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Plans are underway to use a satellite-based system to stop motorists from speeding following the conclusion of government-backed trials of the technology in Leeds. The speed limiting technology works by applying brakes or cutting out the accelerator in modified cars whenever a driver tries to exceed to limit for a particular stretch of road.

In the trial, a control device was loaded with a digital map showing the speed limit of every road in Leeds. This was linked to a satellite positioning system. If a speed limit was exceeded an "auto-pilot" function would slow a car down. The system can be over-ridden to avoid a hazard but in normal circumstances drivers would not be allowed to go over a speed limit.

A six-month trial of the technology in Leeds using volunteer drivers and 20 modified Škoda1 Fabias concluded the technology promoted road safety. Fitting the system to all Britain’s cars could save up to 1,000 lives a year, according to Leeds University researchers. The Yorkshire boffins carried out the trials as part of a two-year research project into "intelligent speed adaptation" (ISA) funded by £2m from the Department for Transport (DfT). Results of the trial are due to be presented to minister this week, The Sunday Times reports.

Beyond representing yet another example of the surveillance society New Labour seems keen to promote the technology could also be viewed as a way of making the introduction of road pricing more palatable. If you know where people are at any point and how fast they've been traveling then it's only a short step to bill them for the miles they've covered. The safety argument could be used to persuade people of the benefits of "speed spy" technology while offering early adopters discounts on motoring charges. That, at least in theory, might make increased charges to urban motorists that would accompany the introduction of road pricing easier to swallow.

The Sunday Times reports that a study commissioned by London’s transport chiefs recommended congestion charge discounts to drivers using the system. The DfT said it had no plans to make the system compulsory although it is considering commissioning the creation of a digital map of Britain's road system that would pave the way for the possible introduction of the technology.

However drivers groups remain unconvinced about the supposed safety benefits of the approach. Edmund King, of the RAC Foundation, said that taking control away from drivers might make them less alert. ®

1 Škoda, as well as being the leading car maker in the Czech Republic, also means "what a shame" or pity in Czech and some other Slavic languages. Older Škodas have a reputation of being somewhat slow so the use of newer versions of the car in the trials may well prompt hoots of derision from the "petrol-heads" crowd.

Related stories

UK would tag all vehicles in road pricing scheme
UK road pricing plan heralds the ID card for cars
CVs, privacy and GPS tracking
Munich faces RFID-controlled congestion charge
Blunkett pilot to track offenders via satellite

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