By on January 26, 2011

It’s a nice idea: Each car is equipped with a wireless beacon, transmitting speed, direction and whatnot to other cars. For years, people have been dreaming about this. Now they could have found the killer app for the technology: By mashing up that information, collision courses could be plotted and lives could be saved. Exactly that was demonstrated yesterday to federal officials in Washington.

“In the demonstration in the parking lot near RFK Stadium,” reports the Washington Post, “the system notified a driver when it detected another car speeding through a red light in an upcoming intersection, of several cars blocking the highway ahead, and of a car zooming up from behind.”

The NHTSA wants to make that system mandatory by 2013. In order to work, it must be mandatory. A car without a beacon will not exist as far as this system is concerned. Even if mandatory in new cars, it would take 15 to 20 years until all cars on the road will jabber away in a huge chat room.

A report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in October reported that such “vehicle-to-vehicle” warning systems could address nearly 80 percent of reported crashes that do not involve drunk drivers.

The trouble is: The majority of fatal accidents are single vehicle accidents. Of the 33,808 fatal accidents recorded in 2009 in NHTSA’s FARS database, 19,869 were single vehicle accidents, where this system would do absolutely nothing, unless each tree and lamp post is equipped with a beacon. Only 13,939 were multiple vehicle accidents.

So if we are supposed to remove DUI cases (why? Enabriated  folk sure could use some beeps and blinks), then the system could “address” (not prevent) less than a third of the fatal accidents.

But then, a system that advertises speed and direction of a car would be any administrator’s dream. No more RADAR or red light cameras needed. GPS trackers in every car! Makes you want to get out and walk.

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45 Comments on “Privacy? What Privacy? We Are Saving Lives Here!...”


  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Yeah, I think this stuff sounds great at one level, but it smells of extreme paternalism at another. You have to give people sufficient autonomy to live their lives as responsible human beings. Take that away and you threaten a fundamental condition of human dignity and long term happiness.

    • 0 avatar
      Thinx

      Collision avoidance can be achieved without a central tracking database which collects individually identifiable information.  “Safety” is an orwellian excuse to give the various cells of the kleptocrats in government more ways to track the citizenry.
      America is dying.  Welcome to Amerika.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      I think trying to secure reasonable levels of safety in public life is and should be a genuine concern, but it always needs to be balanced against the need to protect and affirm civil liberties. Striking the right balance between the need for coordination and the need for autonomy is a difficult art, and we should always be wary when the proponents of one or the other of these ideals pushes their demands too far.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      One big problem: Too many people have absolved any notion of personal responsibility and don’t know how to properly live in the first place. People used to have values that were taught and lived by far more universally than now. I’ll not go any further than this here.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      I actually agree with you. Too many people scream about freedom and autonomy and choice without understanding that with freedom comes responsibility as well. Many people want the freedom, but they don’t want the responsibility that comes with it. That’s one of the main reasons why the need for coordination often takes the form of imposed regulation.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      The big fundamental problem here is that for all the fancy graphics and whatnot, there is no overwhelming need for this technology. Do a better job educating drivers, fix our road and leave this nanny baloney on the shelf.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Thanks, but no thanks. This is what happens people when you don’t accept the current standard as good enough. Someone sooner or later will come up with something draconian and Big Brother. And how much do you want to bet that in the short term, if such a system were actually put into place, that fatalities go UP because people are distracted by all the snaps and beeps.
     
    Count me out.

  • avatar
    Syke

    If we take a 2013 implementation as reality, my last car will be a 2012 model.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    How about focusing a little more on the “H” in NHTSA. Overall our roads and general infrastructure are a mess. Stop tinkering with the cars to go after that last tenth of a percent and make the roads safer.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    No cause for alarm here, folks. If pitch seen at the Consumer Electronics Show had come to fruition, even your toaster and coffeepot would be connected to the internet. Your SYNC in your Ford would alert you that your favorite store, just three miles ahead, has your favorite brand of shirts on sale.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      The difference here is that NHTSA is supposedly pushing to make these systems mandatory by 2013. The systems demoed at CES, while interesting, aren’t being mandated.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    The problem with this “solution” is that the interface is likely to further distract the driver.
     
    I’m with Jimal: Focus on our crumbling highways – as well as those parts of the South that are now heavily populated, and thus not addressed in the original Interstate Highway System plans of 1956.
     
    As one who loves to drive I hate to say this, but as flying becomes more of a hassle (especially for shorter flights) I’d like to see “smart highways” that use GPS and vehicle control to move vehicles over long-distance routes. In 1972, my second-grade teacher showed us photos of monorail cars and declared it the transportation of the future. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a vehicle that drives you 500 miles on a special lane to (or near to) your destination, where you can then exit, take over the controls and drive it on local roads?

    • 0 avatar
      colin42

      I think it’s called a railway!

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurotunnel_Shuttle

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      colin42, you’re absolutely right.
       
      Except for one thing: Passenger rail service is wonderful in the Northeast, but virtually nonexistent in much of the South and West
       
      No, for my fantasy to work this system would need to be integrated into (or run alongside) existing major highways. That way you avoid the issue of having to arrive at a portal at a certain time, and you can exit at many points along the way. Unfortunately it has none of the fuel-saving benefits of rail, and there’s the not-so-minor issue of what happens when the vehicle is being guided by GPS and tire failure occurs…or wet or icy roads cause a loss of traction.
       
      But hey, it’s a fantasy, so I allow myself to pretend those limitations don’t exist…

  • avatar
    M 1

    Great. So the little old lady blocking the fast lane will have even more crap to fuel her paranoia. I personally believe rear view mirrors should be banned. If it’s behind you, forget about it.

  • avatar
    lajesicb

    I would be okay with a system like this, it could even be used to time lights, and provide real time traffic information etc. However, I would want it to be without the tracking capabilities. In order for such a system to work it just needs to know that there is A CAR. It doesn’t need to know which car, a car ran a red light works as well from a safety standpoint as car licence plate number 123ABC ran a red light. It would be possible to have all the benefits, without any of the big brother negatives.
    But I don’t think the government could ever pass up such an opportunity for surveillance. :-/

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      Excellent point.
       
      The govt will soft sell the collection of detailed driver specific information by saying:
      “The SmartGrid system will give us the tools we need to enhance driver safety, ensure code compliance and enable a collaborative transportation infrastructure that truly meets real needs”.

  • avatar
    daviel

    Don’t many cars – not mine – have gps installed already?   It can’t be too hard to devise a black box in a gov’t office pick that up.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Insurance companies are going to love this more than officials. The various states, counties, cities and villages will fight over jurisdiction and fines but insurance companies will go very broad. Take a trip to Florida?  special rate increase. Drive in a zip code with lots of accidents? tack on a few dollars.
     
    No limit to this.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      Exactly, except that none of this addresses the original spurious road safety claims. Just more idiot proofing.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      Agreed.  No limits.  The system detects you speeding, running a red light or making an illegal turn?  Ticket issued via text message to your cell phone, fines and fees automatically debited from your account.  Your car past due for its emissions quality inspection?  Your car is de-activated. 
      Since Ford is the company leading this, how about we boycott Ford to show them our disapproval?  I won’t buy another Ford vehicle, ever, now.

      In the words of the old Kansas song:

      “Your future is managed, and your freedom’s a joke.
      You won’t know the difference as you put on the yoke.
      While everyone clamors for the justice they seek
      The world is corrupted and the strong eat the weak.”

    • 0 avatar
      kjs

      Huh?

      Auto insurance premiums aren’t affected by where you happen to take a vacation. If you live in an area that has a high auto accident rate, you will have higher premiums than elsewhere — that’s already the case, without any networked cars. (That’s why folks in rural areas don’t have to pay as much as folks in urban areas.) If anything, insurance companies might give discounts for cars with this technology installed. On the other hand, technology like this would greatly complicate routine liability investigations.

      Government would easily find a lot more “useful” applications than insurance companies.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    As a long-time IT project manager, my first question is going to be, “who is going to create the computer program that will collect all this data in real-time, make intelligent decisions on it, and then do something about it?”  Can you imagine the cost of such a project?  Who’s gonna do it, the government?  Lockheed-Martin?  More importantly, who is going to pay for it?
     
    I see more nefarious, smaller applications coming to play, like the State of New York tagging everyone’s speed as reported by their cars, comparing it to the posted limit, and automatically issuing tickets in the mail for any violation.  I also see car records subpoenaed in lawsuits, criminal suits, and divorce proceedings: “Mr. Wilson, your car records indicate that you were visiting your best friend’s wife’s home at 1:12 PM on Thursday, May 5 when you instead were supposed to be at work”.
     
    I don’t see much in the way of safety coming our way.  Only money and the ever lasting pursuit of it.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    You could address the privacy issue, perhaps at the expense of feature scope, by making the system peer-to-peer: have each car communicate with those in it’s immediate (relative) proximity, and use the cars themselves to form a mesh network with a maximum hop or peer association count.
     
    This way, your car (and everyone else’s car) need only know about the cars immediately surrounding it, and only the generalized behaviour of cars well ahead or behind yours would be exposed to you (and vice versa).  It’d help with safety, but might make traffic management a problem and would certainly help gross fuel economy.  It certainly would help address the kinds of accidents that are caused by careless driving, inattentiveness and/or disregard for inclement weather.
     
    It’d be useless on open rural roads, but the kinds of freedom-lovin’ folks that travel the wild frontier don’t exactly wrack up the kinds of accident stats that a half-million commuters in a major urban centre would.
     
    I suspect, though, that the demographic data this would yield would be too valuable to advertisers and such a system wouldn’t stay closed.  Imagine the possibilities: targeted video billboards, knowing which stores at which exists people stop at, your nav system pinging you about half-price bucket of KFC on your way home from work.
     

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    So much potential for abuse when the supposedly accurate crime pattern recognition algorithms start monitoring cars.

    The SmartGrid (tied into DHS and DEA and local police) will flash on suspicious behavior such as: Muslim drivers(oh no, he is headed towards the water treatment plant!), blacks driving in predominately white neighborhoods(must be trouble), whites driving in predominantly black areas(must be drug buyers), young drivers on a straight, remote road at night (they’re probably gonna race).
    You fit into an “at risk” group, too, everyone does.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    Memo to Starry-Eyed Government Dreamers
    From: Out of Work, Broke and/or Over-Taxed and Over-Regulated Voters
    Perhaps you haven’t noticed. Perhaps you haven’t gotten the last few years worth of memos. We are broke. We are spending money we don’t have. Financially, we have, like Blanche Dubois, depended on the kindness of strangers, specifically those Chinese ones. They are out of patience and may feel the kindest thing to do is cut us off.
    We. Have. No. Money.
    Stop. Stop. Now.
    Your idea is stupid. I’m sure Ray LaHood is involved somehow, so that is a given. LeeK plays along and presents a reasonable set of questions about implementation and cost. Whatever the estimate is, apply the Big Dig overrun multiplier factor to it. Beyond that, the standard will be published and hackers will get to work on stealthing new cars, probably even before the roll-out.
    Thanks for reading. If you don’t take this to heart, I’m sure the nice folks on the House Appropriations Committee will. You remember them. They determine your budget, not the Executive Branch.
     

  • avatar
    itsgotvtakyo

    What country do I live in again? This is offensive.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “Only 13,939 were multiple vehicle accidents”
    Which is still about four times as many people as were killed in the infamous 9/11 attacks.
    Oh, only 14 thousand people die this way per year, nothing to worry about …..
     
    P.S. If you carry a cell phone, The Big Scary People In The Shadows can already track you.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      About the only thing that 9/11 and road fatalities have in common is that certain elements of the Government use them to (and I sound like a Tea Partier saying this) curb our rights and individual freedoms. I normally don’t like to use such phrases as they sound overly simplistic and a bit obtuse, but in this case I don’t know how else to describe it. 9/11 was a single terrorist attack broken into four separate acts which cost the lives of 3,000 or so people.
       
      The numbers in this report, while startling on their face, are meaningless without context. Per NHTSA, there were approximately 1.16 fatalities per 100 MILLION miles driven in 2009. Statistically speaking that is pretty damn safe and I for one am not willing to have my every move the subject of monitoring by anyone in the name of a .01% improvement in road safety.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      John
      The Big Scary People are neither if we start curtailing their funding. The financial and societal costs of implementing this are unaffordable and repugnant. The societal costs come in because government as currently constituted could no more avoid intruding further into our lives than a cokehead could avoid snorting another line. But there is no need to debate on the merits; you need only debate on cost. There are a lot of things (that some may find desirable) that we can’t afford. This is one of those things. The only good thing that may come out of our current financial mess is a chance to lay off a good part of government and cap or reduce entitlements, pensions etc. We will get there – either of our own planning or like the PIIGS. Your choice.
      PS – If you were of a mind to do so and intent on nefarious deeds, you could jam cell phone signals in your car. Illegal as all get out but available from a number of overseas sources. Simpler would be removing the phone battery or using throw-aways. And little more work would jam GPS directly. So all we’d be doing – sooner or later – is setting up a massive government bureaucracy to surveil people minding their own business – and paying more in taxes to support that bureaucracy.
      PPS – People know and accept the risks of driving. That is where your comparison to the 911 deaths fails.

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      “If you carry a cell phone, The Big Scary People In The Shadows can already track you.”
       
      Fortunately there are lots of people on the left and right in the US who won’t quit on civil liberties with such fatalistic meekness.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      That’s why I carry a TracPhone, paid for by a Walmart-issued debit card, which I replenish in cash, and it is under a psuedonym.

      I for one am not gonna make it easy for the bastards.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    Jimal
    There is no such thing as a Tea Party. It is a bunch of people who are fed up and are empowered by the Internet’s disintermediating the central committees of the parties of big government – the Democrats and the country club Republicans alike. Both are organizationally so stupid that they can’t conceive of individuals participating directly instead of through them, hence there must be a Tea Party.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      So there is no such thing as a Tea Party? As sure as several of my uncles and friends describe themselves as being a part of such an entity, the Tea Party exists. When a fairly elected, but Constitutionally ignorant Constitutional “expert” feels compelled to provide her own separate rebuttal to the State of the Union address, the Tea Party exists. Whether it is a grassroots movement that rails against the establishment, or (more likely) a group of scared mostly white people who wrap their heads around a black guy being President, the Tea Party exists.

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      Want to see a group of scared white people, mention Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Black guy. Constitutional expert (not the New Flexiplastic version).

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      Except that a Supreme Court justice isn’t the President. That is the big difference.

  • avatar
    econobiker

    Problem with these schemes is that the insurance companies, which benefit from the ideas, never seem to reduce rates after the scheme is in place. Anyone else notice that insurance rates never went down after universal adoption of primary seat belt laws?
    The real money in this is from the commercial side.  Keeping passenger cars out of the paths of commercial trucks would save a lot of money and time for transportation companies.
    And there would have to be a law enforcement override for the police, say,  in order to do a PIT maneuver against a fleeing suspect. Without an override the police chases would get pretty interesting and easy for suspects- until they ran out of gas.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      As disgusting as I find the government using this to monitor my actions, I’m equally disgusted at the profiteering scumbag$ who will jack up my insurance rates and sell my personal information to line their pockets.  This is a lose-lose all the way around.

    • 0 avatar
      kjs

      “Anyone else notice that insurance rates never went down after universal adoption of primary seat belt laws?”

      Two things:

      1) The more equipment in the car, the more money it costs to fix or replace.
      2) Once everyone has the same safety feature, your car is no longer relatively less risky to insure. No relative decrease in risk = no relative decrease in cost.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    I know it’s been stated before but if they really want to improve safety, why don’t they fix all of our red listed bridges and outdated interstates. Most of the interstate bridges in my state capitol have severe spall and are being held together by mesh and 2x4s. I love seeing exposed rebar on a bridge that connects two main interstates (89/93). All of the merge areas are very small making Joie Chitwood maneuvers the norm. There is at least one rollover per year in one of the cloverleafs as it is too tight. The main east/west corridor in our state is a half-assed super-two also known as “death alley”.  It was supposed to be turned into I-92 back in the early 1970’s but it never happened. Most of the fatalities on it are do to driver inattention, blind spots, unsignaled intersections and short merge areas. None of these high tech advances will help it.

  • avatar
    pbxtech

    Mmm wireless bacon.

  • avatar
    vento97

    No way in hell am I attaching that Orwellian device to any of my automobiles…

  • avatar
    Sam P

    I predict there will be a cottage industry that arises to disable these things (if the NHTSA succeeds in requiring them to be installed in all new vehicles), at least in states that don’t mandate yearly comprehensive vehicle inspections.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      Just to put a cost on this – comprehensive ECU reflashes for relatively rare cars like Porsches run – generous estimate – between $1000 to $2000. The Weltmeister chip in my old 911 only ran $300 in 1995.  Often these can be reflashed back for inspection, sometimes with an installed switch or a sequence of operations on existing features of the car. Increase the market size by an order of magnitude and the price probably changes accordingly.

  • avatar
    gator marco

    Why don’t they tie in the drunk driver interlock also? Your system could light up and provide the BAC of all drivers around you, so you could see if someone had been drinking, even if they weren’t over the limit?
    And how about a smoke detector, so that your system could tell you if someone is smoking pot in their car? Maybe the seats could be fitted with a sensor that could run a blood test to look for various drugs, and broadcast that to surrounding drivers?
    And how about tell you if there is a working cell phone in the car, since even if a passenger is using it, that is a distraction?
    And if there are kids in the back seat, since the driver may be distracted turning around to yell at the kids?
    The above may sound silly, but the NHTSA has publicly identified each of those issues as serious safety concerns. If they want to install a Big Brother system, then they are going to have to feed it all the above data. Or they are just being hypocritical about the above “safety” issues, and are just in it to increase their own power. You make the call.
     


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