Computers could prevent UK drivers from speeding by deactivating throttle

One of the many staples of science fiction is cars that can drive themselves. The idea is interesting to some motorists who could use the system to drive for them if they were too tired or if the driver wanted to read while driving without risking their life and those around them.

The first step to such a system is being tested in the UK with a new in-car computer that would prevent vehicles from speeding. The system would detect the speed of the vehicle, compare the speed to a digital map with all road speeds, and slow the vehicle down accordingly. The system is called Intelligent Speed Adaptation and the pilot program is being unveiled in the UK today.

The program is being viewed as a scheme to save lives across the UK and would ultimately add £500 to the cost of a vehicle if implemented. Opponents to the system say that it would undermine the driver's freedom and could hinder road safety.

The trial of the program is being conducted by the Transport for London (TfL), the body responsible for running the buses and trains in the capital city. A fleet of vehicles equipped with the technology is expected to take to London roadways this summer and will include a bus, cabs, and cars. The trial is scheduled to last for six months as the technology is evaluated for its impact on road safety and congestion.

The computer brain of the system will be programmed with all of the roads that compromise the M25 for the trial. Vehicles equipped with the system will have two driving modes -- voluntary and advisory. The advisory mode would put a face on an LCD screen that either frowns or smiles depending on if the vehicle is adhering to speed limits.

The voluntary mode would go a step further and when the vehicle exceeds posted speed limits, the gas pedal would be deactivated until the car slows. Officials behind the pilot program hope that the voluntary mode will become a requirement.

The voluntary system doesn't control vehicle braking; it simply disengages the accelerator so the car coasts to the posted speed limit. One big potential issue with the system could be the inability to merge onto the highway using a vehicle with the voluntary system that could be unable to hit merging speeds.

Chris Lines, head of the TfL road safety unit said, "This innovative technology could help any driver avoid the unnecessary penalties of creeping over the speed limit and at the same time will save lives."

AA's Andrew Howard says, "Drivers are divided in their views of ISA; some hate it, some want it. Many have questions that will be answered only by trials like those being carried out by TfL."

Paul Biggs from the Association of British Drivers fears that the system will stop drivers from thinking. Drivers have similar problems with GPS devices and have at times literally nearly fallen off a cliff blindly following computer guidance.

The findings of the trial will be reported next year.

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