Like Tom Cruise in the original “Top Gun,” many drivers have a “need for speed."
Nearly 90 percent of drivers admit to occasionally speeding. Governments thus seek to slow drivers down by investing in efforts such as increasing fines, improving roads, “traffic calming,” scare campaigns, educational programs and more. Nothing seems to help as road fatalities, many of them being speed-related, keep rising.
The European Union's latest response to the problem is the adoption of speed suppression technology. Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA), is now required in all vehicles sold in the EU. ISA uses haptics, cameras, and alerts to nudge drivers into slowing down, and even cutting engine power if a driver exceeds the limit.
As connected cars with data uploaded to central servers for analysis become more common, it's likely that legislators in places beyond the EU will try to utilize that data to further force speeders to slow down.
In addition, when highly or fully automated self-driving vehicles hit the road, allowing operators to take over vehicle controls remotely if needed; law enforcement, based on the EU legislative precedent, could develop laws requiring that remote traffic managers automatically slow down speeders.
Safety is important, but frustrated drivers could respond in other negative ways -- perhaps increasing road rage incidents.
Is there any way to satisfy drivers' “need for speed” while still ensuring maximum safety?
Perhaps the answer lies in examining why drivers speed. Studies show that when drivers lose precious minutes to heavy traffic, they tend to speed where they can in order to make up for the time lost as well as drive more aggressively.
This is where speed-regulated and connected vehicles -- when used right -- can play a role. According to scientists, vehicles controlled by a central server -- as well as vehicles with internal speed controls -- can reduce congestion significantly.
But drivers need to be kept in the loop.
If drivers knew that following the set speed limits would get them to their destinations faster, their motivation to speed would be reduced. To accomplish this, systems that automatically adjust or suggest changing speeds could notify drivers how each speed change improves their journey time, fuel efficiency or battery usage.
Adding features such as emergency override of automated systems is also essential, as there could be life-threatening situations where someone needs to speed to avoid a crash or drive away from someone or something that is threatening them. Regulators and auto-manufacturers will need time to figure out strategies to build in such safeguards.
There is no doubt that some drivers will still have the “need for speed.” Technology is not a blanket solution to traffic accidents and injuries. Other elements, such as allowing more people to work from home and better urban planning, can also play a role. But in any event, speed regulation systems will be able to eliminate the most common reasons for speeding by the vast majority of drivers. This can reduce the dangers drivers experience daily on the road.
We will see vehicles and transportation systems adopting more automated systems, including those that seek to keep drivers safer by cutting down on speeding and aggressive behaviors.
In the long run it is likely there will be autonomous cars that can travel on their own and include features and machine-led decisions that lead to safer roads.
But there will always be some element of human involvement, and in some situations, partial, rather than full, automation will play a key role. The debate over mandatory ISA systems in Europe is only the beginning, and everyone should be watching it carefully.