The UK government stalls safer driving tech: A bad omen for driverless cars?

A recent report into the state of UK roads has revealed the government will be putting the brakes on a mandatory safer driving system championed by the rest of the EU. It exposed a laissez-faire attitude to driving technology as a whole.

eCallis an initiative that will see carmakers installing devices that call emergency services if a crash occurs. The European Commission said that all new cars in Europe were to be fitted with the potentially life-saving technology by 2015, and in the face of aversion from member states, pushed it back to 2018, “at the latest”.

However, UK transport minister Claire Perry refuses to play ball. Estimating the costs at £370 million, she says: “The benefit of making eCall mandatory in all new cars does not justify the cost of implementing it…we do not support the measure, because it is not cost-effective for us.”

Perry argues that the UK’s road network and emergency services are of a high enough standard to veto the initiative.

But “UK drivers may well pay for eCall without benefitting from it,” the transport committee said in its report, as manufacturers within the EU will transfer the cost of implementation to the consumer, regardless of whether their state is pro-eCall or not.

Further, several potentially life-saving technologies have been held back due to government policy, implementation, cost and public acceptance, the committee found.

One technology, Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA), has been proven it could lead to a “significant reduction in fatal crashes”, but has never been considered for mandatory implementation.

Professor Oliver Carsten, professor of transport safety at Leeds University, says the government’s ambivalence over ISA was “a major missed opportunity for a very substantial improvement in road safety”.

This slow uptake seems at odds with other initiatives on the government’s agenda, like the driverless car pilots it funded to the tune of £19 million at the end of last year.

In December, it said that “the aim is to establish the UK as the global hub for the research, development and integration of driverless vehicles and associated technologies.”

Data sharing

In addition to warnings over slow adoption of technology into transport policy, the committee told the Department for Transport it must work with insurers and carmakers to merge vehicle data with the Highways Agency.

Merging data from telematics, motor manufacturers, satellite navigation and fleet firms in the Highways Agency database is a crucial step to inform governmental policy, the report stated.

TThis previously untapped volume and variety of transport data could assist the Department for Transport's budgets, safer driving technologies and road network expansion. But it must turn to the Information Commissioner’s Office (the UK’s data protection body), to better monitor the current wild west of driver data ownership.

The committee highlighted a significant gap in research into the security of transport data and that “issues relating to data reliability, security and ownership were missing from the government’s motor strategy”.

“The vast quantity of transport data now available presents tremendous opportunities to provide smarter, more efficient and more personalised transport systems. However, greater clarity is required on the practical application of data governance legislation,” the report stated.

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