Wednesday, July 13, 2022

When government drives your car...

Europe Now Requires Speed Regulators for All New Vehicles 

the European Union formally introduced laws that require auto manufacturers to install speed-limiting hardware on new vehicles. While speed governors have been around for years (and are becoming increasingly popular among certain manufacturers) the EU’s new rules actually require technology that takes things a step further by allowing cars to actively detect and then regulate the speed for any given road. 

Having spent the last week isolated in the wilderness, your author has been blissfully unaware of any recent regulatory actions affecting the automotive sector with one exception. During one of the few moments where I had both access to electricity and 4G cell service, I noticed a slew of soul-crushing news alerts about how the European Commission had just mandated “Intelligent Speed Assistance” (ISA) systems on all new models. That makes this story a little dusty, though no less pertinent to readers who like to use their vehicle as more than a conveyance or value their privacy from behind the wheel.

As the law currently stands, there’s no specific way a manufacturer has to implement the system. While the device is required to warn the driver and/or automatically slow down the vehicle when they surpass the posted speed limit, there is no rule saying ISA has to be on. Cars only need to have the system equipped — leaving the manufacturer the decide whether it should be permanently active or not.

Regulators don’t seem to care how it’s done, just that all new models come with the capability by default. But there are a few additional items accompanying the new rules that deepen the rabbit hole. ISA systems are also required to monitor the posted limits using exterior vehicle camera systems and the EU wants to leverage “deep learning” to create a comprehensive speed-limit map to be shared between all automobiles. With privacy concerns already at the forefront of many consumers’ minds, one can see why a government-backed program to collect data from literally every vehicle on the road might not be well received. There’s already been a lot of criticism over the European Commission wanting to centralize traffic enforcement in a manner reminiscent of Chinese-style data hubs and this feels like the continent is taking another big step in that direction.

The European Road and Safety Charter makes it pretty clear that ISA systems regulating speed will be able to be overridden by drivers right now. However, there are obvious concerns that that won’t always be the case, especially since systems can be tweaked by over-the-air updates issued by manufacturers. It’s not a stretch to imagine the laws changing in a few years and the government mandating that active ISA become obligatory under certain circumstances. In fact, it might actually be more dangerous to use the system until all mapping has been completed and the systems have better accuracy at predicting posted speed limits — further encouraging regulators to wait on the more invasive modes of implementation.

Presently, the EU will only require entirely new vehicle models to have ISA installed. But things change in July 2024, when the rule is extended to every freshly manufactured automobile regardless of how old the design happens to be.

The European Commission feels confident the move will help curtain accidents, saying that excessive speed contributes to around 30 percent of fatal crashes in the EU. The concept has actually been around for almost two decades, though it wasn’t until recently that vehicle tech reached a point where it could be implemented on a large scale. The government even had previously suggested implementing ISA along with vehicle interlock systems designed to prevent drunk driving and lowing the speed limit by 1 kph — which it claimed would reduce fatal crashes by 5 percent. That assertion came by way of a larger study that roped in data from several European nations to determine whether ISA would be effective.

From the European Commission:

The EU-funded and [Society for Risk Analysis] co-ordinated [sic] project PROSPER looked into ways that advanced assisted driving technology and technology relating to speed limitation devices can improve safety, and also at the barriers for the implementation of ISA. The PROSPER project calculated crash reductions for six countries. Reductions in fatalities between 19-28 [percent], depending on the country, were predicted in a market-driven scenario. Even higher reductions were predicted for a regulated scenario — between 26-50 [percent]. Benefits are generally larger on urban roads and are also larger if more intervening forms of ISA are applied. Trials with ISA have been carried out in ten European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, The Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. An earlier study in the Netherlands showed that ISA could reduce the number of hospital admissions by 15 [percent] and the number of deaths by 21 [percent]. Research has shown that ISA and physical measures to reduce road speed are complementary rather than competing methods.

The “market-driven scenario” indicates manufacturers implementing ISA on their own, while the “regulated scenario” indicates the government forcing the issue. Though we don’t seem to have a clear case of either, as the European Commission is effectively forcing manufacturers to implement ISA while not yet technically requiring drivers to use it.

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