The cars of the future could have automated speed limiters; that shouldn’t be surprising. CNN reported that the European Union is mandating that all vehicles have “intelligent speed assistance” by 2022. One shouldn’t be surprised that the E.U. has passed a new regulation; the governing body has just a few of those. Whether laws of this kind draw one’s thumbs down or up, consider what a similar law could mean in the U.S. or Atlanta, specifically.
E.U.’s mandate is broad and doesn’t identify a specific technology to govern speeds. As vehicles become smarter, the general idea is that vehicles across the pond will use various technology to read speed-limit info on European roads. Then the automated engine governors would have vehicles top out at the the posted speed limits.
Drivers, however, would be able to override this feature. This malleability already exists in driverless cars now. Some smart cars, like the Tesla Model S in which I rode in a couple of years ago, allow drivers to set the aggressiveness level at which the autonomous vehicles drive themselves. Conservative settings keep these cars close to the speed limit and more apart from one another. As the aggression levels increase, so do the accepted maximum speeds and minimum space requirements. Drivers, of course, can “take the wheel” over from the computer at any time.
This same principle would apply in Europe, where 25,000 people die in crashes annually. The E.U. official’s statement that CNN cited also said that the vast majority of wrecks involve human error. The entire argument for autonomous vehicles centers around eliminating human error. Cars communicating with one another and strictly following their own rules will create far fewer mishaps and make traffic move more freely.
Intelligent speed assistance is very attainable and essentially has existed for decades, in the form of cruise control. The U.S. government already mandates broad safety features in vehicles, so seeing a speed rule of this sort in the future is not far-fetched. But would an E.U.-like speed mandate be effective in our society?
One could argue that intelligent speed assistance, if only a deployed as a suggestion, would at least start a conversation about safer speeds. I have made the same argument many times about the Hands-Free Georgia Act: The law may not be effective enough, but conversation can change behavior.
Should the “Slow Down Movement” start with government regulations, corporate marketing, or private citizen campaigns? The best answer is yes — to all of it. Personal responsibility is a staple in a modern, free society. People have to buy in to an idea for it to be truly effective. The idea of something as a regulation, doesn’t often create “buy in,” but it may move, say, automotive companies or safe-driving campaigns to push for the cause. This is exactly what happened with the somewhat effective hands-free law here in Georgia last year.
Another row in the “personal responsibility aisle” is the complicated dependence on technology. Driving skills have decreased. That is an anecdotal statement and one backed by the increased number of wrecks and fatalities on the roads in the past few years. Distracted driving is seemingly the biggest cause of this spike in single-vehicle wrecks, but a general lack of awareness of environment also might be. As GPS apps have gotten better, drivers simply are less invested in actually making their own decisions. We are driving mostly at the behest of satellite mapping … and that friendly voice. This listlessness makes navigating convenient and keeps us from getting lost as often. But it also leads us to make turns late, stop in the middle of the road to not miss a turn, or just generally maneuver abruptly and less safely.
Taking our ability to govern our speeds out of our hands could have the same effect as GPS and distracted driving do. The less we become responsible for our rides, the less invested we are in our driving. The most dangerous period for the growth of autonomous technology on the roads is this 5-, 10-, or 15-year transition period of in betweenness. Once the wheels are totally out of our hands, we may be in a better place. But getting to the “Promised Land of Autonomy” could involve a lot of bad and mysterious turns. Be careful.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.