Black box style recorders in cars could monitor every move
'BIG Brother' surveillance of driver behaviour could be mandatory for all new cars sold in Europe.
Widespread changes to vehicle safety throughout the European Union look set to require manufacturers to include a number of features in every new car, including a black box-style data recorder and intelligent "speed assistance" pushing drivers to stick to posted limits.
The same technology could come to Australia under the vehicle "type approval" process which requires cars sold locally to meet the same minimum standards held in Europe and other markets - a Volkswagen or Mercedes sold in Australia is largely the same as its overseas cousin.
The changes include a connection point for alcohol interlocks for aftermarket breathalysers sometimes required following drink-driving convictions, along with driver drowsiness monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, an emergency stop signal that strobes tail lamps during firm brake applications and a crash data recorder.
Many vehicles already have an "event data recorder" within airbag control units which capture key data leading up to a crash, but there are no universally agreed standards for exactly how much information should be retrained, who should access it, and when.
Another contentious point surrounds the inclusion of intelligent speed-assistance (ISA) system, which would, according to the EU, "alert the driver of exceeding the speed limit by providing haptic feedback through the accelerator pedal".
Though it can be overridden by pushing harder on the throttle, the system has been queried in some circles as an initial step toward preventing drivers from speeding altogether.
Many modern cars already offer speed sign recognition capable of displaying posted speed limits to drivers - either through satnav data or cameras which recognise speed limit signs.
The new Mazda3 will even brake to adopt lower limits when moving into a new speed zone, slowing without driver input.
But the proposed technology goes further.
Examining ISA, respected British journalist Andrew Frankel wrote in Drive Nation "this means you'll have to tell the car if you intend to speed, and it'll record the fact if you do".
"Actually it's the data logger that concerns me most because, combined with the sat nav information that determines the speed limit of any given road, you car will retain every detail of your every journey, and you don't need to be an Orwell scholar to spot something disturbingly Big Brother about that," he said.
The technology could have wide-ranging implications for policing, insurance, privacy and other factors.
European Automobile Manufacturers' Association lobbyist Erik Jonnaert told Politico "premium carmaker ranges have a problem with this", with the strongest objections stemming from "those that make cars that drive the fastest."
At home, ANCAP chief executive James Goodwin said the safety body "supports moves to mandate these important safety aids, but the regulatory process can take time" - suggesting it may be years before similar proposals are put forward locally.
"In the interim, the voluntary fitment of these technologies is already increasing quickly through ANCAP's consumer and market influence, with many of these features already required in order to score a high ANCAP safety rating - whether it be a passenger car, SUV, van or light commercial vehicle," Goodwin said.
Polish parliamentarian Róża Thun, a key proponent of the legislation, said the introduction of mandatory safety technology has the potential to save thousands of lives, with pedestrians and cyclists key beneficiaries of the movement.
"Safety of road users, especially unprotected ones, is our focus," she said.
"This regulation deals in the most direct sense with life and death. We concentrated all our efforts on saving lives and mitigating injuries. The additional obligatory equipment for cars, trucks and buses will save human lives. I am very proud of the European parliament; despite all our differences, the members supported this ambitious proposal."
While reforms passed an initial vote last week, they face further hurdles ahead of EU parliamentary elections in May. EU members are due to debate the issue further in March.