Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Is it safety, or just ‘Big Brother’ watching you?

We’ve talked before about technology advances leading to cars that drive themselves. Now we’re hearing the talk in the automotive world about a system to improve road safety that some say is a little bit ‘Big Brother’.

Many governments have attempted to introduce safety measures to reduce road collisions, with the majority of these initiatives tending to focus on enhancing road infrastructure. Japan, for example, reduced fatalities by 25% between 1970 and 2008 by improving street lighting, sidewalks and traffic flow at intersections.

Now a pioneering European emergency-call system for vehicles that aims to bring rapid assistance to road traffic incidents via a GPS tracker has attracted the interest of the automotive industry around the world.

In 2009, the EU launched its eCall initiative, a pan-European, in-vehicle machine-to-machine emergency call system designed to bring rapid assistance to drivers involved in collisions. In the event of a serious road incident, an eCall-equipped car automatically dials 112 (the Europe-wide emergency number) and gives emergency operators information relating to the incident, including GPS coordinates, the time of the incident and the vehicle identification number.
Operators can then dispatch appropriate assistance, which will speed up the response times of emergency services by 40% in urban areas and by as much as 50% in rural locations.
By enabling qualified and equipped paramedics to get to the scene within the crucial first hour of the incident, the eCall system has the potential to save about 2,500 lives in the EU each year and reduce the severity of injuries by 10% to 15%.

Now, countries around the world are waking up to the possibilities presented by technology as a means of improving road safety. Having pioneered the approach, the EU has ruled that from October 2015 all new car models in the EU will have to include an ‘eCall’ device.  The device, a little bit like an aeroplane ‘black box’ contains a phone-like SIM card which tracks a drivers’ movements. 

We have yet to see this system in Australia, although some global manufacturers already include the eCall devices in their latest models.

Some car manufacturers already include eCall devices in their latest models.

There have been concerns about cost as having the device will add to the cost of a new car without providing significant safety improvements unless the car has crashed.

The other major concern is privacy, as people fear that the technology could also be used by police or insurance companies to monitor motorists every move. The possibilities for technology to be used in this way are plentiful, and could certainly move that way in the future.

For the time being we’ll just keep an eye on what’s going on in Europe and see how much they’re keeping an eye on their motorists!