Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In

Ford’s Geofenced ‘Speed Limiters’ Might Not Cut Road Deaths As Much As You Think

Automakers are finally testing an automatic anti-speeding technology on its vehicles that could save countless lives on roads around the world — but only if drivers don't turn it off first.

On May 24, Ford Europe announced the it had begun trials on a new technology that will automatically force drivers to obey local speed limits thanks to an invisible virtual boundary (aka a "geofence") that signals to the car that the rules of the road have changed. City officials could also, theoretically, dynamically adjust those rules when roadway conditions are too hazardous to travel at the posted limit, like during winter storms, when road workers are present on the side of a highway, or at times of day when students are likely to travel through a school zone on foot.

Invented way back in the mid-1990s, geofencing technology is already in use by some micromobility companies to automatically throttle scooter and e-bike speedometers — or even disable vehicles altogether — when they enter places that typically have a lot of walkers, like pedestrian plazas and college campuses. Automakers, though, have yet to embrace the technology, and U.S. regulators have been slow to require it, even after Europe announced that it would mandate "Intelligent Speed Assistance" on all new vehicles by July 2022.

“Connected vehicle technology has the proven potential to help make everyday driving easier and safer to benefit everyone, not just the person behind the wheel,” said Michael Huynh, manager of city engagement for the German division of Ford Europe. “Geofencing can ensure speeds are reduced where — and even when — necessary to help improve safety and create a more pleasant environment.”

The trouble with Ford's "smart" tech, though, is that drivers can easily outsmart it — and that's by the company's and regulators' own design.

Much like micromobility vehicles, cars equipped with Geofencing Speed Limit Control will automatically slow down the moment their drivers turn onto a calm neighborhood street. Unlike scooter-riders, though, those same drivers "can override the system and deactivate the speed limit control at any time," as Ford noted in the release.

Ford reps also bragged that the tech "could help drivers avoid inadvertently incurring speeding fines and improve roadside appearances," but did not discuss the potential downsides for other road users when motorists decide they'd rather risk a ticket than do their part for public safety. The company also did not mention whether it would study which factors might compel a driver to turn the critical new safety feature on or off, so policymakers could at least prepare themselves in other ways. (Ford reps did not respond to a request for comment)

It's important to note, though, that even Ford's imperfect approach to speed-limiting technology is still better than the watered-down version that the European Transport Safety Council will require on all new cars in just a month.

That's because the so-called "mandatory speed governors," at least in the limited form negotiated by the European Union leaders, will not automatically govern a vehicle's speed. Instead, they'll issue a simple audible alarm that drivers are going too fast for local conditions, which will cease after no more than five seconds unless drivers shut it down. The EU argued that motorists need to be able to disable their Intelligent Speed Assist "for safety reasons," such as when they're passing another motorist, attempting to transport a passenger to a hospital, or being chased — three scenarios that represent a tiny fraction of the time drivers actually spend on the road.

And again, with the Ford tech, drivers will be able to disable Intelligent Speed Assist whenever they find it annoying, which Council research shows they probably will.

That temptation would likely be even stronger on U.S. roads, where many legal speed limits are set  high enough to all but guarantee death or serious injury to people outside vehicles, and roads themselves are designed to tacitly encourage motorists to travel even faster.

Or, as Treehugger's Lloyd Alter once memorably put it: "imagine being forced to go 25 miles per hour on an empty road engineered for people going twice as fast, in vehicles engineered to go four times as fast."

Of course, it's perfectly possible to imagine a world where U.S. automakers are one day required to install dynamic, state-of-the-art speed limiting technology that will prevent motorists from achieving deadly velocities anywhere they might take another road users' life.

But until that technology is 1) impossible to override except in the case of a true emergency, 2) backed by local speed limits low enough to actually save lives, and 3) reinforced by road designs that slow down every driver on the road, whether or not they have the latest automated vehicle tech on board, we probably shouldn't count on it too hard to end America's traffic violence crisis. 

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Wednesday’s Headlines

How should we react to public indifference about the danger cars pose to society? Perhaps a sitcom has something to teach us.

July 24, 2024

Opinion: Is Kamala Harris ‘The Climate President We’ve Been Waiting For’?

Kamala Harris fought hard for a better transportation plan in the San Diego region despite big political risks. If elected president, will she do the same for the country?

July 24, 2024

America is Setting Micromobility Records — But That Boom Could Go Bust Without Public Funding

Shared bike and scooter trips soared 20 percent in a single year. So why are so many U.S. systems shutting down — and what will it take to keep the revolution rolling?

July 24, 2024

Tuesday’s Headlines Are Running Hard

More political news: Today's top stories delve into Kamala Harris' record on climate change and Republicans' plans for the Trump administration if he returns to power.

July 23, 2024

Disabled NYer’s are Victims of Gov. Hochul’s Congestion Pricing Pause

So many New Yorkers can’t use the closest subway station to their homes because they don't have an elevator. And Gov. Hochul just halted funding for 23 new lifts.

July 23, 2024
See all posts