posted 1 month ago

New EU Proposals Suggest Big-Brother Black Boxes Could Become Mandatory

An interesting albeit intrusive proposal has been made by the European Union

While everyone is getting a bit bored of the ongoing Brexit debacle, news emerged last week that never really got the attention that it deserved. A proposal was made to the European Council that seeks to have vehicle tracking and remote regulating software fitted to all new cars bought in the EU.

In the UK we already have these telematics systems that are often called ‘black boxes’. The black boxes are encouraged and often mandatory with some insurers, particularly when trying to insure young drivers, and can seriously help reduce annual insurance premiums for consumers.

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The technology encouraged by the European Commission hasn’t been put forward to reduce insurance premiums, instead, it is being pushed as an improvement to safety standards. The idea is that the onboard diagnostics of any new car can be monitored and, in the event of a crash, the onboard computer can be consulted to determine the speed at which the car was travelling, the point at which the brakes were applied and also which safety features operating at the time of the crash. For example, if a crash was caused by a car being driven dangerously, the diagnostics would show the rate of acceleration, whether the car was in ‘Sport’ mode and if features like traction control had been turned off.

Other than just black boxes, all cars would need to be fitted with speed assistance technology by law. This means that every new car must legally have speed limit recognition sensors which tell the driver what the prevailing speed limit is for the specific road they are driving on. Other mandatory features would include autonomous emergency braking systems (which detect imminent impacts and slam on the brakes to either prevent or reduce the velocity), lane keeping assistance (which notify the driver via steering vibrations or sound alerts when the car is leaving its lane without indicating) and driver fatigue detection (which monitors the body language of the driver to ensure they remain attentive and alert.)

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Perhaps the most interesting suggestion in the proposal is that all new cars are fitted with the necessary wiring to install alcohol interlocks. An alcohol interlock is a device that intercepts the ignition system with a breathalyser. This means that cars can only be turned on if the driver can pass a breath-test, ensuring they are not over the legal limit. It is worth making it clear that the EU proposal only requests that the necessary wiring is installed in every car, not the breathalysers themselves, so motorists with no history of drink-driving will not need to give a breath sample every time they want to start their car. These devices are only really used in the US and in Denmark, however, they have also been trialled by Durham Police with repeat offenders.

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There is no fixed date as to when this will be discussed among the European Council however it will be prepared for ‘early 2019’ and they will aim for a ‘rapid agreement.’ It is thought that implementing the mandated changes will happen progressively over the following 3 years from the date the mandate is passed.