Connectivity & Telematics, Level 5 Autonomous Driving

US Politicians Call for a Kill Switch for Connected Vehicles

Connectivity in vehicles brings with it new safety risks. Are kill switches the solution?

The fear of hackers is often mentioned when it comes to the question of what people worry about in autonomous vehicles. In fact, there have already been incidents in which white hats - mostly in the form of researchers - hack cars and access the steering or the engine of the affected vehicles in secure modes. This is of immanent importance not only before the development of autonomous driving, but already today a critical condition. Connecting vehicles to networks is already being strongly promoted. Last year’s Counterpoint Research Service study suggests that around 125 million vehicles will be connected to the Internet by 2022.

Hacking danger and traffic flow

Recently, researcher Peter Yunker of the Georgia Institute of Technology and his team took up the issue of hacking and calculated that if even only 20 percent of traffic was affected, it would bring the entire traffic flow to a standstill (based on traffic data from Manhattan). That didn’t even include delivery traffic, which causes additional traffic problems. The researchers pointed out that the danger of hacking was important and that solutions were needed.

The prominent US consumer protection organization Consumer Watchdog also warned of the consequences if the security gaps in modern traffic were not eliminated. The call for more IT security is increasingly falling on fertile ground and is expressed in the call for a kill switch.

Demand for Kill switches

A kill switch is a switch that could be used to disconnect a car from the Internet. If hacked, the driver could press the button and be freed from the hacker’s grip. In a letter to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the two US senators, Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey, demanded a catalogue of measures against the weak points in the car.

In this context, they requested a list of vulnerabilities of the manufacturers and asked how to get rid of them. This demand is also related to the last annual report of the manufacturer Ford. In this reporting, it is only briefly mentioned that hacking attacks may occur and will certainly continue to do so. Senators believe that the security risks are being denied to the public. According to a calculation by Consumer Watchdog, the kill switch would mean only 50 cents extra per vehicle and should therefore be made compulsory.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: