The Australian Financial Review – Saturday 18 September 2004
Big brother is watching and recording your every move
New technology can monitor the dynamics of a car and driver, showing everything from speed to braking and steering.
The ability of small, grey people to keep tabs on your driving is becoming truly remarkable. Some, would say, scary. Did you know that the British have invented a traffic camera so small it can be housed inside a road surface reflector? Further, it's of such high resolution that it doesn't only nab you for speeding, it can also do you for bald tyres.
And if that's not enough, how would you feel about your own car testifying against you in a court of law?
A camera has been developed by a company called Astucia Traffic Management Systems from a very clever reflector it invented that recognises thick fog and, as it detects approaching headlights, illuminates as well as reflects using power from its own solar cell. Its sensors have since been fine-tuned to recognise rain, standing water (when aquaplaning can become an issue) and low temperatures, when it can warn of ice.
And now, acting in concert with a couple of other roadside reflectors that measure speed, it can photograph the underside of a car and its number plate. With a little massaging it can also be set up for red-light offences. It doesn't need a big memory - it simply transfers the data to a nearby transmitter that emails it to the authorities.
The accuracy of speed measurements is claimed to be within 0.5 per cent.
Acting in concert with other roadside reflectors that measure speed, it can photograph the underside of a car and its number plate
It's currently being sold to American law enforcement agencies for $US50,000 ($71,520) for a package of three cameras, sensors and support equipment. Astucia acknowledges that public resistance could be an obstacle in making sales.
Dodging cameras may not be sufficient to keep you away from the long arm of the law. Have you heard of EDRs? Their proper title is event data recorders and are popularly known as black boxes.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants the government to legislate mandatory fitting. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NIITSA), which actually has far more clout, isn't going that far. believing voluntary fitment will be universal by 2008 anyway. It has, however, laid down guidelines for EDRs.
It recommends they record 18 pieces of data plus another 24 if the vehicle is so equipped, such as with stability control, ABS and smart airbags. This would include speed, braking. seatbelt use and the time taken for airbags to deploy. Depending on the car, it could also add longitudinal impact forces, steering input, the position of the accelerator and brake, seat position and even the weight of the occupants.
The recording is to start from 8 seconds prior to the triggering incident, which is usually, but not always, airbag deployment, to six seconds afterwards to cover a possible rollover, and it should be able to record up to three events (the car is struck from the side, sideswipes a parked car and finally impacts a pole - three events). It also wants a common software system to read the results.
Supporters of mandatory fitment use research, safety and law enforcement as an argument while opponents are relying on civil liberties.
The American Automobile Association says it would support mandatory fitment only if the data is used for research and is not traceable to individuals.
Since July 1. car manufacturers have been required to tell Californians if their car has an EDR and in most cases, the owner's permission will be required before the data can be accessed. While most owner's manuals carry notification about the fitment of an EDR, it's not always very clear.
And yes, EDR data has been used in court. There are two notable cases in the
Image: The EDRs recordings cover a period from 8 seconds prior to the triggering incident, which is usually, but not always, airbag deployment, until six seconds afterwards to cover a possible rollover.