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Stop! In the name of the law

02 April

To the surprise of some, the Department of Transport for the United Kingdom recently  announced that (despite BREXIT) it would be replicating or adopting the recent vehicle safety rules provisionally agreed by the European Union, set to become mandatory for all vehicles sold by 2022. The technology to which the rules refer, the Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA), is accompanied by further emergency braking and lane-keeping technology.

What is ISA?
Under the ISA system, cars are fitted with navigational systems, such as GPS, and receive information regarding the speed limit for the area they are driving through. There can also be an added element of a forward-facing video camera, capable of recognising road signage. Having received the relevant information, the ISA technology prevents a vehicle from driving above the speed limit for prolonged periods in that area.

Fans and enthusiasts of performance vehicles may be averse to the idea of technology stepping in when they exceed the speed limit, however there is the ability to override the technology – briefly. If a motorist needs to overtake a lorry or other form of heavy vehicle, then by pressing down hard on the accelerator, they can temporarily disengage the ISA system.

With this in mind, there is argument to suggest that the whole system is redundant, and that motorists will tear up the roads by smashing their right foot through the car floor. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Under the new rules, all vehicles will also be fitted with compulsory data recorders, colloquially referred to as ‘black boxes.’ This device will be able to register when and how often a driver disables their ISA system as well as what speed they were travelling. If the driver in question is involved in an accident, then the police and the insurers will be able to work out whether a car was driving over the speed limit and whether its ISA technology had been overridden. Motorists who are caught doing so are not likely going to get off lightly.

This ISA technology is already being installed in vehicles, in preparation of the EU going forward with the plans. It is already available in certain models of Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot-Citroen, Renault and Volvo. The fact that manufacturers have already begun preparing for this these rules suggest that it’s not a direction in which the EU or the UK (regardless of Brexit) will turn back from.

What’s the Verdict?
EU Commissioner, Elzbieta Bienkowska, has stated that ‘every year, 25,000 people lose their lives on our roads,’ this being the position before ISA technology. She also hopes ‘with the new advanced safety features that will become mandatory, we can have the same kind of impact as when safety belts were first introduced.’

Certain charities advocating on the part of road safety, the predominant being Brake, have described the announcement as a ‘landmark day.’ Their Campaign’s Director, Joshua Harris, goes further to predict that ‘these measures will provide the biggest leap forward for road safety this century.’

A well-made point by The Association of British Insurers suggests that the introduction of such technology and the mandatory nature could see a reduction in insurance premiums. Collectively, the association purports to ‘support measures aimed at improving road safety. Any steps that can be shown to make our roads safer, reducing road crashes and insurance claims, can be reflected in the cost of motor insurance.’

According to the EU, the rules requiring the technology could help avoid 140,000 serious injuries by 2038 and it has pledged to cutting road deaths to zero by 2050. The Department for Transport in the UK has thrown its support behind this approach and the rules, confirming that regardless of whether the UK exits the EU, on whatever terms, or chooses to remain, it will be implementing a mirroring infrastructure.

That being said, not all road entities and authorities have expressed a positive attitude towards the ISA technology. The AA have announced a suspicious and cautious position with regards to automatic speed limitation. Speaking on the new technology, the President of the organisation, Edmund King, said ‘when it comes to intelligent speed adaptation, the case is not so clear…the best speed limiter is the driver’s right foot.’

Regardless of one’s opinion on the matter, there is still time before rules are officially introduced. The European Parliament and Council will only be able to formally approve the rules following the MEP elections scheduled to take place in May. It is still unclear whether the UK will be electing and sending a MEP to Brussels for the consideration of these rules.

If you need any information on driving issues, please contact a member of our regulatory team on 01254 828300.

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