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Europe wants a black-box speed spy in every car

London Times | February 27 2005

BLACK box recorders could be installed in all new cars under a European Union ruling. The aircraft-style equipment would also act as a tracker, using global positioning satellites to record the location and route of a vehicle and to tell how fast a driver is going and whether seatbelts are being worn.

Data recovered from the boxes could give investigators important clues on how accidents are caused.

However, British motoring groups fear the technology could be used by government to introduce a national congestion charge or to keep tabs on people’s movements.

The European commission has asked the police forces of member states to look at whether the technology could improve road safety. Every year about 50,000 people are killed on European roads and another 3.5m are injured.

If, as expected, the police give their backing, manufacturers would be required to install black boxes in all new cars by 2009.

The National Transportation Safety Board in America also wants to make them mandatory by the same date. Already 15% of vehicles in the US are fitted with the palm-sized devices. Most new cars there have them fitted as standard.

Many police forces in Britain have already adopted the technology in their patrol cars to reduce the number of accidents and to explain what happened when high-sped chases result in fatal collisions.

Courier companies have also begun installing the recorders to remotely monitor their vehicles.

The black boxes in cars are expected to cost between £200 and £300 but drivers might be able to reduce their motoring insurance if they can use the recorders to prove they do not drive fast or at night.

One insurance company, Norwich Union, has already introduced a “pay-as-you-drive” system for young drivers that can cut their premiums by up to 30% if they can show they do not drive between 11pm and 6am, the most dangerous time for them to be on the road.

The equipment would also include “eCall” technology to ring for police and an ambulance automatically in the event of an accident.

A European commission spokesman said yesterday: “There is huge potential for the deployment of this technology. Benefits would far outweigh any costs.

“The motor industry is fully involved in, and supportive of, this initiative.”

But Edmund King, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “If it is a voluntary system and the black box reduces your insurance premiums, that is fine.

“But there is a difference between that and a compulsory system imposed by the EU that tracks cars. There would be opposition if it was Big Brother in the car monitoring our every move.”

He added: “There is already so much technology in car engines that it is possible for accident investigators to work out how fast a car was going and when it started braking.”





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