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Jim Bray

Government, Business, Threatens Drivers' Freedom

By Jim Bray
October 25, 2008

If you think Big Brother was watching you before, get ready for a couple of technological tricks aimed at drivers that could drag us even closer to the type of slavery promised by the Left.

I'm referring to proposals on both sides of the Atlantic ocean that could mean the powers that be can track you – and maybe even control you or your vehicle to a certain extent – when you're out and about in your favorite set of wheels.

According to, it's being proposed in the U.S. to integrate red light and photo radar camera technology with video capabilities that could allow The Man to keep complete video records of passing motorists and their passengers, not just the still pictures they supposedly produce now. The amount of data that could be stored this way is limited only by the available hard drive space and the types of cameras they use.

That may not be a big deal but, according to the report, one of the companies pushing for this new way to enhance their bottom line is suggesting the information be integrated into a big database that would allow whomever controls the data to merely type in a vehicle's license number and have its last photographed location appear.

This scary surveillance program is being positioned as a way to help police looking to solve Amber Alert cases and locate stolen cars, and I could see it being quite handy in such an application. But I worry about the Large Sibling aspects of such technology in the wrong hands, as well as the general privacy issues it raises. Who's to say to what uses this information could be put? Voter intimidation in a Dear Leader Obamessiah regime, where registered Republicans are targeted and harassed? Don't laugh. I wouldn't put anything past such "power at all costs" zealots and their thugs.

I also worry about cops spending their time monitoring video screens when they could be out driving around looking for morons behind the wheel. Oh wait. They don’t appear to spend a lot of time pruning morons from the road now, do they?

It appears to this lead-footed but careful driver, who takes a lot of pride in driving well, that the cops currently spend an inordinate amount of time cashing in on speeders when they could be going after drivers who don't signal, who swerve madly from lane to lane while text messaging, or who are just plain brain dead behind the wheel. But that would require getting off the side of the road and actually looking for such things, and it's so much easier to shoot speeding fish in a barrel, even if the "fish" and their cars are fully capable of driving faster than an arbitrary speed limit dreamed up years ago.

But I digress…

A British strategy should be even more disturbing to anyone who values freedom. A piece in The Telegraph outlines the scary scenario in which drivers in Jolly Olde could soon have their speed monitored via Intelligent Speed Adaptation, which couples satellite-based monitoring with onboard nannies. One proposal is to have the technology holler at you to slow down, which sounds kind of like having my wife along with me right now, while another will actually jam on the brakes or cut the fuel supply to the engine to keep you at the speed limit.

In other words, if you're too stupid or oblivious to realize how quickly you're driving, you'll be nagged at or physically slowed down to a legal speed so you can continue driving, stupidly and obliviously, but legally.

God forbid we just raise our driving standards to ensure that anyone behind the wheel has actually been taught how to drive and not just to pass a test.

The report outlines three levels for this "Intelligent Speed Adaptation":

  • "advisory", issues a voice alert reminding you of the speed limit
  • A second version would either apply the brakes or cut the fuel supply to the engine, slowing you down to the speed limit. You'd supposedly be able to override the system, either by depressing the accelerator pedal firmly or pressing a button. But if that's the case, what's the point?
  • A third version would take over complete control and you wouldn't be able to override the system at all.

Scary stuff.

The report I read says the system would require the creation of a digital map that has all the speed limits on it, which doesn't seem too difficult as long as the speed limits remain fairly static (otherwise you'll need updates every time a new speed limit is mandated). A version tested in Leeds slowed down the test car on occasions such as in school zones, but probably didn't notice if the person was applying makeup, playing a musical instrument or having afternoon tea while driving through the school zone.

Speed is only one factor in accidents, though it seems to be treated like the boogeyman. What's next? A device that prevents tail gating (I guess they already have this, with adaptive cruise control)  – or won't let you turn or change lanes without signaling?  Speeders always take the brunt of the action, but in my never humble opinion stupid and/or oblivious drivers (whether they speed or not) are more of a problem than people who drive fast and who have the skills and the vehicles to facilitate it.

Ford Family Values….

Another wrinkle on this theme is Ford's new MyKey, which will supposedly appear first on the 2010 Focus. This is a nanny I can live with, reluctantly, because it leaves the vehicle owner in control – thought I also wonder if it would be necessary if some parents had better relationships with their kids.

MyKey lets parents program the cars to set limits on drivers and maintain the car's safety systems. The magic key controls such parameters as speed,  limiting it to 80 miles per hour and inflicting warning chimes at 45, 55 and 65 mph. It'll also sound the seatbelt warning and mute the radio until the seatbelt is buckled (which doesn't sound like much of a stretch from today's warnings), and activate the "low fuel" warning with 75 miles of gas in the tank instead of 50. I guess this is to help ensure the kids don't bring the car home empty.

On the other hand, horny guys won't be able to pretend to have run out of gas any more, either.

The system also limits the audio system's volume to 44 percent of its maximum, as if kids have hearing problems (I don't know about you, but mine only had problems listening, not hearing), and won't allow stuff such as the traction control and blind-spot detection to be deactivated.

Ford says the MyKey thingy will be standard equipment on the 2010 Focus and will be optional on other Ford products.

I don't blame Ford for coming up with what could be an interesting marketing tool, but whatever happened to parents ensuring their kids know how to drive well and with building a relationship with them that would let parents trust them to do the right thing?

Geez, don't we take any responsibility for ourselves and our families any more?

Copyright 2008 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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