Aug 23, 2022 - Energy & Environment

New York City is forcing some cars to slow down

New York Mayor Eric Adams in a municipal car equipped with speed-reducing software.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams poses in a municipal car equipped with speed-limiting technology. Image courtesy of NYC Mayor's Office.

In a six-month trial, New York City has equipped 50 municipal vehicles with "intelligent speed assistance" — software that can make a car obey the speed limit.

Why it matters: While you probably haven't heard of intelligent speed assistance — ISA — you're about to: In July, the European Union mandated its use in new models of vehicles; in 2024, it'll be compulsory in all new cars sold there.

  • ISA "uses a speed sign-recognition video camera and/or GPS-linked speed limit data to advise drivers of the current speed limit and automatically limit the speed of the vehicle as needed," the European Transport Safety Council says.
  • Speed is a top cause of traffic fatalities, and most warning systems and Vision Zero approaches don't actively compel vehicles to heed traffic rules.

Driving the news: New York City is the first to roll out an intelligent speed assistance program in the U.S., spending more than $80,000 to install the technology and retrofit vehicles.

  • "If this is a successful pilot, we want to see this go throughout every vehicle that we are using in our city fleet," Mayor Eric Adams said at a press conference.
  • "Unlike traditional speed governors, this intelligent governance piece of equipment will adjust the vehicle speed as the vehicle travels through locations with different speed limits," he added.
  • The city's fleet includes 30,000 vehicles — "everything from yellow cabs to Parks Department cars," Jalopnik reports.

By the numbers: Studies of intelligent speed assistance based on small pilot programs in European countries projected a 26%-50% reduction in fatalities if the technology were enforced by regulation.

  • "Benefits are generally larger on urban roads and are also larger if more intervening forms of ISA are applied" — that is, if the technology is actually allowed to overrule a driver's actions.
  • A study from the University of Leeds in the U.K. concludes that "the harder the push for ISA and the 'stronger' the system, the greater the benefits."
  • A review by the European Transport Safety Council also found emissions benefits: "CO2 emissions could fall by 8% from cars using ISA."

What they're saying: The Big Apple's experiment "leaves the EU in the dust" because it uses "active" ISA, which forcibly slows vehicles, versus "passive" ISA, which tells drivers to hit the brakes, per TNW, a tech website owned by the Financial Times.

  • Autoweek said the program "marks a turning point for New York City, and for automotive technology as a whole."
  • "Social marketing campaigns and lowering speed limits can only do so much to save lives," the publication noted. "Some governments have decided that mechanical or electronic limitations are necessary."

The big picture: Traffic fatalities have been soaring since the start of the pandemic, largely due to risky behavior like speeding — and technologies like ISA could help reverse the trend.

Thought bubble from Joann Muller: Some car brands, including Ford, Chevrolet and Hyundai, already have technology that lets parents set speed controls on the vehicle when their teen is behind the wheel.

  • But the smart tech being used in New York City's program goes further by tailoring the speed to different stretches of roadway.

What's next: After the trial, the city says it will "partner with the U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe Center to prepare a report" based on the data collected.

Go deeper