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Motor quango thumbsup for satnav speed restrictions

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A new report from an influential quango looking into the idea of satnav speed governors for cars has come out in favour of such plans. The Commission for Integrated Transport (CfIT), working with the Motorists' Forum, believes that useful safety gains and some carbon-emissions savings could be achieved by the use of the devices.

The joint report, now available online (pdf), investigates the use of different kinds of navigation and speed-limiting gear. It would be quite possible to build an "advisory" system, for instance, which would audibly or visually warn a driver when he or she was exceeding the local speed limit.

Active systems, by contrast, would actually have control over the accelerator, in much the same way that speed governors on heavy trucks already do - in this case preventing a car from getting above the local limit as determined by satnav. Under some proposals, intervention systems could be overridden at will by the driver; or their input could be mandatory.

According to the joint study, carried out by the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds, the case for speed governing kit is clear-cut.

Carbon emissions savings would be slim but definitely present, resulting mainly from the reduction in people driving faster than 70mph on major roads. There would be appreciable fuel savings to motorists, apparently, owing to better efficiency gained by not going so fast on motorways and dual carriageways and less vigorous acceleration in stop/start driving. The researchers weren't sure, but they thought there could be some improvement in journey-time consistency, as seen in camera-enforced lowered speed limits schemes.

The main benefit, according to the report's authors, would come in the form of fewer accidents - particularly the most dangerous/fatal collisions and crashes. They said that 100 per cent adoption of mandatory speed governors would cut injury crashes by 29 per cent, with associated reductions in insurance premiums, traffic delays and public costs. Much of the benefit would be seen on 30mph roads, with many of the lives saved being those of pedestrians and cyclists.

The study says that motorists would benefit overall, with the extra cost of the governing kit more than paid back - largely in the form of reduced insurance premiums, but also in fuel savings. Government costs (regulating, inspecting etc) would also be recouped.

According to the CfIT statement:

We wish to make it clear that we are not recommending compulsory fitment or usage ...

However, we believe that the potential reductions in injury accidents that could be saved (at 100% penetration, overridable equipment would reduce the number of injury accidents by 12% and mandatory equipment by 29%) means that serious consideration should be given to the voluntary introduction of this technology.

The two bodies called for a further public debate, and seemed to suggest that speed-governor gear could soon become a standard option on most vehicles. Fleet owners (a few of whom already use it) would choose it for the fuel and safety benefits. Private owners might, in future, find that a car with overridable governors would win them a small insurance discount and one with mandatory kit a more substantial saving.

There were those opposed to the idea. Anti-speedcam group Safe Speed, which believes that "present policy is making the roads more dangerous" - flatly contradicting the CfIT report, which says they are safer than ever before - was sceptical about the benefits of governor technology, casting doubt on its performance in heavy good vehicles.

Claire Armstrong of Safe Speed told the BBC that truckers equipped with speed governors had gone into "zombie mode" on several occasions.

"That makes it highly dangerous in those scenarios. So you've taken the responsibility away from the driver and that is not [good] for road safety."

One point not raised in the report was that of privacy, records and so on. There would be no need for a satnav designed as a speed governor to keep any log of the vehicle's location or speed, but there could naturally be a temptation to combine such equipment with road-pricing or toll-enforcement capabilities. This would open up a privacy and surveillance issue.

The debate continues. ®

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