To Enforce Emissions Standards, State Governments Are Looking To Ride Shotgun In Constituents' Vehicles

from the every-turn-you-make,-every-time-you-brake,-I'll-be-watching-you dept

Californians may find their cars being converted to government informants at some point in the future, thanks to the state’s push to curb emissions. As always, a trip to the land of Unintended Consequences begins at the Port of Good Intentions. Cleaner air and vehicles will come at a cost, and that cost may include an extensive collection of driving data. (via Cato)

The On Board Diagnostics computer systems on all of our late-model cars now collect a wide range of information mostly related to a car’s emissions. When something is amiss, your dashboard flashes with a “check engine” light and you head to a repair shop to fix it. The goal is to assure cars aren’t polluting the air.

But now the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is proposing regulations(for a May board hearing) requiring manufacturers to significantly expand the kind of information on-board computer software collects about our driving habits.

The software could track miles per gallon, driving distances, how often one stops and starts the car, and how fast one drives. Newer cars already tell us most of this information on those nifty trip computers in the dashboard. The difference, of course, is the regulations would require our cars to also tell government officials the information.

Right now, CARB is only collecting this sort of information in aggregate, and then only after the vehicle has been on the road for at least six years. This data is compiled during state-required emissions checks. So far, so good, and CARB states on its website that it isn’t (yet) pursuing the collection of this data singularly and in an ongoing fashion by using transponders.

“(N)o such program has been adopted by ARB nor have any decisions been made by ARB to pursue such an approach in California.”

But other states are pushing for even more stringent emissions standards than California’s, and the only way to enforce these appears to be the use of a tracking device. Washington wants a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050. Oregon has mandated a 20% reduction in per capita urban driving. To hit these goals, manufacturers will need to track additional data about vehicle usage and make it accessible to state governments.

The data parameters listed in CARB’s proposal are extensive (p. 42). And it starts with this statement:

Track MPG/CO2 in the real-world

Not just enable easier data logging but actually provide historical data

In practical terms, this means logging of miles driven, fuel used, stops and starts, engine run time, and air conditioner usage. Certainly this data will help manufacturers build more efficient vehicles, but it really has no business being in the government’s hands.

If it does, the abuse of this data is almost guaranteed. If this was being tracked solely by manufacturers for use in development, it would be one thing. But if it’s being used to track down drivers who aren’t driving quite as efficiently as the local government believes they should be, that’s quite another. Say goodbye for aggregate data about classes of vehicles and hello to onboard surveillance.

Steven Greenhut points out in his article that the government already has plenty of vehicle tracking options at its disposal, including red light cameras and toll roads that require a government-supplied transponder to be accessed. The latter has already been used to “control” driving by denying toll lane access to speeders ratted out by the required transponders.

With the government tracking this information (and requiring manufacturers to collect it and provide access), law enforcement will no longer need to seek warrants for GPS usage. Instead, they’ll just be able to ask another government agency for driving records or demand them from manufacturers under the Third Party Doctrine. And on top of everything else, it will be argued that traveling in your vehicle has no expectation of privacy, even if most drivers will be unaware that their vehicle is tracking all sorts of information and handing it over to the government.

This data collection — when tied to emissions restrictions — could have another unintended side effect: taking away citizens’ freedom to choose where they live.

Of course, for many it really isn’t about greenhouse gas emissions. Mobility allows (or, as anti-auto groups would say, forces) people to living in low-density “sprawl” where they can escape taxation by cities eager to subsidize stadiums, convention centers, and light-rail lines. All they have to do is ramp down people’s monthly driving rations–something like a cap-and-trade system that steadily reduces the caps–and suburbanites will eventually find that they have to move back to the cities.

Certainly no one expects driving to be a “private” activity. But they also don’t expect their government to have an active interest in their personal comings and goings, especially for indefinite periods of time. Gathering this info and handing over control to governments is going to encourage a certain amount of misuse. It’s inevitable. These governments need to find another way to attack the emissions problem — one that doesn’t involve turning peoples’ vehicles into personal diaries government employees can flip through at their discretion.

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Comments on “To Enforce Emissions Standards, State Governments Are Looking To Ride Shotgun In Constituents' Vehicles”

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Max (profile) says:


Fuck them with a red hot poker. I’d sooner give up driving altogether than have every minute detail of my driving recorded and subject to anybody’s approval – be it the government, the insurance company, or anybody else. Thankfully, being rather far for California (Balkans), I expect nothing of that sort within my lifetime here…

Anonymous Coward says:

Hacked Cars -

After bringing in the regulations, how soon would it be that the vehicles computer systems would be fully hacked so that the information collected would have no bearing on reality?

Any technological restrictions will be overcome. It just takes the right incentive which these people have no understanding about and are willing to provide.

bdj says:

I’ve been wanting a new car for the past six years but have held off. Every time I go shopping for one, I’m always turned off by all the mandatory computerized nonsense that’s built in to the base model (meaning you can’t avoid it). I’d love to say ‘vote with your wallet’ but the masses never do. At this point, the writing has been on the wall for a while now; America will continue to decline. My only hope is to have enough savings after retirement to move to a more sensible country.

pr says:

Agency pursuing the last drop

CARB is an organization that has succeeded. The air quality in Los Angeles is just fine now. The modern car produces so little pollution that they are hardly worth worrying about. Any further improvements would be very costly and of very little benefit. CARB can’t declare victory because they would all have to find honest employment. Hence, they have to come up with even more invasive rules to justify their existence.

A single jalopy produces as much pollution as thousands of modern cars, but nobody has the guts to go after them. In Chicago the 1967 Volkswagens have long since rusted out, but they live here in LA, producing fabulous amounts of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. There are also huge sources that CARB can’t even figure out. But pestering ordinary car owners is what CARB is all about, so they use their hammer on the nails they know.

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe this is the end result of what they are actually after.

The CARB data is just the means to get there once you have remote communications. Just like censoring the internet for the kids. Once the firewall is in place, all sorts of things can be done that have nothing to do with kids.

Anonymous Coward says:

I could see gargages in Mexican border towns making a killing disabling all this stuff. If this goes through, expect garagaes in places like Tijuana, Mexicali, Tecate to start offering services to disable and remove these tracking devices.

If a garage is in Mexico, they cannot be prosecuted, in America, for what they do in Mexico.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

1: Universal jurisdiction, usually reserved for crimes against humanity, could be applied here (fighting measures to protect the world from climate change could be argued to be a crime against humanity).
2: And the driver can be charged as well, if the law requires your car has said tracking devices.

Anonymous Coward says:

Since vehicle exhaust emissions standards started being implemented in the late 1960s, there has always been an exemption for vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating over 8500 pounds. Due to this exemption, a (exempt) “one ton” pickup truck cound often get better fuel mileage than a smaller (but non-exempt)”half ton” pickup, since the bigger vehicle’s engine was devoid of power-robbing emissions equipment and could be tuned for optimal economy rather than optimal emissions.

So why exempt bigger vehicles which were ostensibly spewing out more pollution by the simple fact of being bigger? Well, because (at least prior to the SUV craze) nearly all vehicles over 8500 lbs GVWR were commercial trucks, and the trucking industry lobby made damn sure that emissions standards did not apply to them.

As with taxes, bank bailouts, and criminal law enforcement, it’s just another example of the burden of civic responsibility being disproportionally placed on the people at bottom of the food chain, while those nearer the top get preferential treatment.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

If this happens, then people would just get very efficient cars or cars which don’t use fuel at all (like electric cars) so that their numbers end up being less.

And you think this will protect them from having government-mandated spyware?

If the government thought they could get away with it, we’d have TV cameras in every room in our homes, just like in 1984.

toyotabedzrock (profile) says:

Tim you sound like your watching Alex Jones again, this is valuable data and the reason the government wants it is to shape travel policy and road spending. Further government sponsored researchers could get access.

Focus on making sure the data has no names attached and is not ever handed to law enforcement. Could as simply as for people to opt in as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yep, this is exactly what is going on. They want to force everyone to the cities and out of their cars. Not for the environment but for control. City dwellers, especially with no mode of transportation of their own, are just sheep in a barn. They cannot take care of themselves but will be entirely dependant on the government.

KRA says:

Wait for the tax

I don’t think the intentions are quite as noble as keeping the air clean.

Some legislators are complaining that increased fuel efficiency of cars cuts too deep into gas tax revenue. They proposed taxing people for the miles they drive rather than (or more likely in addition to)on the gas they buy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Several people are wrong about jammers and GPS

I see several people commenting about jamming signals and GPS with tinfoil. But they are wrong. The tracking is done by a black box that most cars already have. They aren’t using GPS, not yet anyway, but tracking throttle, brakes, fuel consumption, etc.

It is unbelievable that our 4th ammendment rights can be taken away so easily.

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