What’s up Doc? [1]: What is actually happening in the world of telematics – who is doing what and why?

What’s up Doc? [1]: So, what is actually happening in the world of telematics – and who is doing what and why?

Welcome, dear reader, to what is the first of what we hope will be a series of illuminating reports.
Our mission? To uncover what is happening in the world of telematics, discover who are the movers and shakers, illuminate their motives, and ask: what do we, the ordinary informed consumer citizens stand to get out of it all? Who, at the end of the day, is looking after, defending and advancing the interests of the consumer citizen?

This is not quite as difficult as it sounds. We are being promised that the technological advances (that is, telematics – and you can find handy definitions of that concept on these pages) will bring many benefits. There appear to be many players in the field making a bewildering variety of claims with a paralysingly-wide range of devices and initiatives.

They range from the attractive promise of cheaper and non-discriminatory vehicle insurance premiums, better road-side help for stranded drivers, more efficient use of transport fleets (for both driver-employee and fleet operator), safer roads (for all road users), more efficient use of the existing road/rail systems without having to build more environmentally-devastating roads or other transport systems, reduced CO2 emissions, more miles per gallon/per buck. What’s not to like?

But, as we have asked many times before on these pages, how much of this is hype, how much is reality? And where exactly are we now? And in all of this, who is looking after our (the citizen’s) interests.

Join us in an exploration of the issues and institutions. Follow our questions and replies and any subsequent follow-up. And if you think you don’t understand something – or we have missed something – or are asking the wrong questions – then please email and let me know.

Starting point – the consumer.
The official representatives of the consumer used to be called the National Consumer Council. It is now Consumer Futures – which sounds progressive enough for us. Let us drop them a line (as we used to say):

Dear Consumer Futures,
I am writing as the Editor of a newly-developing website – Telematics.com. We see ourselves as examining – and reporting on – the whole developing field of telematics from an independent perspective. As you probably know this is now a rapidly developing field with a variety of players each making substantial promises. I would like to know if you have started working in this field (I have searched your website for a reference to telematics but been unable to locate anything). In particular there are a number of key issues relating to product choice, development, data security, data standards, reliability of device and cost-effectiveness which are emerging. Are you working in this area? Have you any outline papers or other documents you can share with me which indicate your strand of thinking. My thanks in advance – I look forward to hearing from you.

Now – the vehicle manufacturers.

All British (this is in reality, global manufacturers with a presence in the UK, or with a UK representative) are represented on the Automotive Council UK. Last year (May 3 2012) it hosted (under sponsorship of the global heavy engineering firm Arup) the Intelligent Mobility Summit. This followed the publication (on December 11 2011) of a comprehensive report from the AC which promised big things. As its press release of the time said:

The “Intelligent Mobility” Report calls for cross industry and government collaboration to enable better mobility through the convergence of intelligent transport systems.
Congestion costs the UK around £12bn annually. Capacity of existing UK roads could be increased significantly by optimising vehicle movements using existing technology; in some places by as much as three to five times.
The UK has the opportunity to be a worldwide centre of excellence for Intelligent Mobility

So, over one year has passed. What is happening. Time to drop them a line:

Dear Automotive Council UK,

I am writing as the Editor of a newly-developing website – Telematics.com. We see ourselves as examining – and reporting on – the whole developing field of telematics from an independent perspective. As you know this is now a rapidly developing field with a variety of players each making substantial promises. I noticed with interest your Intelligent mobility report (published last May at a conference addressed by senior Government representatives). I am writing to ask if you could update me on progress since the launch of the report. In particular in the report (as on your website) you identified three critical issues which required strong leadership from government. These were:

1. The short-term user benefits (eg entertainment and driver convenience) are quite different from the long-term user benefits (eg congestion/pollution management at the national scale). Unfortunately, it is not clear that a free-market economy, acting alone, will encourage the transition from the first to the second.

2. Associated with the above, the business drivers for the vehicle OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturer] are quite different to those for the infrastructure providers and electronic/information communications systems developers. But there is no authoritative forum in which these independent business interests are brought together.

3. The product development and product life cycles in the different business sectors are quite different (electronics/communications 6-12 months; automotive industry 3-5 years; infrastructure provision 5-30 years). This makes it very difficult to coordinate development programmes across the different sector.

4. There are another set of interests which (as far as I can read) do not seem to be represented in these discussions and that is the general public-consumer-interest.
Are you in a position to update me on developments since last year on the above four topics, most particularly, how government has assisted resolve any or all of the issues, whether the ‘authoritative forum’ has been created – or the issue resolved in other ways. I would also like to know how you relate to the insurance industry – are you having to respond to its needs or do you see yourself working alongside that industry. If so in what forum do you resolve your respective interests. I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

The Automotive Council report repays careful reading. It is an astute and well-written report. Its view of government is instructive. And (one should not have to say this, of course) it looks to Europe. It says (despite the problems identified and referred to in our letter above)

‘there are several factors which could still act to accelerate the short-term development of new Intelligent Mobility products. These include: The new EU ITS Directive introduced in August 2010, titled the ‘Framework for the Deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems in the Field of Road Transport’(Directive 2010/40/EU). This document puts forward an Action Plan aimed at speeding the deployment of ITS throughout Europe with targets and activities detailed in six key action areas. Delivery dates across these action areas run from now until 2014.’

So, let us now turn to Europe.


Europe is a big fat issue here in England, and not for reasons you will find in the popular papers. First, there are the European elections due to be held next year and we have the face the issue that we, the electorate here, are poorly serviced by the UK media in trying to understand issues which get beyond the simplistic, introverted, ‘in’ or ‘out’ debate. Second, and largely ignored by English commentators is next year’s referendum vote in Scotland. A ‘yes’ vote – or even a ‘near yes’ vote – will fundamentally change (indeed traumatise) England and its institutions. The introversion does not help. Europe, its institutions and companies, have been pushing telematics for some time. The big hitters are European and have broad horizons. How has the UK responded? And how does it’s response compare with some other European countries. Let’s ask them. It’s not difficult – as they have an on-line query service. I asked, today, in relation to Directive 2010/40/EU,

for a copy of any report detailing progress on its implementation from the following governments: UK (and for comparison) Italy, France and Germany.

I’m promised a reply in three days.

The insurers

The Association of British Insurers represents all UK insurers. It has this year published two guides to telematics insurance – one for the consumer and one for the insurance vendor. We shall review these documents shortly. But – how does it see the market developing, and how does it go about assessing the public interest in telematics. Let’s ask them:

Dear ABI,
I am writing as the Editor of a newly-developing website – Telematics.com. We see ourselves as examining – and reporting on – the whole developing field of telematics from an independent perspective. As you know this is now a rapidly developing field with a variety of players each making substantial promises. I noticed with interest your two guides to telematics products published this summer and will be reviewing them shortly. But I wonder if in the meantime you could send me any recent documents which explain the current approach to telematics by the insurance industry. I wonder, specifically, how you relate to either the vehicle designers and manufacturers and technology product designers to ensuring your emerging knowledge of insurer’s requirements is employed productively. In what forum are these interests addressed? Do you have any supporting documents, reviews or reports you are able to share with us. My thanks in advance.

Our Government

The government last year made big bold promises. Not least, Mr Vince Cable, said at the Intelligent Mobility Summit last May that ‘government has an important role to play, too. We cannot just leave it to market to generate the investment in R&D required to get this fledgling industry off the ground.

`These investments clearly signal the government’s commitment to meeting the challenges of Intelligent Mobility head on – and our determination to support the UK’s world-class automotive sector as it leads the way in designing the technologies and infrastructure the world will want to buy.´

But what has happened since? Let us find out with some questions submitted under the useful provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

First, to Mr Vince Cable’s department – Department for Business Innovation & Skills.

Dear DfBI&S:
I am submitting the following question under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act:
A: In a parliamentary statement on April 25 2012 SoS Mr Vince Cable MP announced (1) transport systems Catapult Centre, (2) support for a ‘state-of-the-art research and development centre will enable the telecomms, automotive and electronics industries, along with highways authorities and operators, to develop, test and refine future transport technologies in a highly controlled environment’. Could you please provide (a) any progress report made subsequently on these areas of activity, (b) could you list any meetings the SoS has had with any representative of the telecomms, automotive and electronics industries and any meeting with other government departments in order to discuss telematics or Intelligent Mobility issues, together with any minute (or supporting document) relating to such meetings?
B: On May 3 2012 Mr Cable MP addressed the Intelligent Mobility Summit. If not covered by question A, could you provide a copy of any report which lists initiatives taken since that date to advance department policy in that area, in particular to support Mr Cable’s promise made at that meeting for government to play an important role in the development of telematics – or intelligent mobility?

But the Prime Minister’s Department has also had things to say on the subject, so let’s ask them as well. This seems to be easy as the PM has an on-line enquiry box – here goes:

Dear Prime Minister’s Office: Please treat under Freedom of Information provisions: On February 12 2012 the PMs office published the outcomes of the Downing Street Insurance summit which said : ‘the Government and insurance industry agreed to work together to look at what more can be done regarding young drivers’ risk and safety. This includes the wider use of telematics or ‘smartbox’ technology. This monitors driving behaviour, giving young drivers the chance of affordable car insurance by adopting safer driving.’ Please provide a copy of any documents detailing what has happened since to this PM initiative. My thanks.

And the Department for Transport also has a role. So let’s ask it:

Please treat the following questions under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
A: On November 29 2012, Stephen Hammon MP (P u SoS), in a speech to the Institute of Advanced motorists said:’We are supportive of any measures that make driving safer and also want to see improvements in young driver safety reflected in their insurance premiums.’ Could you please provide me with details of any meetings the MP has held with representatives of the insurance industry to take these issues forward together with any minutes or supporting documents from such meetings; any report which in any way describes actions taken by the department to further this initiative?
B: Could you please provide me with any report which details recent progress taken by HMG to implement Directive 2010/40/EU including any road-map, action plan, announcement or initiative?

How shall we get on? — keep checking this page to find out.

Jonathan Coe

    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).

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