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S.F. Senator Scott Wiener intros Bill to Limit/Cap Speeds of New Cars

Speed-governor bill S.B 961 would also require trucks to have safety guard rails. A companion bill, S.B. 960, would mandate Caltrans to build for safety

Photo of a speeding driver who crashed into a house in Oakland: Tim Courtney, July 4, 2020.

San Francisco's State Senator Scott Wiener announced two bills Wednesday that could go a long way towards making streets safer. S.B. 961 would require all cars and trucks sold in California after 2027 to have speed limiters/governors. From the Senator's release on the announcement:

Senate Bill 961 requires changes to vehicles directly, including a first-in-the-nation requirement that all new vehicles sold in California install speed governors, smart devices that automatically limit the vehicle’s speed to 10 miles above the legal limit.

Also from the release:

These changes are a head-on attempt to tackle vehicle fatalities, which are surging across the U.S.—and especially in California—amid a rise in reckless driving since the onset of the pandemic. A recent report from TRIP, a national transportation research group, found that traffic fatalities in California have increased by 22% from 2019 to 2022, compared to 19% for the U.S. overall. In 2022, 4,400 Californians died in car crashes.

The rise in road deaths in the U.S. is a sharp contrast with reduced road fatalities across the developed world. A recent investigation by the New York Times found that “if the U.S. had made as much progress reducing vehicle crashes as other high-income countries had over the past two decades, about 25,000 fewer Americans would die every year.” Other nations are making progress to protect road users, while in the U.S. the problem grows steadily worse.

In the United States, multiple local jurisdictions – including Ventura County – have implemented aftermarket conversions of speed governors on their vehicle fleets. The New York City Department of City Administrative Services launched a pilot program in 2022, outfitting 50 vehicles in its vehicle fleet with speed governors. The NTSB has identified 18 major vehicle manufacturers – including Ford, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan USA – that offer some form of speed governors on at least some vehicle models in the United States. With strengthened EU regulations set to go into effect in July 2024, it is likely that equipping vehicles with the technology as an optional feature in the United States will become the norm.

"Our streets are not safe for pedestrians, not safe for cyclists, and not safe for drivers," he said during a morning press event to announce the bills, held at the corner of Park Presidio and Anza Streets in San Francisco.

The unacceptable death rate on California and the country's streets don't take into account the people who survive, but are forever changed. "13 years ago my mother was crossing the street and a speeding driver hit her right here on Park Presidio," said Families for Safe Streets' Jenny Yu. Her mother survived but sustained severe injuries, including brain trauma that altered her personality. "Everything that defined her daily life ended here," she said, looking at the speeding traffic passing the event.

A reporter in the audience anticipated that there would be objections to the bill, that it might be seen as "overreaching" and an invasion of privacy.

But Wiener said people made similar arguments when proposals were made to mandate seat belts, airbags, and other safety features in cars that have now saved thousands of lives.

Jared Sanchez of Calbike, who also spoke at the event, listed recent deadly crashes that involved drivers going over 100 mph, including one that killed four students in Malibu. "The roads were designed in a way that let someone go over 100 mph," he said. "And the vehicles also let them go over 100 mph."

A companion bill, S.B. 960, also announced at the event, would force the state transportation agency to build bike lanes, safe crosswalks, and other safety features on roads it controls.

"S.B. 960 requires Caltrans to set 4-year and 10-year targets and performance measures reflecting complete streets assets," wrote Wiener's staff in a prepared statement. "S.B. 960 further requires the Department to establish a streamlined process for the approval of pedestrian facilities, traffic calming improvements, bicycle facilities, and transit priority treatments at locations where state-owned facilities intersect with local facilities."

Additionally, 960 "... directs Caltrans to develop – by January 1, 2026 – a transit priority policy with performance targets to improve transit travel time reliability, speeds, reduced transit and rider delay, and improved accessibility at stops, stations, and boarding facilities."

Wiener pointed out that 960 acts as a revival of S.B. 127, a 2019 complete streets bill. Caltrans officials persuaded Newsom to veto that bill, arguing that they could accomplish the same thing without the legislation. "Caltrans issued an administrative order, but we’ve seen very little progress," said Wiener.

S.B. 961, meanwhile, will also require side under-riding guard rails on trucks sold in California, to reduce the risk of pedestrians and cyclists getting pulled underneath turning trucks. In Europe, it's much harder for a pedestrian or cyclist to end up crushed to death under the wheels of a turning truck because safety guard rails are mandatory. In the U.S. such basic safety measures have been fought off by the trucking industry.

Of course, all of the features in this legislation have been advocated for and supported by Streetsblogs throughout the U.S. Speed is the leading factor in deadly crashes, and it's inexcusable that automakers continue to sell -- and indeed market and boast about -- cars that can go over 100 mph. After a series of dramatic, deadly deaths caused by excessive speeds in recent years, National Transportation Safety Board investigators are now recommending speed governors for cars nationally.

Senator Wiener is right to conclude that because of California's huge economy, such measures can start to influence national policy. Needless to say, these bills are long overdue and can go a long way toward finally stemming our state, national, and local traffic violence crisis. Streetsblog will continue to follow these bills as they make their way -- one hopes -- to the governor's desk and beyond.

“The alarming surge in road deaths is unbearable and demands an urgent response,” said Senator Wiener. “There is no reason for anyone to be going over 100 miles per hour on a public road, yet in 2020, California Highway Patrol issued over 3,000 tickets for just that offense. Preventing reckless speeding is a commonsense approach to prevent these utterly needless and heartbreaking crashes.” 

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