Advocates are cheering a first-in-the-nation bill in New York that would mandate speed-limiting technology in new cars and restrict large passenger vehicles that have blind spots that endanger pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. on the way.
But does New York have the authority to regulate cars this way? And would the law be doomed by a legal challenge from automakers or the federal government?
The answers to these questions are important as states try to pick up the slack in federal safety regulation that has allowed the proliferation of excessive “aggressive” vehicles to drive pedestrian deaths, which were on the decline until the 1990s, to levels highest in 40 years.
Hoylman’s bill seeks to mandate Intelligent Speed Assist (sometimes called “flexible speed governors”), Autonomous Emergency Braking and several other increasingly common safety technologies on new cars registered here by 2024. Also would require vehicles over 3,000 pounds, such as SUVs and trucks, to have “direct visibility of pedestrians, bicyclists and other vulnerable road users from the driver’s position.” Hoylman said the bill, which follows the adoption of similar standards in the European Union, could reduce traffic deaths by 20 percent and prevent many accidents.
The senator’s office said his bill is on strong legal ground because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t currently mandate those safety technologies for new cars — leaving room for states to legislate tougher standards. . The staff cited a federal statute, 39 USC § 30103(b)(1), which states that states are exempt from adopting a vehicle safety standard other than a federal standard if the state standard is “applicable to the same aspect of performance” as the federal standard. No federal standard, no foul, in other words.
“We will continue to consult with legal experts to ensure we are not violating federal law,” a spokesperson told Streetsblog.
A legal expert who has written about auto safety, John Saylor, agreed with Hoylman’s approach because “there are whole areas of auto safety and equipment that the federal government just doesn’t regulate. [so] there is no potential for conflict and states can regulate away.”
Saylor noted that states regulate many auto accessories, such as window tints and aftermarket exhaust systems — and, of course, California sets stricter emissions standards than the federal government — the nation’s most populous state, banned the sale of vehicles gasoline until 2035 Saylor cited two Supreme Court cases involving NHTSA to illustrate this point.
“Here, with speed governors, I think there’s a very strong argument that there’s no deterrence — although I would certainly expect a challenge,” Saylor said. “As far as I know, NHTSA has never seriously considered speed governors and certainly has not said anything that speed governors are against federal policy.
Harvard scholar David Zipper, who has written about speed governors, found Saylor’s arguments interesting—but not convincing. “For one thing, California’s ability to regulate car emissions is explicitly set out in the Clean Air Act, and no state has similar authority to set its own safety standards apart from NHTSA,” Zipper wrote in an email. “And while it’s true that states can regulate aftermarket vehicle design elements such as liftgates and tinted windows, as far as I know these rules effectively limit what a car owner can can do – they don’t strength car owners of a state to install something like a speed limiter.”
Zipper added, “If the bill starts to gain traction in Albany, I’m sure you’ll hear from industry and NHTSA challenging it — and if they’re staying silent, it may be because they don’t see it going anywhere. “
NHTSA told Streetsblog that it “does not comment on pending legislation,” but insisted that it “believes that increasing and incorporating safety technologies into new motor vehicles can help reduce the number of pedestrians involved in crashes, deaths and injuries.”
The agency said it initiated rulemaking last year on one technology Hoylman’s proposal would mandate — AEB — and hopes to make it standard on all passenger vehicles.
Sara Lind, policy director of Open Plans (a sister organization of Streetsblog) called Hoylman’s bill “critical,” if only to pressure NHTSA to adopt stronger national standards. Still, Lind believes the bill can stand on its own.
“The law requires the commissioner of motor vehicles to promulgate certain rules and regulations — which may look like higher registration fees for vehicles that don’t meet those standards,” Lind said, pointing to the recent institution of progressive registration fees for more expensive vehicles. heavy. in Washington, DC
The D.C. law, passed in May, raised the registration fee for vehicles weighing 6,000 pounds or more to $500, up from $155 and roughly seven times the cost of registering a sedan. Cars between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds cost $250 a year to register (also down from $155), while those between 3,500 and 5,000 pounds will pay $175 a year, down from $115. (By contrast, the highest registration fee New Yorkers can pay for a passenger vehicle is $140 — for vehicles of almost 7,000 pounds.)
“It’s a good sign that state authorities are looking at specific metrics of the risk posed by different vehicles,” Caitlin Rogger, executive director of DC Sustainable Transportation, told Streetsblog. “They are recognizing that they have a role to play in managing this risk to protect the public. It has taken a long time to get here and I hope other states waste no time in following suit.”