New legislation in EU increases safety — kind of

You had to know this one was coming.

Between the GPS devices in our cars and mobile-device apps showing our “estimated times of arrival” as we drive, and speed limits on some roads popping up as well on those screens, it was easy to consider a future where either: a) we would be receiving numerous speeding infractions in the mail based on satellite technology, or, b) our cars would be restricted from speeding, altogether.

Well, on March 26, the European Union (EU) agreed on new legislation that will require anti-speeding devices to be put in cars, according to a Forbes story. In a nutshell, the legislation will require all new vehicles to be equipped with Intelligent Speed Assistant (ISA) technology. These devices, according to the Forbes story, can use sign-recognition video cameras or GPS-linked data to to automatically limit the speed of a vehicle. 

“They do so by limiting the engine power to prevent the vehicle from accelerating past the limit, rather than by throwing on the brakes,” according to the story.

“ISA is probably the single-most effective new-vehicle safety technology currently available in terms of its life-saving potential,” said the European Transport Safety Council, in a statement. “With mass adoption and use, ISA is expected to reduce collisions by 30 percent and deaths by 20 percent.”

You have to say — reducing collisions by 30 percent and deaths by 20 percent would be fantastic. It would potentially drive down the costs of insurance (at least for the providers), aid in keeping traffic running efficiently and, most importantly, keep a whole lot of people breathing in air that otherwise would not. According to a New York Times article on the subject, Antonio Avenoso of the European Transport Safety Council said these devices could prevent 25,000 deaths within 15 years. That is a significant number. One would be a significant number, if that one is your loved one, right? But it’s also pretty clear that this raises quite a few questions, as well.

Is this where the world is going? Technology will regulate and enforce every part of the way we live our lives? Our calls monitored, our emails traced, our shopping and reading habits shared with marketing companies, our ability to drive an open road restricted by “Big Brother?”

To be honest, I don’t see this particular situation as a huge restriction on our freedoms. Driving is a privilege in our nation, not a right protected by our Constitution. We moaned and complained when seat belts became mandatory (I moaned louder than most), but now most people just see it as common sense. We’re not allowed to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We’re not allowed to drive cars that are deemed as safety hazards to the public at large. We’re not allowed to drive over double-lane markers and, pay close attention — we are not allowed to drive over the speed limit established for a particular stretch of road.

Really, if you think about it, drivers aren’t losing anything they had before. Sure, we can stomp our foot to the floor and make our vehicles go every bit as fast as the engineering allows it to go, but we aren’t permitted to do so, right? Still, many people in Europe have complained about the legislation, voicing concerns over a “nanny state,” according to the Forbes article. 

“The discussions in comittee have been difficult,” said Roza Grafin von Thun und Hohenstein, the lawmaker guiding the legislation through the European Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee, and owner of one of the coolest names I’ve ever encountered. “There’s even division within political groups. It’s emotional.”

The drivers’ association FIA Region I has voiced another controversy with the technology. “Investment and upkeep of our roads are needed for many of these technologies to function at their best,” said Laurianne Krid, director-general of FIA. “In addition, drivers need to be properly trained to use these new technologies.”

Here’s where things get a little weird.

Legislators from the European Parliament and the 28 national EU governments, citing those concerns from FIA Region I, reached a compromise that allows drivers to disable the devices if they choose. They said that this might be necessary in areas where speed-limit data is incorrect, or where there are other problems with the data being sent to the vehicle.

So, it’s mandatory. Unless you want to disable it.

This is why government often makes me pull out my ha... scratch my head. They looked at a situation, digested data, listened to testimony from all sides and reached a decision that they felt could have an impact on saving lives and increasing efficiencies. Then they buckled.

See what I did there? Since we were talking about auto safety, I used the word “buckled” there...

But I digress.

Right or wrong, this was an interesting debate in Europe, and perhaps for us down the road. Until it stalled. 

“Stalled.” Get it?