Conformity through technology

It is only a few days since I wrote this:

The sum of human history tells us that what we had in 20th century motoring was heavily influenced by the instincts men are born with. Go out, adventure, get over that next hill come what may, even if you have to jury-rig a fan belt, dodge the police and piss in the radiator to get there. God knows I’ve driven the length and bredth of Europe on a wing and a prayer more times than I can remember.

Whereas in the 21st century – enter seatbelts, ABS, airbags, traction control, lane assist, parking assist, isofix, child seats, booster seats, run flat tyres, sat nav and electric motors with a range of 8 – clean, green, mollicoddled motoring has come to embody the spirit of woman. Stay close to home, stay safe, don’t get hurt, don’t get lost, and if it goes wrong, call the man (yes, the man!) from the AA, and shrug your sholders because it’s too complicated for you to do anything about. 

So you can imagine my total lack of surprise when I saw this in The Times (paywall, see open link below):

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 15.26.18

All new cars will be fitted with devices that make sure they automatically keep to the speed limit in a move billed as the biggest overhaul of road safety in more than 50 years.

Within the next three years, models sold in Europe are expected to use technology that detects limits and slows down vehicles travelling too fast.

It will be one of 15 new safety features fitted as standard to cars, HGVs or buses. Other measures include technology that detects when drivers are losing concentration or falling asleep, a system that keeps cars in the centre of lanes and accident black boxes that record vehicle movements.

All cars will also be fitted with automatic emergency braking, which brings vehicles to a stop when pedestrians step into the road or a car ahead suddenly slams on the brakes.

The measures were approved by the European Commission and are expected to be rubberstamped by the European parliament and member states in September. The UK government has already said that vehicle standards will be aligned with those in the EU after Brexit, meaning that the same rules will be expected on British roads.

You can read the full text here if you’re so inclined. Balls to their paywall.

There’s a great deal to say about this… the engineering challenges, who will bear the costs, what the political fall-out might be, the flawed opportunities for the police to withdraw further from roads policing, the unintended consequences for road-safety (see risk compensation, or read Risk by John Adams)…. but I can’t be bothered.

I was thinking about how active I used to be 20 years ago in the space of motoring politics, how we railed and wrote letters, cited studies and raised petitions, as speed limits were lowered, diesel power imposed upon us, laws tightened and penalties stiffened, money-spinning speed cameras proliferated and traffic police with experience and discretion disappeared… and what a lather we got ourselves into on the forums. None of it mattered. It didn’t make a blind bit of difference. Not one iota. We sure spent our time angry though.

And really, what did any of it matter?

The disappearance of the police made speeding easier since cameras are easy to game, no matter that it also made drink-driving far far easier to get away with. There’s no doubt that in most serious respects – in spite or because of EU meddling – cars are better now than they were 20 years ago, though I certainly buy my cars very much on how few opinions they have on matters. No, I’m not wearing my seatbelt, yes I did intend to change lanes, no I’m not changing gear yet, no I’m not tired. Fuck off.

The diesel thing is another matter. There’s no doubt that the taxation-driven push towards diesel engines has had a terrible impact on town centre air pollution across Europe and that the particulates and Nitrogen gases have caused people health problems and suffereing, probably netting out in grim deaths that could have been avoided otherwise. The problems were all well known and documented 20 years ago. We had known health threats imposed upon us in pursuit of a fairy at the bottom of the garden called CO2.

But it’s done, and nothing you or I could have done or said would have stopped any of this collusion between big government, big business and big green with the inevitable results, that are, by no-coincidence, borne mainly by those who are not in the bumchum club with big government, big business and big green.

I think it’s when my father was at about my current age that he said ‘I’m glad I wasn’t born later’. I now think the same.

These laws will come in 2021/2022.. I reckon I could run pre-2021 cars for the rest of my natural, the way cars are built these days, so long as I’m canny. Not that I’ll be immune from the obstructive preponderance of drones at 69MPH on the motorway, but then I tend not to drive when every one else is out anyway.

And that’s because the roads are so congested now that we have more than 66M people in this country, compared with less than 59 million 20 years ago, and no more infrastructure than we had. We also have far more women participating in the work force, and far more people working far away from where they live. And then there’s the technology that was vaunted as freeing us but is used to bind us.

These are a whole other pallet of tinned annelids that I’ll save for another day. Maybe. It’s all been said before. Perhaps it bears repeating.

AJ

UPDATE: A mere 2 weeks after I wrote this, Rory Sutherland had something sensible to say about it in the Spectator. [PASTEBIN]

5 thoughts on “Conformity through technology

  1. ”The diesel thing is another matter. There’s no doubt that the taxation-driven push towards diesel engines has had a terrible impact on town centre air pollution across Europe and that the particulates and Nitrogen gases have caused people health problems and suffereing, probably netting out in grim deaths that could have been avoided otherwise. The problems were all well known and documented 20 years ago. ”

    I’ve often wondered whether it might be fun to start a crowd-fund campaign to sue WWF, Greenpeace, the government, etc., for campaigning and incentivising diesel cars, given that the dangers were, as you say, known.

    I might do it just for a giggle, frankly. Want to stir some shit with me…?

    DK

  2. “The diesel thing is another matter. There’s no doubt that the taxation-driven push towards diesel engines has had a terrible impact on town centre air pollution across Europe and that the particulates and Nitrogen gases have caused people health problems and suffereing, probably netting out in grim deaths that could have been avoided otherwise.”

    Hardly. If so much as one person has died as a result of diesel engine emissions in any location in the UK, given the way this country works, the eco-dickheads would on the job like flies on a fresh one. If it were true, the subsequent answer is then nothing to do with cars, it is to ban every bus in the country. (Not going to happen.) electrify the railways. (Unlikely unless it involves lines into London, the rest of us get second hand underground trains that run on, erm, diesel.) and insist that all road freight goes by rail for as much of it’s journey as possible. (La la land, given how keen the supermarkets are upon out of town distribution centres.)

    Seriously, it’s had no impact. Because there is barely any to begin with. If I recall, the entire fad for diesel was a consequence of lots of trendies discovering that you could run engines upon waste cooking oil. We were all told that this thing “goes on all of the time in Germany” and so we all had to rush out and buy a diesel powered car. No-one likes filtering bits out of chip fat or paying extortionate rates for biodiesel however, and so some pretext had to be run up to force people into buying them. Prior to this the only people who owned diesels were cranks who drove Peugeots, high mileage business reps on the boss’s account, and smug Volvo owners.

    The car companies collude with ever-lower-exhaust-emissions and other green bullshit (Formula E, F1’s hybrid engines, the Toyota Prius) because they hope that it forces the general population, who have long known how long you can run an ordinary car for provided that you competently maintain it and don’t drive an idiot, into throwing their current vehicle away and going and buying a new, “green” one.

    It’s only gone wrong for them in that Nitrous oxide production is simply a physical reality of high engine compression ratios, and the fact that the push towards diesel engines therefore resulted in state mandated, la-la land emissions targets that companies like Volkswagen were reduced to lying about having reached.

    The “electronic speed limiters” are just another example of it in that they are simply the old idea of vehicle tracking devices (Tony Blair and Gordon were briefly quite keen upon them.) installed in cars so that you are billed by the mile and stiffed if you travel in peak, just as Uber has it’s “Surge” pricing rates, all now dressed up in the name of safety.

    “These laws will come in 2021/2022.. I reckon I could run pre-2021 cars for the rest of my natural, the way cars are built these days, so long as I’m canny. ”

    You won’t be allowed to just keep using your old car unless you get it converted at deliberately ruinous rates.

    They are not even new technology in that Japanese cars have had an electronic 112 mph limiter for decades. It was created by, you guessed it, car manufacturers, who could then claim with a straight face that the 275-300 horsepower, turbocharged luxury/performance cars they were selling were perfectly suitable for road use in a country where the national speed limit is 70.

    This was back when car companies didn’t give a shit about the environment and nor did the public, because owning a flash car was proof of how well you’d done.

    • “Hardly. If so much as one person has died as a result of diesel engine emissions in any location in the UK, given the way this country works, the eco-dickheads would on the job like flies on a fresh one”

      Do you really believe that they would capitulate on their CO2 crusade for the sake of a few human deaths? Many of these people are misanthropes who’d like to see the planet turned over to the animals. The polar bear isn’t their poster child for nothing. The CO2 blinded them to everything else. They knew there would likely be deaths due to emissions, but saw this as the lesser evil. All they had to do was make noise about rising sea levels and oily cormorants and people soon forget about the deaths of a few humans they probably wouldn’t have liked anyway.

      “They are not even new technology in that Japanese cars have had an electronic 112 mph limiter for decades.”

      Well yes, I know that of course. I can set any speed limit I want in my car, up to the 155mph hard-limit.. have been able to for years.

      The issue is with making the speed limiter adjust its maximum speed dynamically as you go down the road… with ever changing speed limits across the country, roadworks, temporary speed limits, new roads etc.. how does the database get compiled, and kept up to date?

      If you’ve ever driven a 5 year old car with sat nav in it, you’ll know that any time you’re driving down even a newish road. the sat nav thinks you’re in a field and completely loses its mind.

      There are solutions to this challenge but they are likely to be massively costly and never sufficiently accurate to rely on even 99%. Then there’s the liability when a malfunction in the system that distributes the information to cars causes a crash. Who pays? Who gets sued?

      It’s not insurmountable, but it’d involve the EU steamrollering all logical, ethical, legal and commercial objections.

  3. Another excellent article. Although you do miss one point. It was when men were turned into girly men by constant browbeating and our pathetic education system that emphasises girly type feelings over actions.

    I for one can’t wait till Sharia Law takes over, our currently emasculated systems can’t fight it as appeasement is their only tool, and the pendulum swings back.

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