There has been much speculation over the past couple of days about the possibility of the EU imposing speed limiters – Intelligent Speed Adaptation – on all cars to prevent them travelling above nationally imposed restrictions.
It is not a new idea and in technological terms it is relatively simple: a GPS system identifies where a car is and the maximum allowable speed for the road it is on and the engine management system does the rest, akin to a driver manually setting cruise control.
But the debate is not about the science but about the infringement of human rights. There are some – and according to the Daily Telegraph they reside in government – who think “This has Big Brother written all over it and is exactly the sort of thing that gets people’s backs up about Brussels” while others see nothing wrong with restricting motorists to a top speed which is already enshrined in law.
This subject is just a short step away from the whole issue of autonomous vehicles – such as Google’s self-driving car – which let the machine rather than the man take the strain of motoring. An interesting summary of where we are with this has been written by Todd Litman at the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.
Litman assesses that autonomous driving systems will not become a standard feature on most new vehicles until at least the 2050s.
On a lighter note, and by way of introduction to his piece, Litman recounts an apocryphal story about the pace of change in the car industry compared with that seen in Silicon Valley. According to the urban legend Bill Gates supposedly said:
“If GM had kept up with the technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.”
According to the tale, in response GM said that if it “had developed technology like Microsoft then we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:
1. Automobiles would frequently crash for no apparent reason. This would be so common that motorists would simply accept it, restart their car and continue driving.
2. Occasionally, for no reason, all doors would lock, and motorists could only enter their vehicle by simultaneously lifting the door handle, turning the key, and holding the radio antenna.
3. Vehicles would occasionally shut down completely and refuse to restart, requiring motorists to reinstall their engine.
4. Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to relearn to drive because all controls would operate in a new manner.
5. Whenever roadway lines are repainted motorists would need to purchase a new car that accommodates the new “operating system.”
6. Cars could normally carry only one passenger unless the driver paid extra for a multi-passenger license.
7. Apple would make a car powered by the sun, more reliable, five times as fast, that required half the effort to drive, but could operate on just five per cent of roads.
8. Oil, water temperature and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single ‘general car default’ warning light.
9. Airbags would ask, ‘Are you sure?’ before deployment.
10. Vehicle buyers would be required to also purchase a set of deluxe road maps from Rand-McNally (a GM subsidiary), regardless of whether or not they want it. A trained mechanic would be required to delete them from the glove compartment.
11. To shut off the engine drivers would press the ‘start’ button”