More haste, less speed?
To enhance the safety of UK roads and decrease road fatalities by 80%, significant changes are being made to road legislation. Since 6 July 2022, all newly launched car models in the UK must be equipped with intelligent speed assist (ISA) technologies.
However, this rule does not apply to existing models still being produced. The objective of this legislation is to reduce dangerous and unlawful speeding and enhance safety on the roads. After approximately one year since the implementation of this law, we will analyse its consequences and significance.
The new generation of vehicles has driving aids that fall into three categories: An automated beep or visual notification, a nudge on the pedals, steering wheel, or seat, or a reduction in engine power. These are meant to alert drivers when they are driving above the speed limit and promote a decrease in speed. Car manufacturers need to prepare for the mandatory implementation of these speed limiters on 7 July 2024, by understanding how they work and their consequences.
These devices aim to encourage drivers to comply with the law instead of shocking or disturbing them. Using sensors, the technology can detect instances of a vehicle exceeding the speed limit and then initiate a three-step process to address the situation:
- Provide a subtle flashing symbol on the dashboard to a more pronounced haptic (physical) feedback mechanism, such as causing the accelerator pedal to judder
- Provide an urgent alarm and/or apply light pressure against the driver’s foot to force the driver to reduce speed
- Finally, if speed hasn’t been reduced, take direct control of the braking system until the vehicle’s speed is complying with the speed limit.
Although there are limiters in place, drivers have the ability to override them through a dashboard button, touchscreen menu, or heavy press on the accelerator, at least for the time being. This override option may be necessary in emergency situations where sudden acceleration could be the safer choice.
Although these aids are effective, their implementation raises concerns about data collection and storage. Vehicles need to download data to maintain their speed limit notifications. How are manufacturers addressing this data challenge? How often will vehicles update, and who will they subscribe to for this information? How will this system function for drivers in rural or remote areas without network coverage?
Regular and accurate updates to the system are crucial as demonstrated by the example of a stretch of motorway in Northampton. Even after the temporary speed limit due to roadworks was lifted, some cars continued to alert to the lower limit because their data was outdated. This emphasises the importance of update frequency and the challenges it presents.
To stay updated, vehicle manufacturers offer packages that include hotspot data, map updates, and tracking features for around £200 per year. It’s uncertain if drivers will continue to subscribe, especially if they’re low-income and facing a high-inflation economy that may require choosing between subscriptions and feeding their families.
As technology becomes more crucial for updates on our vehicles, dashboards and displays must also evolve. To ensure that speed limit notifications work correctly, cars need intelligent dashboards instead of traditional dials and small info boxes like heads up displays (HUDs). This means that there will likely be an increase in advanced in-car technology, which raises questions about how user-friendly these systems will be. Can these technologies be made affordable for economy vehicles? Will they work well for drivers who are neurodivergent or have visual/hearing impairments?
The vehicle’s in-car sensors and GPS will gather data to aid in crash investigations. This process is expected to improve the accuracy of investigations, increase the likelihood of prosecuting reckless driving, and eventually decrease insurance premiums. However, it is important to consider how data privacy will be upheld.
It’s important to consider whether the technologies have undergone sufficient testing and what risks may arise from malicious intent. For example, certain systems rely on camera-based technology to read road signs and interpret speed limits. However, if someone were to intentionally alter a sign and change a speed limit from 60 to 80, what would happen? It’s crucial that these systems are extensively tested to ensure they can handle such scenarios. One solution could be to combine GPS data with camera readings, allowing vehicles to cross-verify the speed limit and eliminate the risk of being misled by a modified road sign.
It is important for drivers and other road users to keep in mind that driving aids are only meant to assist them. These aids do not excuse drivers from adhering to traffic laws. Drivers are responsible for driving safely and being aware of their speed, particularly in areas with sudden changes in speed limit due to road work. The technology may not always quickly update speed limit changes or could have incorrect data.
As technology becomes more widespread, repair centres and bodyshops have a greater responsibility to ensure that everything is properly calibrated and functioning correctly. If a camera or sensor is miscalibrated or malfunctioning, it could greatly affect how well these systems work. If repairs are not completed within strict tolerances and there is a breach in the speed limit, who will be held responsible?
Manufacturers must thoroughly test these technologies under a wide range of driving conditions to ensure their effectiveness in delivering accurate speed limit notifications. These systems must remain responsive and reliable in various weather conditions, including bright sunlight or foggy winter mornings. Environmental factors like heavy rain, snow, dirt, and mud should not affect their performance. Moreover, they must be capable of withstanding different traffic densities, from rural roads to busy city intersections. Comprehensive testing is crucial not only for successful implementation but also for increasing drivers’ trust in these speed limit notification systems and promoting safer driving behaviours.
As we near July 2024, when all newly manufactured vehicles are required to comply with these regulations, we can expect to see more drivers becoming proficient in using these technologies and more repair centres needing to acquire new skills, tools, and training. This new law is a major step towards promoting safer driving.