Center for Technology and Innovation

The H⁠i⁠ll: Don’⁠t⁠ Force Dr⁠i⁠vers To Buy AM Rad⁠i⁠os

By: Dr. Edward Longe / 2024

Dr. Edward Longe


Center for Technology and Innovation


April 19, 2024

One of the principal tenets of progress and innovation is that we are not tethered to old technology. For example, when consumers purchase the latest smartphone that can connect to the internet or download applications, they are not forced to buy a rotary phone. When consumers subscribe to broadband service, they aren’t additionally required to purchase a dial-service.

If such an ecosystem existed, our homes would be filled with printing presses and wind-up clocks instead of smartphones, fast internet, and other advanced technologies. 

Unfortunately, Washington may be about to drag America back into the past by forcing automobile manufacturers to install AM radios in all new cars. Despite historical opposition to mandates among Republicans and centrist Democrats, the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support, with more than 30 sponsors in the Senate and over 200 sponsors in the House of Representatives. 

Proponents of the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act claim the legislation is critical for ensuring public safety and is necessary, because car manufacturers have begun to remove AM radios from newer models, particularly electric vehicles. The reality, though, is that fewer and fewer Americans use AM radio to receive safety alerts, meaning it is less relevant to ensuring public safety. In addition, an AM radio mandate would unnecessarily inflate the cost of automobiles, forcing Americans to pay more for already skyrocketing prices of cars. 

One of the principal arguments used by advocates of the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act is that AM radio allows governments to communicate quickly with the public during disturbances or severe weather. When signing on to the Senate companion legislation, Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine)  noted that “AM Radio delivers highway safety information to drivers and critical storm and weather updates.” It is true that state and federal agencies use AM radio to deliver safety announcements, but fewer and fewer Americans receive these critical alerts via AM radio. This makes it increasingly irrelevant and impotent as a public safety tool. 

In October 2023, the Consumer Technology Association, a trade association representing America’s technology sector, conducted a study to determine how many Americans use AM radio to receive public safety information. To test the importance of AM radio to public safety, CTA studied how people received the October 2023 FEMA Test alert. 

The results were illuminating. Ninety-five percent, or 245 million people, received the alert via their phones, with 92 percent reporting receiving it through a smartphone. Just 1 percent of the population, or three million people, received the alert through an AM radio. 

To put that number in context, twice as many people live in the Miami Metro area as those who received the emergency test alert via AM radio throughout the entire U.S. 

The AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act would also impose significant costs on manufacturers, particularly electric vehicle manufacturers, which would inevitably be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Such a price increase is particularly harmful when the cost of purchasing and maintaining a vehicle is already above historical averages and almost half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. According to research from the Center for Automotive Research, installing AM radios in electric vehicles could cost manufacturers an additional $3.8 billion, with the costs stemming from “mitigating electromagnetic interference caused by [electric vehicle] propulsion systems, including electric motors, inverters and high-voltage batteries, as well as other vehicle components.”

Rather than inflate the cost of cars, Congress should find ways to make them more affordable. If that means allowing manufacturers to remove redundant technology that consumers no longer use, so be it. 

With such strong bipartisan support in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, there is a real chance that the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act finds itself a reserved parking spot on President Biden’s desk. Unfortunately, bipartisan support is not a sign of good legislation, especially when it would mandate a technology which is costly to include in vehicles and which fewer and fewer Americans use to receive safety alerts.

Congress risks dragging America back to the past. Thankfully, there’s still time for a U-turn.

Originally found in The Hill.