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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Limiting our speed

I was fascinated for most of yesterday by the discussion around a report by government transport advisors that Speed-limiting devices should be fitted to cars on a voluntary basis to help save lives and cut carbon emissions. They believe that the technology will cut road accidents with injuries by 29%.

The campaign group Safe Speed say that this system will encourage drivers to enter a "zombie mode" and are concerned that it will be another automated system that deals with speed rather than bad driving. In some vehicles that carry this technology drivers have been known to lose concentration and I have to say that having driven a car with cruise control you really do have to pay attention when using it. There is also the need in some instances to speed up to avoid a hazard and the inability to do so could well compromise safety.

The BBC say that Ministers are planning to help councils draw up digital maps with details of the legal speed on every road. The speed-limiting devices will then use satellite positioning to check a vehicle's location and when its speed exceeds the limit, power will be reduced and the brakes applied if necessary.

This is where I started to wonder. My car came with a built in sat-nav and on the first day I used it I discovered that the maps were out of date. In fact the biggest problem with sat-navs is when people slavishly rely on them and do not use their commonsense. That is when articulated lorries get stuck down quiet country roads and people end up turning the wrong way up one-way streets.

Nobody is suggesting that this will happen with this technology but it does pose the question as to how the devices will be updated in the many millions of cars that might use them. There is a real danger that a car will be limited to 40mph for example on a road that has recently been downrated to 30mph. The danger with relying too much on new technology is not that it might fail you but that your own ability to think and use commonsense will desert you. That cannot be good for road safety.
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