The police often reckon that many criminals come into contact with them through cars and roads. The automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras with their comprehensive supporting database have proved very effective in catching all sorts of crime and perpetrators.
Now it is set to be extended. If a new plan comes to pass, cameras already fitted at thousands of petrol stations will be used to identify cars that are not taxed and are registered to drivers who are not insured. When that happens, the system will prevent the pumps from working.
Sounds simple. No tax/insurance, no fuel.
It is thought about one in every twenty five drivers in Britain does not have insurance, despite existing laws and penalties. The consequences when they injure others are horrific.
If the corollary is that the police will be alerted at once so the people can be arrested, there will be some opposition from many petrol retailers with staff already getting the brunt of motorists’ hostility to some of the most expensive fuel in Europe, without turning ‘cashiers into law enforcers’ in the words of Brian Madderson, chair of RMI Petrol, representing the independent fuel outlets.
A non-technological solution to the road tax duty problem, of course, would be to abolish it and put it in the price of petrol, so that those who drive more miles pay more. But that one may be too simplistic and motorists may just focus on even more expensive petrol per litre and forget that their road tax has been cancelled out.
It also wouldn’t address the issue of encouraging greener engines which the current road tax regime does, at least to some extent.
Spy in the Car
In the past few years technology has brought the black box to motoring. Although it’s not yet compulsory, new cars have them. Everything is recorded but manufacturers claim data is only saved if the emergency airbag is deployed.
The insurance companies are experimenting with them, offering cheaper policies to young drivers who agree to have ‘a spy in the car’. Just recently they have started extending it to all age drivers.
These boxes record movement, speeds, fuel consumption, braking patterns and use GPS, built-in cameras and shock sensors located around the car and chassis. They record if seatbelts are worn and the next generation of the devices will include what distractions there are in the car, like music or talking/arguing.
Of course, if they save fuel, improve driving standards in the young and cut crime, everybody is in favour.
These ‘event data recorders’ hold the secret causes of accidents and dangerous driving. The data is used to reconstruct incidents and apportion blame. There is actually nothing preventing anybody downloading the data without the car driver’s consent or knowledge.
An insurance company, for example which has bought a wrecked car can authorise removal of black box data. In the USA already many police forces can extract information on the scene after an incident in order to determine their actions at once. They simply connect the boxes to a laptop loaded with the appropriate software.
Apparently they cannot be disabled as they are integral to the total systems that operate cars nowadays.
Understandably older drivers are not overall in favour of this idea for themselves. They are not driving aircraft or lorries, after all. The car is king, an extension of their egos.
However, that view is to change. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) has published (March 2012) a report calling for a ‘national strategy for an ageing car driving population’. Compulsory regular retesting seems certain; spies in their cars could be part of that process.
Deaths and injuries among older drivers have fallen less rapidly than other age groups. Yet, while only 15% of the over 75s had driving licenses in 1975, today it is 60%. Older drivers are a fact of road life, so strategies for safety are inevitable.
And for all drivers, whether road pricing and tolls become commonplace or not, transponder-type readers could be installed roadside to capture data from every car that passes round the clock. That would mean the end of speed cameras as every driver’s speed would be known.
It would also be the end of the last scrap of pretence that you are alone in a car.