Attention Tinkerers & Tuners: Congress Is Trying To Prevent You From Working On Your Car

Jim Webb’s performance in last Tuesday’s presidential debate was terrible. He was unlikable, awkward, and wore a snap-on Lego hairdo.

But when Webb bowed out of the race earlier this week, he said one thing that made quite a few heads nod in agreement. In a parting shot that suggests Webb may run as an independent — which, you know, good luck with that — he criticized America’s two-party political machine and the way it creates candidates that serve the parties, not voters.

I agree wholeheartedly. As proof, think of your own U.S. Representative or Senator. He or she seemed pretty reasonable at first, right?* Then, they moved to Washington and got caught up in the political bubble. Now, they’re doing the same sort of ridiculous, tone-deaf, WTF things that they promised they’d never do.

Case in point: a new bill (PDF) being debated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would drag the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into the 21st century. While the bill would do a number of great things — like requiring automakers to notify owners of recalled vehicles via email — it would also prohibit car owners from tinkering their rides:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to access, without authorization, an electronic control unit or critical system of a motor vehicle, or other system containing driving data for such motor vehicle, either wirelessly or through a wired connection.”

It get it. It’s supposed to stop the sort of hacking problems that we’ve seen carried out through telematics systems and smartphone apps in Jeeps, Chevrolets, Volkswagens…well, basically every auto brand.

But this is a case of overkill. It’s also way too broad. You could interpret the bill to say that any “critical system”, from brakes to headlights, is off-limits. And while I wouldn’t grouse much about outlawing Car Lashes (which are, unfortunately, still a thing), there are other perfectly good reasons to let folks tune their cars as much as they like.

You can read a short take on all this at Gizmodo. Be sure to note that the Republicans in charge of the committee are basically siding with automakers — which is somewhat unusual, given the GOP’s lingering resentment over the 2009 bailouts — rather than the Federal Trade Commission, which dislikes the bill.

* This doesn’t apply to Tea Party people, who are unreasonable from the get-go.

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