I’ve just attended a debate organised by CLEPA, the European Association of Automotive suppliers, and I’ve seen the brave new world to which we seem to be heading. The event took place in the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria, a rather fine building just across from the Brussels parliament. The German lande mostly have representation offices – in effect, minor embassies – here in Brussels.
There is a plethora of automotive systems with impressive names, from ESC (electronic stability control ) widely available at the moment, to intelligent speed adaptation; advanced emergency braking; lane support; highway piloting; and electronic collision avoidance. Your 2020 vehicle may not just have parking sensors. It will be looking forward, backward and sideways, and its systems will be watching like a hawk to take over control of your vehicle in a millisecond if they detect danger (or think they do).
We read a lot about fully automated driving, where the driver can go to sleep or watch a movie during the journey. And maybe we think of it as a big bang technology, that arrives all in one go. The industry sees it rather differently – as a series of new technologies phased in over time, each taking over a little more of the driving function, each allowing the driver less engagement and less autonomy, until at last fully automated driving arrives as the last stage of an evolutionary process, rather than a big bang.
So far so good. They say that this could save thousands of lives every year in Europe, and significantly reduce the frequency and severity of collisions, so I suppose we should all welcome it. Yes but…..
For those of us who still regard driving as a skill and a pleasure, we see the prison doors closing around us. In these new connected, interactive vehicles, information is potentially available to manufacturers, to insurers, to the police. Privacy is lost.
The industry insists that data protection will apply, so you’ll be able to control who gets this information – but for how long? Already some cars are coming with systems capable of communicating with manufacturers. You don’t have to agree to the information being passed on – but some manufacturers’ services will be limited in the case of owners who don’t agree.
But insurance is the big problem. Of course you’ll be able to deny your insurer the information about your driving (and some of us brake harder, accelerate harder and corner harder than many insurers would like). But how long before the insurers start denying cover to those who choose not to share the information? Or demand exorbitant premiums from those who exercise their right to privacy?
I’m afraid I see no stopping this process. In this brave new world of surveillance, Big Brother will be watching you all the time.
On another subject, I think someone needs to mention to the Free State of Bavaria that you can’t be a Free State while you’re also a German land. Nor can you be a Free State within the European Union – a point which someone might also mention to Alex Salmond.