equipped with the warning system.

The rule would not apply to earlier models or vehicles sold in other states.

Because of the significant costs that would be incurred by vehicle manufacturers in setting up their own production line in California, an analysis of the bill concludes that manufacturers would be more inclined to simply switch their production for all vehicles built in the United States.

“In fact, the author is trying to exploit the purchasing power of the state to create a new standard for the nationwide industry,” the analysis states.

Todd Spencer, chairman of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, believes that driver training for all motor vehicles would further help improve highway safety.

Underrun protection

SB961, when introduced, included a requirement that every truck, trailer, or semi-trailer with a gross vehicle weight rating of over 10,000 pounds must have side underride guards. The goal was to require trucks manufactured, sold, or registered in the state to have side underride guards on both sides of the vehicle.

Wiener described the action as a “confrontational attempt” to reduce the number of traffic deaths and injuries on California’s roads.

The underrun protection requirement met with strong opposition from the transportation industry, including the California Trucking Association and OOIDA.

Doug Morris, director of state government affairs for OOIDA, said the association has shown that side underrun guards “are impractical, provide little to no safety benefit and cause major problems at many loading docks, railroad crossings and other traffic obstructions.” Morris added that the costs outweigh the benefits.

The California Trucking Association urged Wiener not to compete with, but instead support, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's ongoing research and legislation on the issue.

Wiener later removed the side underrun protection device.

Next, SB961 goes to the Assembly where it awaits assignment to committee. LL

More landline coverage from California News is available.

Anna Harden

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