Not So Fast: The EU’s Speed Limiter Proposals for 2022, Part One

It now seems likely that, from 2022, all new cars in the EU and UK will be fitted with intelligent speed limiters. We look at the issues surrounding this controversial proposal.

If you blinked, you might well have missed this one. On Monday 25th March, the European Commission, Parliament and member states agreed proposed regulations on Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) systems. If the proposals are ratified, all new vehicles sold in Europe from 2022 will have to carry these systems. As Autocar magazine explains, ISA systems:

…use GPS data and sign-recognition cameras to advise drivers of speed limits and, unless overridden, can limit the speed of the vehicle as needed, by way of reducing engine power.

These proposals are likely to be agreed on in September. And regardless of the UK’s relationship with the EU by then, we will almost certainly adopt the same measures.

The ISA proposal was widely reported…for a few hours. Then it was submerged under the endless tide of Brexit news. But such a major change to how we drive deserves careful consideration. With that in mind, let’s start by looking at the case in favour of ISA systems.

What other technology has the EU proposed for new cars?

Actually, the EU’s proposals would make several other safety systems mandatory from 2022. These include:

  • Automatic emergency braking systems that would detect cyclists and pedestrians
  • Lane departure warning systems
  • Alcohol interlock installation facilitation – a measure aimed at preventing drunk driving
  • Electronic data recorders that would “store vital data on the car’s status in the moments immediately before a collision”

However, none of these technologies has attracted as much attention as the ISA system, probably because they intrude less directly on our day-to-day driving.

What could the ISA system achieve?

The ISA system has been proposed because of its potential to save lives.

We blogged recently about the dreadful global death toll on roads. And even though Europe has the safest roads in the World, that’s no reason to be complacent.

The European Transport Safety Committee (ETSC) estimates that ISA systems could save 25,000 lives over the next 15 years. It sees ISA as the next great innovation in road safety. In a press statement, the Executive Director Antonio Avenoso commented:

There have only been a handful of moments in the last 50 years which could be described as big leaps forward for road safety in Europe. The mandatory introduction of the seatbelt was one, and the first EU minimum crash safety standards, agreed in 1998, was another. If last night’s agreement is given the formal green light, it will represent another of those moments…

Road Safety groups were understandably enthusiastic about the ISA and other measures. For example, Joshua Harris, director of campaigns at Brake, said:

This is a landmark day for road safety…These lifesaving measures come at a vital time, with road safety in a concerning period of stagnation.

And that would seem to be case closed. If 25,000 lives can be saved — the equivalent to a medium size town — then surely there are no arguments against adopting the ISA?

Well, actually, there could be. In part two of this post, we’ll look at why some feel that the ISA system might not provide the safety benefits claimed.

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