Tuesday, August 31, 2004

'Big Brother' Is Driving You Around

Big brother is driving you

A new speed limit database working with a global-positioning system could be the first step to the eventual electronic governing of vehicle speeds. Dave Moore explains.
The new watchword or acronym for safety and anti-speed lobbyists in Europe is ISA, or Intelligent Speed Adaptation. Such a system is mooted for British motorists once a digital speed map of the country is established. Then, cars fitted with ISA devices will automatically have their speeds adjusted by the electronic overriding of brakes and throttle at the behest of an on-board computer.
That computer will be reacting to messages from a satellite positioning system which will have used the country's digital map to compare the specific speed limit for the stretch of road the car is on and the actual velocity at which it is being driven.
Should a driver attempt to exceed the posted limits, the accelerator pedal is designed to resist and vibrate, while an electronic warning sound is emitted and a light flashes on the car's dashboard. At the same time the actual speed limit will be shown on the screen.
Britain's chairman of the commission for Integrated Transport, David Begg, suggests that British motorists will actively choose to use the technology, "because it will prevent them from inadvertently exceeding the speed limit and will save many from losing their licences".
In Leicester and Leeds, ISA has been fitted to 20 cars and digital speed maps of both cities established for a trial of the proposed systems. However, computer malfunctions and teething problems mean that preliminary results will not be available until later this year.
In Sweden, more than 10,000 people in four cities have already been driving adapted vehicles in a controlled test of the set-up. After the $NZ20 million trial, more than 60 per cent of the participants wanted to retain the system in their cars.
Results from the Swedish exercise, which took place in 2002, have that country's National Road Administration estimating that death and injury levels would fall there by 30 per cent if every vehicle had the system.
The Swedish study found that drivers became less likely to exceed speed limits and that those with the worst driving records showed the biggest improvements. It was also found that drivers spent less time looking at their gauges and more at the road ahead, became more aware of pedestrians and allowed greater distances between their car and the one in front.
Despite lower peak speeds, average velocities and travelling times actually improved, while traffic flows also sped up and there were fewer instances of sudden braking and other unplanned manoeuvres.
Other benefits predicted include lower fuel-consumption levels and a drop in air pollution of more than 10 per cent.
There were some negatives, with many drivers saying that the system interfered with their enjoyment of motoring. Van and truck drivers with the system complained that it actually added to their daily work stresses.
In Britain, the main supporters of ISA point to improvements in road policing methods. Professor Begg said that "speed cameras and road humps could be removed because there would be far greater compliance with the speed limit". He said that the courts could be given the option of ordering motorists to have ISA fitted to their cars as an alternative to a driving ban.
A study by the transport safety department at Leeds University estimated that ISA could reduce deaths and injuries by 20 per cent if the system was generally in use. The university's Professor Oliver Carsten said that ISA would prevent cars from "drifting" over the speed limit and triggering speed cameras.
Initial versions of ISA are expected to cost about $NZ2500, with the price dropping as technology improves and the number of users increases. It is expected that more sophisticated versions of ISA would eventually become available, which would take into consideration real-time traffic density, weather conditions and even collisions and accidents that may have occurred in the users' immediate surroundings.
By working with existing satellite navigation systems, ISA could even direct nervous drivers away from black spots.
Britain's AA has reservations about ISA. The motoring group appears to welcome ISA as an additional driver safety tool, but railed against its "Big Brother" connotations.
The AA's head of roads policy said: "There are concerns that this system could be draconian and restrict freedom. But as long as it remains optional and can be switched off then it could be useful."
ISA devices are expected to be offered as optional accessories by car manufacturers at first, but British proponents of the system do not rule out making some level of ISA compulsory in all vehicles at some point.
Meanwhile, insurance giant Norwich Union is experimenting with tracking devices as a way of establishing a Pay As You Drive insurance scheme.
Hundreds of motorists are road-testing technology that could mean insurance premiums in the future calculated on how often, where and when people drive their cars, with adjustments for how quickly they drive.
Norwhich says that for the first time motorists will begin to understand what drives their premiums, ultimately allowing them to have greater control and to adjust their driving patterns and styles to reduce their motoring costs. Black box telematics devices are being fitted into 5000 Norwich Union customer cars across Britain.
The black box is smaller than a DVD case, and it records real-time vehicle usage and sends the data to Norwich Union using similar technology to that used by mobile phones.