The European Commission appears to believe an important part of its Digital Agenda is ensuring we don’t kill each other in road accidents.
It has just extended the period auto makers can use the 24GHz frequency for running anti-collision systems by five years until 2018, due to a lack of maturity of kit in the 79GHz frequency originally designated for the radar set ups.
As someone who rides a motorcycle and is running a 1970s sports car, I have to wonder whether adding more technology to modern vehicles is really the best way to ensure safety. My two vehicles have literally nothing to distract you from the task of driving, which in the case of the car is a good thing because it inevitably carries 1970s braking technology.
Consider, then, any average modern car. It’ll likely have a stereo system; Bluetooth to connect to your phone or MP3 player; and a video screen offering GPS, TV or DVD functionality and – in the future – some sort of web browser.
The EC’s involvement, of course, goes further than just ensuring we don’t drive into each other. The Commission is concerned about radio frequency harmonization and is acting to ensure that anti-collision radar systems don’t cause problems for other wireless services.
But that’s not to say the Commission isn’t keen on preventing needless accidents. Digital Agenda vice president Neelie Kroes explains the five year frequency extension removes “a potential barrier to fitting collision avoidance radar into cars,” which should spur auto makers into action to install more of the systems and help the European Union achieve a goal of halving the number of road deaths.
The systems’ primary function will be to alert drivers to potential dangers – particularly in blind spots, which in theory should benefit me on my motorcycle -, but they could also be used to trigger safety features like pre-tensioning seat belts or applying the brakes to prevent a collision.
Leaving aside the fact that wireless technology in cars has already been shown to be open to attack from remote hacking, I find it slightly worrying that my car might start making decisions for me. Moreover, the psychological aspect of all this will be to engender a greater feeling of safety among drivers, which could prove counter-productive to the EU’s road deaths goal by making motorists more blasé about the risks around them.
In my view, it’s a good thing these radar systems are currently only fitted to 0.05% of Europe’s cars.
Let’s save the tech for when we’re riding the train, Wi-Fi hotspot or sitting in our homes, and leave drivers free to get on with the task of actually driving.