UK Police chiefs take first tentative telematics road-safety steps

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Missed opportunity — telematics links in eCall – an issue with big policing implications

In a submission to an inquiry being held by the British Parliament the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) makes a tentative examination of the possible road safety benefits of autonomous vehicles.

It does not address any of the wider questions of telematics which are being hotly debated elsewhere.

In its submission to the inquiry being held by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology the police chiefs are tentative. ACPO limits its submission to

‘…any potential issues in relation to autonomous road vehicles and intelligent transport infrastructure in so far as it may affect the police service.’

It notes:

‘The infrastructure is currently very immature in relation to car to car and car to infrastructure communication.’

ACPO spots the potential for road-safety improvements but only limits its observations to the narrow field of autonomous vehicles:

Road Safety

From an engineering perspective, designers see autonomous vehicles as the way in which “Vision Zero”- no collisions could be achieved, with the human error element, via the driver being removed.

This could have been an opportunity for ACPO to examine some of the wider implications – for example the rapid development of black box telematic insurance products and smartphone apps which all incorporate elements of safe driving – and safe driver coaching.

These are issues which have come to the notice of the safer driving units of some UK police forces. Vehicle crime – and associated issues – are very big drivers for telematics in Europe (Italy for example) and in Brazil.

There is also no discussion of the implications of the coming use of automatic emergency alert and assist telematics applications (eCall in the EC and similar systems) which are being explored by some police forces.

There is an implication in the submission that ACPO is open to look at the wider issues.

It notes for example the assistance telematics applications can make to accident investigations – though this too is limited to those involving (the somewhat mythical) autonomous vehicles:

Police Investigation

Following road traffic collisions police investigators will need to access vehicle systems, independent of the vehicle manufacturer, as it may be the vehicle manufacturer who is liable if the technology is found to have failed or have been claimed by the driver to have failed. This data may be recovered voluntarily or via a court order which can be costly and time consuming. The service would therefore welcome guidance regarding the recovery of future of evidence.

Of course, the police officers could have formed the opposite conclusion – that telematics applications have the potential to provide valuable, immediate, detailed information on accidents, locations and causes and help evaluate preventative mechanism.

In conclusion says ACPO:

Overall, at this time both vehicles and infrastructure are immature with a number of issues to be considered as highlighted.

The Select Committee’s inquiry continues.

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Jonathan Coe, Editor

Journalist and comms specialist for over 40 years – trained in print, broadcasting, and industrial intranet. Written about comms policy (eg. as radio editor at Time Out); held senior comms roles in public bodies (National Health Service, local government) and privatised undertakings (London Electricity – now Electricité de France). Since, has developed interests in the ordinary citizen's use of judicial review to challenge irrational decisions of government and the use of rights (like the Freedom of Information Act) to explore irrational decisions (like the BBC's original decision to close the BBC digital radio service BBC 6 Music).