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Friday, 7 January, 2000, 11:22 GMT
Should satellites control cars?

Compulsory satellite-controlled speed regulators could be fitted in all cars in the UK within 10 years.

Would this be a welcome step, helping to prevent thousands of road deaths each year?

Or would it take undermine the driver's control, creating new safety and civil liberty concerns?

Your Reaction

This would be a good idea for hooligans, drunk drivers, and thugs. But don't do this to the sensible drivers. This is so typical of today's society. To handle a problem we don't take it out on the individuals we take it out on everybody! And yes this is another example of the governments power over the people. Why don't they just take all our freedom and civil liberties away and live under a fascist or communist society, because that is certainly where we are headed for at this rate.
Steven, Wales

Assuming the current rate of traffic growth and the continued lack of any transport policy by this, or any other, government, the whole road system in the UK will be totally gridlocked in ten years time. So, this debate looks pretty irrelevant to me.
Tony Hague, UK

It's a ridiculous, insulting idea, and it would be met with great resistance by free-thinking people everywhere. The only good that could possibly come out of this fascist concept is that it might mean big business for the US space industry.
Don Munro, USA

I understand that it is only a concept, and is at least 10 years hence. Maybe we should consider it as a warning... drive sensibly and within the speed limits. Why not enforce the system on people who repeatedly offend allowing the rest of us to continue "as normal"?
Pete Gordon, UK

How about building cars that do, say, 70mph max? Anyone remember VW beetles?
Robert Rocheleau, USA
How about building cars that do, say, 70mph max? Anyone remember VW beetles? Do we need a multi-million pound solution that doesn't really work anyway? Building cars that do 200kmh and then adding a speed-limiting device is, without question, the most idiotic idea I have heard of in a long time.
Robert Rocheleau, USA

Present speed limits are inappropriate most of the time. The equation "built up area = 30 m.p.h." is crude and deadly. Safe speed depends on many factors - width and straightness of road, traffic congestion, proximity of pedestrians, available light, road surface, slope (up or down), weather, age and sobriety of driver, size and type of vehicle etc. Planners who apply a blanket 30-limit over a succession of quite different road conditions are making the law an ass, and in effect goading motorists to ignore the law and rely on their own judgement. If in future speed limits are to be binding, I suggest they MUST be sensible - and this implies micro-zones each with its own limit. Let us bend our technological ingenuity to this problem too.
Derek Brooke-Wavell, England

Speed, speed, speed! It's like Pavlov's Dog. Get a researcher to look at road safety and they always look at speed. Statistics show that the safest motorways in the developed world are in the UK and Germany is in second place (and they have areas of no speed limit). It is not speed that needs any further control, it is probably drivers and pedestrians (yes, them as well) in urban areas that need training in concentration and awareness.
R W K Gardiner, England

Speed limits are often set ridiculously low. Modern cars are perfectly capable of safely travelling above 70mph on motorways in good conditions. A speed limit of 20 or 30 outside a school is perfectly reasonable between 8am and 5pm, and probably totally unnecessary outside those times. In principle, I think this could be a good idea, but should only be put in place in areas which are accident blackspots/schools.
Andrew Bolton, UK

As a fan of motorsport I am of the opinion that there is a place for speed, and it most certainly is not on public roads. At least on racetracks everyone is going in the same direction and medical attention is close at hand in the event that something goes wrong. By limiting everyone to the same speed a large degree of the congestion on our motorways could be eliminated. This is, after all, the logic behind entirely computer-controlled cars.
Anton Zimmermann, UK

Tagging of thieves and murderers on probation is fine to monitor their movements, so is registering the addresses of sex offenders. These people are criminals and dangerous to society. It is done for their own good, and the safety of others. Why should the same not apply to cars? The speed limits, especially those in built up areas, are there for a good reason - they make the roads safer for everyone. If drivers could be trusted to drive safely, these sort of measures wouldn't be needed.
Andrew Dowle, UK

The only way this proposal makes sense is if the car is COMPLETELY controlled by the satellite, to where you just punch in your destination and let the system drive you there.
Rob Woodard, USA

As a sports car enthusiast, I find this idea disgusting. It would take away what little driving pleasure we have since the introduction of speed cameras, and the massive increase in traffic congestion - I feel the reduced speed in built up areas anyway. Education is far more important - lets not forget to educate pedestrians as well as drivers, particularly children. Many pedestrians do not behave sensibly e.g. wearing dark clothes at night, not looking where they are going on busy roads.
Ross Bradshaw , UK

Perhaps the only people to have those monitoring devices fitted should be those who have been caught for speeding 3 times or more. No-one can argue with that, and they're the ones who are the real problem, in any country.
Jonathan Adams, USA

How long will it be before Blair inserts microchips under our skulls to monitor whether we are 'on message'?
Ed Bayley, USA / UK
How long will it be before Blair inserts microchips under our skulls to monitor whether we are 'on message'? And will it really cut accidents? Speed isn't the problem, idiot drivers are. An idiot is an idiot, whether at 40mph or 70mph. The vast majority of drivers don't drive too fast, and we CERTAINLY don't need enforced driving lessons from President Blair.
Ed Bayley, USA (English)

Any proposal to cut road deaths by 2000 per year needs to be looked at seriously. Any critic must remember that despite all the concern for promoting driving standards excessive speed is a major factor in many accidents. The estimated cost of 200 could easily be recouped I'm sure through lower fuel and insurance costs. This is before you even think of the benefits of freeing the police, emergency services and the courts from the workload due to excessive speed.
Andrew Witham, UK

The more we try to "out-tech" society's problems, the more of a mess we wind up in. The problem originates with the person, the solution also is the person, not the machine. Sure, it'd be sold as being a "convenience" just like all the other techno-junk (pagers, cell phones, etc.) we use now to keep us permanently linked to our jobs 7 days a week... How Orwellian indeed!
Steve Kenney, USA

It will never happen. Apart from being extremely unpopular with motorists and the motor industry (the second of these, at least is a very powerful lobby group), this idea will have the effect of stopping the revenue generated by speeding fines, which goes straight to Her Majesty's Treasury at the moment.
Jeremy Pereira, UK

I am currently working in Germany but have also worked in the Nederlands. In both of those countries there is a public transport system. In the UK there is no such thing and until there is then people will continue to use cars. The money they would use for such a ridiculous plan would be better spent in making the roads safer by the use of cycle tracks and a public transport system. I was once told by a Police Office that speed is not dangerous but how the vehicle is driven.
Nobby C., UK/Germany

I first have to admit that I am one of those responsible for creating the speed control car. The car uses the Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) to work out where it is, as do any navigation systems fitted currently. It does NOT send a signal out telling anybody where it is or what speed it is doing. We have created a wide number of systems from purely advisory, through driver select to the full blown automatic systems featured in the news. We have also added a system which allows the driver to override the limit for short durations to allow overtaking etc.
If you want to debate the fact we have speed limits, or at what level the limit is set that is a separate but connected issue. If on the other hand you accept the fact that we have speed limits and that as a society we take them seriously you are left with either a system of detection (speed cameras), enforcement (speed humps etc.) or prevention (on board speed limiters). We know from crash helmets, seat belts and drink driving that persuasion just does not work.
Derek Charters (MIRA), UK

What about the individual freedom of other road users and pedestrians to go about their daily lives in safety?
Tom Gurney, UK
How can anyone argue that this interferes with their personal freedom (to break the law)? What about the individual freedom of other road users and pedestrians to go about their daily lives in safety? Granted, careless driving is another contributing factor, but that shouldn't be used to limit the importance of speeding. This would also, more than likely, bring an end to joy-riding.
Tom Gurney, UK

The government should NOT have the ability to control speeds of cars by way of GPS. We are giving up way too much of what little privacy we have left and if we aren't careful, it will be too late to have any and then we'll all wonder, gee, what happened? Stop this insane idea before it gets any more support!
Judith Loring, USA

If they do it'll be the first ever signal to work in tunnels, steel bridges and built up areas. If they ever put that much investment into our transport network I will be amazed. Lets face it they can't even bounce a decent Channel 5 signal across the country. But maybe that's no loss either.
Bill Maxwell, Scotland

Just returned from a 3 week trip to the UK to visit friends and relations. I was astounded by the numbers of speed-trap and red light cameras that now festoon the roads even compared to my last visit home. I can't help feeling that they now are being used as a revenue stream via fines rather than as a deterrent to reduce drivers speed.
Tony Ambler, Brit in USA

I have a better solution. Remove all air bags and fit a relatively cheap razor-sharp spike to the steering wheel of all cars. I bet that would slow the selfish maniacs round here down a bit.
Derek Dunn, Manchester, UK

Do we really want the US Military to have control over our cars? They are in charge of the GPS (Global Positioning System) which would be used in this new system. Could Uncle Sam bring the UK road network to a standstill by a flick of a switch?
Huw Jones, Wales

If the government really wanted safer roads, we'd have:
1) Regular eyesight tests
2) Regular reaction tests
3) Driving standards checks
4) Regular road theory tests
5) A clampdown on the unlicensed, the uninsured, and the un-MOT'd
This one comes way down the list of priorities.
Jeremy Davey, UK

The government is running a Nanny State. Every day and little by little personal freedoms are being eroded by a government which professes to champion individual freedom. This idea is just another example of this hypocrisy in action. It should not be allowed for the very fact that it is ultimately the state interfering in the lives of its citizens... it is undemocratic and it is unconstitutional but since when has Tony Blair really cared about anything like that?
I am not a fan of speeding motorists but neither will I willingly place myself under restraint along with millions of others in the name of 'safety' or any other thinly disguised method of suppressing the electorate. When you have willingly walked into the prison don't complain that the door is locked and barred against you... you agreed to enter it in the first place! I oppose this idea and any other primarily utopian and 1984 approach to controlling citizens' lives... it is simply wrong!
David Bailey, UK

The claims about 'Nanny State', or 'Big Brother' are clearly plain wrong. The satellite does not know where you are. It's you, and the car that use the satellite(s) to know precisely where you are, and consequently what speed you should be doing.
Car drivers have no 'right' to break the law and going faster than the speed LIMIT is clearly breaking the law. Coach, lorry and moped drivers already drive with their maximum speeds governed, this is no different.
Sounds like an excellent idea to me.
Daniel Dignam, UK

The satellite controlled speed restrictors will be unpopular with many road users but the technology could be the first step towards some kind of "electronic assisted driving" as additional features could be integrated into the device. One example would be a radar system integrated into the device to slow you down if you got too close to the vehicle in front.
The satellite could transmit other information along with the speed limit. They could also transmit information which would sound a buzzer warning you of the presence of an emergency vehicle in your area.
The only problem is that like other advanced technology, it is open to being tampered. Some people may attempt to disable the speed restrictors, or "chip" them to their own desired "three figure" speed limits.
Michael Pala, United Kingdom

A great idea for eliminating the weak link in a vehicle control system - the human
Tony Young, Europe
This sounds like a great idea for eliminating the weak link in a vehicle control system - the human. Welcome to the Future!
Tony Young, Europe

Why is it successive governments harp on about speed as the be all and end all of road safety? Even their own departments who have reviewed this say that speed is a factor in a minimal amount of accidents yet this is all the safety groups are attached to. I ride a motorbike every day to work. I have a damn good view on how people drive on roads. It is *not* speed that causes the accidents, it's the way they *drive* on the roads that cause the accident.
All I have to say to this Government is get a grip on reality guys, stop living on cloud cuckoo land and find out what is *really* happening and don't fixate on something which even your own reports say isn't true.
Steve Kerr, England

The answer is not to regulate the speed of cars. To make the streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians all Mr Prescott has to do is ease his portly frame into an aircraft seat for the 50 minute flight to Amsterdam and see how the Dutch have organised the transport system.
Trains on time, bus stations within train stations (no 3-4 mile hike over here), able to book taxis with your train tickets if no buses are available. Bike lanes that work and are separate from the roads, NOT dodgy white lines painted on already crowded roads, sensible speed bumps in urban areas not vicious foot high mountains. Trams! I could go on....
Dave, UK working in NL

As a former Police Officer with extensive traffic policing knowledge I believe that the plan to introduce speed limiting devices to cars here in the UK would not be popular with the average driver as the cost of the devices would be meet by the motorist. Also the idea of having a Big Brother computer fitted on board to control the cars speed might create dangers which are obvious to the motorist but not the computer, an example might be when over taking another car the computer suddenly reduces power. Yet the driver needs that extra performance to overcome a sudden hazard such as an on coming car. Also, if fitted these devices would not be popular with manufacturers of Performance cars such as Volvo / Saab and other such makes who build some of the safest cars in the world combined with performance. What is needed here in the UK is better driver education and more speed enforcement measures involving electronic technology rather than smart car systems.
Juliet Thompson, UK

It is a sad reflection on motorists that this move has to be considered. If this will reduce the number of road accidents, then it should be implemented as soon as possible.
Matthew Fraser, UK

Transport and civil liberty are very awkward bedfellows. While the car provides much individual liberty, do we really have a right to this freedom? Are we entitled to it in the same way as many feel we should be entitled to walk across any field we wish? The answer I believe is 'no'. Motorised transport brings with it far more responsibility then auto-locomotion. We become a danger to others and ourselves when sat behind (or in front or on top of) an engine. We are also of course endangering our environment. A built-in speed limiter would only help to enforce these restraints.
Matthew Driver, UK

While speed regulators might be useful, fitting cars with the equivalent of the 'black box' that records how fast the car was moving, steering and when and if brakes were applied would be better. This way, the motorist can go faster than the speed limit etc, but if stopped or involved in an accident, the police could then interrogate the black box. This system ought not to affect civil liberties but would catch out the irresponsible and assist safety investigators when an accident occurred.
Keith Tomlins, UK

Speed checks should only be carried out where it is especially dangerous to speed. The police focus on areas which will make the most money which is often where it is safest to speed.
Rob Lightbody, Scotland

The same system may be used to increase the speed at which cars may safely travel, surely not? Further, full automation could increase traffic flow and decrease journey times. But I cannot see the system being adopted - think of the loss of revenue for speeding and other fines.
Paul Ties, UK

I know a lot of drivers will mail in, claiming they are once again 'victims of the nanny state', and so forth. But the only reason such drastic measures are being considered is the overwhelming arrogance of most drivers in driving as fast as they like, regardless of the danger they put others in. This is not infringing anybody's rights. Who has a right to drive too fast and kill innocent people?
Ian Harris, UK

Until someone invents a "stupidity detector" the law will continue to punish those whom it can identify easily
Paul Megahey, Northern Ireland
It would be better if the Government were to put money into educating people in how to drive properly. Most accidents, and subsequent deaths, are not caused just by speeding, but by idiotic drivers who cannot negotiate traffic, junctions or motorways and do not know how to operate their cars appropriate to the conditions. Unfortunately, until someone invents a "stupidity detector" the law will continue to punish those whom it can identify easily and collect revenue from; i.e. speeders, parking offenders etc.
Paul Megahey, Northern Ireland

In order for the satellite to know how fast we are going, it needs to know who we are, where we are and when we are all the time. Would you like to be part of political minority in those conditions? Or fighting against an injustice committed by the same people who control those satellites? Not to long ago, slaves would be branded or tagged with the name of their master.
Roger, Netherlands

To someone who cares to drive progressively, assessing and adapting to the ever-changing traffic and other external conditions on the road s/he is on, this idea is an insult, a waste of money and nanny state gone mad.
Lesley, UK

This makes as much sense as the theory that closing pubs at 2300 hours will reduce the amount of alcohol people consume!
Greg, UK

If the nanny-sate invested the funds earmarked for this scheme into a decent public transport service, there would be fewer road deaths anyway.
Paul, UK

This is a crazy idea and does not take account of the very complex issues relating to traffic movement. Sometimes it's essential to be able to speed up to get out of a dangerous situation. It would cause terrible log jams of traffic in vast "convoys" such as happens now when a police car is moving along a moderately busy motorway at 70mph. It is not speed by itself that is the real danger - it's speed combined with stupidity and thoughtlessness. It's not control of this type that is needed - it's education into the concept of driving WITH due care & consideration for all road users.
Richard Large, UK

This is just awful; why doesn't Tony Blair just fit us with computer chips and be done with?
Wendy, UK

I think that this is a bad idea: not because of personal liberty, but because it will remove the only job that the UK police can actually do! They are hopeless at catching murderers or burglars: what will they do when they don't have the "soft option" of motorists to pick on?
Ian Lowe, Scotland, UK

I have long thought that such a system would be a great idea to introduce. Not only would it dramatically reduce the number of accidents on the roads but it would also ease congestion as a result of the smoother flow of traffic. It would also mean that the police would not have to waste time and resources policing speed limits, and ordinary motorists who currently inadvertently break speed limits would not be penalised, since cars would police their speed themselves, without the need for fines or legal action as motivation.
Robert Blewitt, United Kingdom

It is not speed that causes accidents, it is the inability to stop.
Mike U, England
It is not speed that causes accidents, it is the inability to stop. The majority of drivers do not greatly exceed the speed limit of most roads, however the majority do follow too close and drive too fast for conditions. Automatic systems will make drivers feel safe, hence they will become more dangerous. Treat drivers as idiots and they will behave as idiots. Education is the only way forward.
Mike U, England

Surely putting what is basically a tracking device in every car on the road is not very far from a big brother state where we have no privacy and can barely go to the toilet without someone in the government taking notice. I agree that maybe there are means and way's to control excess speed but taking away all privacy in your car is not one of them.
John Morritt, England

Talk about Big Brother watching your every move. Monitoring my driving, along with programmes already in use as to monitor my purchases and spending habit, this is just another way for those in power to control your average Joe.
Phil, USA

I can't see why so much of the reporting on satellite speed control (SSC?) is negative. The BBC report mentions that the system can "choke off the fuel supply if speed restrictions are breached". This sounds like punishment for disobedient drivers whereas all it need be is a governor that sets the maximum top speed with no other effect on driving or car control. I have driven a car with speed control and found the experience wonderfully liberating, free from having to monitor the speedometer continuously and worry about cameras and speed traps. SSC should be marketed as a feature that a motorist would wish for - the next 'must-have' after air conditioning rather than a ball and chain round his or her ankle.
David Mellor, UK

The potential of satellite control of vehicles should be seen in the broader context, bringing as it would possibilities for increasing capacity on existing road space and tackling congestion. Ensuring appropriate speeds within this framework is sensible, bringing as it does additional benefits for non-motorists and residents. The Government should consider trials of this system as part of a drive for intelligent highways and an equitable road system for everyone.
Tim Pope, UK

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See also:
04 Jan 00 |  UK
'Spy in the sky' targets speeders
01 Oct 98 |  UK
EU gets tough on car safety

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