A bipartisan bill could force automakers to keep AM radio in their cars. As companies shift toward building battery-electric vehicles, more than just combustion engines are being left behind. Automakers big and small are ditching AM radio, but US lawmakers could have the final say in the technology’s future.
The proposed legislation would mandate automakers to include AM radio in their vehicles. It’d also bar them from putting the feature behind a paywall/subscription, forcing them to offer it for free. The “AM for Every Vehicle Act” would allow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue regulations requiring the century-old technology in new vehicles.
Lawmakers are raising public safety concerns with automakers removing the feature. AM radio is one way local, state, and federal authorities can easily disseminate public safety information. However, the Associated Press reports that some automakers have claimed that the nature of electric vehicles can interfere with radio transmissions, causing static and noise.
AM radio is easily susceptible to interference, including from things like electrical equipment, other electronics, lightning, metal structures, and tall buildings. It works best outside large urban areas and places with fewer competing FM frequencies, like rural parts of the country where cellular services and internet connectivity are also limited.
There is opposition to the bill from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, reports the AP. The organization, which represents major carmakers, called the mandate unnecessary. The US can and does deliver emergency alerts through its Integrated Public Alerts and Warning System, disseminating them through AM and FM radio, cellular networks, satellite radio, and internet-based radio.
The new bill does open the possibility that AM radio could disappear with a proper replacement if it “is as reliable and resilient as AM broadcast stations” and can ensure that the President can reach at least 90 percent of the US population during a crisis. If passed, the law would direct the Government Accountability Office to investigate if there is an alternative communication option for delivering emergency alerts.
Car companies have started removing the technology, with Tesla, Ford, BMW, and Volkswagen already ditching it. It might not seem like AM radio is big, but according to the US Federal Communications Commission, there were over 4,500 AM radio stations in the country as of June 30, 2021. There were also 6,681 FM commercial stations and 4,214 FM educational ones.