Friday 18 October 2019

Eddie Cunningham: 'There should be no limits on smart cars that can help us all to save lives'

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Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I was flooring the accelerator but the car wouldn't go any faster than the prevailing speed limit - which ranged from 50kmh to 80kmh.

No, the clutch hadn't died. Nor had the gearbox failed. Instead, a piece of technology, called Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA), was keeping the car street legal.

You should remember the name: ISA. Because from 2022 it will have to be on your new car.

It, and a raft of other measures just sanctioned at EU level, only need imminent ratification from the European Parliament to become mandatory.

Among the other measures are alerts for driver drowsiness (erratic driving) and distraction (phoning at the wheel), as well as a data recorder in case of an accident.

Also on the way for all cars are advanced emergency braking (AEB), devices to keep you in lane, and improved safety belts.

The legislation would also allow easier retrofitting of an alcohol interlock device - used in a number of EU member states to tackle repeat drink-driving.

It is claimed the changes could help save more than 25,000 lives and avoid at least 140,000 serious injuries by 2038.

Which is why I can't understand some people arguing that the changes represent another manifestation of intrusive Big Brother.

How many families, coping with serious injuries, or mourning members killed by factors those technologies could have averted, would have loved to have them on board?

Strange as it may seem, most of the items on the new list are already on some cars sold here. The snag is many are expensive options, or only on pricier, higher-spec models.

That's because these safety devices are taxed, and taxed heavily, by the Government as part of our Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) system.

It's a disgraceful case of talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Maybe the Finance Minister would join me for a drive in a car with some of these devices and explain why he thinks it OK to charge for them.

Here's what he could expect from my drive in a car with ISA (remember?) fitted.

It worked away in the background as I drove around west Dublin. Had I seriously wanted to override it, I would have had to really hammer my foot down on the accelerator.

In other words, I would wilfully have wished to break the limit - and risk a fine and possibly endanger life.

As we approached a higher speed limit, the car quietly accelerated and held. And vice versa for a lower limit.

One stretch went from 50kmh to 60kmh to 80kmh and back to 50kmh. Despite trying nearly everything to dislodge it, the car diligently followed its digital masters. It does not apply the brakes; it adjusts power at source.

It's important too that it works in tandem with a sat-nav speed system for areas where there are not too many signs.

ISA came with top-of-the-range Titanium spec in the Ford S-Max people carrier I drove. It has a projected cost of more than €600 to have it on lower-trim versions.

But international expert Prof Oliver Carsten, of the Institute of Transport Studies in the University of Leeds, reckons the cost of having it as standard could eventually dip "close to zero" due to mass production and the fact that "we already have the camera and the technology. It is just a matter of tweaking it".

Similarly, we must hope there will be reduced cost in having the likes of:

:: Advanced Emergency Braking (AEB), which automatically intervenes to prevent a collision. I've driven cars in test conditions with this, and it is remarkable. The car takes over and brakes when it calculates you won't;

:: Lane Departure Warning, which keeps you from straying and being side-swiped. I'm constantly thankful for it on test cars;

:: Driver Drowsiness Alert suggests taking a break when it detects lowered co-ordination in your driving - possibly due to tiredness but also likely because you are using a hand-held phone.

Sure, Big Brother is watching, if that's what you want to call it.

But, by God, he's helping to save lives too. And that's all that matters. There should be no limits to accepting help on that front.

Irish Independent

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