Bipartisan US lawmakers — led by the strange pairing of Democratic Senator Edward Markey and Republican Senator Ted Cruz — have introduced legislation aimed at preventing automakers from removing AM broadcast radio from their new vehicles, citing safety concerns.
The bill, called the AM for Every Vehicle Act, brings to attention the fact that several automakers, including Tesla, BMW, Ford, and Volkswagen, have eliminated AM radio from their electric vehicles.
The measure would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to establish regulations mandating the inclusion of AM radio in new vehicles without additional charges. Before NHTSA’s rules, sellers would be required to have “clear and conspicuous labeling” to let potential buyers know that the vehicle does not have an AM radio.
The bill would also require the Government Accountability Office to study if there could be alternate communication methods that could replicate the effectiveness of AM radio when it comes to delivering emergency alerts to the public. This system would have to be able to reach 90% of the US population.
“Carmakers shouldn’t tune out AM radio in new vehicles or put it behind a costly digital paywall,” said Markey, who introduced the bill, in a statement. Markey and Cruz expressed their concern over how eliminating the first-generation tech could make it more difficult to spread emergency information, especially during a natural disaster or other similar events.
The bill’s sponsors believe that AM, or amplitude modulation, is irreplaceable. AM radio, unlike FM radio or frequency modulation, operates at lower frequencies and longer wavelengths. This makes it more reliable and able to travel farther than other types of radio waves. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) national Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) still uses AM radio stations to broadcast critical safety alerts to the public.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Jessica Rosenworcel voiced her support for the bill, emphasizing the importance of AM radio for public safety. “There is a clear public safety imperative here. Having AM radio available in our cars means we always have access to emergency alerts and key warnings while we are out on the road,” she said.
Automakers, specifically electric vehicle manufacturers, see AM radio as obsolete and argue that it’s incompatible with EV tech, citing electromagnetic interference from the powertrain.
Additionally, Reuters reported that the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing major automakers, find the proposed measure unnecessary, and pointed out that Congress has never previously mandated radio features in vehicles, and automakers are fully committed to ensuring drivers have access to public alerts and safety warnings through alternative means, citing that IPAWS an distribute alerts through various channels, including AM and FM radio, internet-based platforms, satellite radio, and cellular networks.
The bill’s sponsors include Democratic Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ben Ray Luján, Republican Senators Deb Fischer and J.D. Vance, as well as Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer.
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