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Cheers - AE

Monday, 11 May 2009

Brought to you by the Department For Electronic Control And Traffic Enforcement (DeFECATE)

Or the Department for Daft Ideas, I'm not sure which. Cars that automatically obey the speed limit are being trailled in London (The Telegraph also has a review). I'd object to driving one of these on several grounds, none of which involve the anti-Orwellian rants you might expect, though of course it is that too. In no particular order:

* The system relies on GPS and there are places where GPS either doesn't work (e.g. tunnels) or is easily confused due to parallel roads with different limits being very close together (e.g. M25 and A30 near Staines, M4 elevated section and A4, Westway and A404 - sticking to London examples just because the trial is in London). I'd need convincing that it won't choose the wrong limit and reduce speed without any need. Or the other way round for that matter, though if this thing became widespread traffic police would probably be cut back.

* On the subject of which, if this thing becomes widespread I'd expect traffic police to be cut back. Since they're the ones looking out for pissed drivers and dickheads I'd be less than thrilled at their replacement with a system that covers speed well but does fuck all about anything else.

* And on the subject of that the whole idea of a system that covers speed well but does fuck all about anything else is hugely flawed by the simple fact that it's possible to drive like a dickhead at any speed. That's how people manage to reverse over their own children. Contrary to what governments would like to believe, and would also like everyone else to believe, speed is far less important than not being a dickhead. Many dickheads do drive too fast but their speed is merely a symptom, and the obsession the authorities have with speed is treating the symptom only.

* We don't know yet but I worry that it might actually create more dickheads, or at least inattentive driving which is arguably a bit dickheadlike. Why? Because some people (not all and I don't know how many) are going to let the fucking machinery do their thinking for them. The first time I came to Oz and experienced the freeway it seemed that everybody around me had switched the cruise control on and their brains off - I was surrounded by people who were letting the car worry about their speed and were either fucking about with non-driving tasks or giving it the thousand yard stare through the windscreen. For that matter I've seen the thousand yard stare on the faces of one or two LGV drivers in the UK since they had limiters forced on them. This system risks the same sort of behaviour, the unwitting delegation of responsibility from the driver to the circuitry.

* On a related theme I feel there is already far too much "driving to the speed limit" and not enough constant consideration and reconsideration of what speed is actually safe in the circumstances. That's a widely variable number depending on dozens of factors and might not necessarily even be the same speed for two cars on the same bit of road at the same time. It varies from place to place and in the same place throughout the day, is further complicated by weather and traffic conditions, can also change slowly over time as the surface deteriorates, and so on. That's before we consider things like vehicle condition, state of the driver etc. Sticking a number on a sign can't hope to accurately keep track of all that, and therefore this system can't either.

So in a nutshell my prediction is that it will get confused, suffer from dead spots, cause a reduction in traffic police numbers, achieve roughly fuck all for road safety and possibly increase the amount of driver inattention. Big Brother might succeed in making everybody legal if only as far as speed is concerned, but that's not the same thing as making them safe behind the wheel.

UPDATE: Oh fucking hell.
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