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One form of driver assistance that is sure to create a fuss (1) is intelligent speed adaptation (ISA) - a technology for forcing a motorist to observe the speed limit. This works by building into the car a digital map marked with local speed restrictions. The addition of GPS (global positioning system) navigation tells the car what the maximum speed on any given stretch of road should be. Cars are then slowed down, or prevented from accelerating, whenever they are at or above the speed limit. One way to do this is to starve the engine of fuel. Another is to add a measure of play to the accelerator pedal. A third is to make the accelerator harder to push down.
Oliver Carsten of the Institute of Transport Studies at Leeds University in Britain believes that ISA is a form of driver assistance, because it helps the motorist keep within the law. However, Robert Ervin of the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan disagrees. He argues that ISA is not driver assistance because it does not enhance (2) driving, but is adopted for social reasons. Whatever it is called, the main justification for ISA is likely to be the high cost of speeding. Studies suggest that ISA could reduce the number of accidents by as much as 40 %, and the number of fatal accidents by nearly 60 %. It could also improve fuel efficiency, render the cost of "traffic calming" negligible, remove the need for enforcing speed limits with cameras and policemen, and reduce the costs of insurance.
Trials of ISA systems have already been carried out in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain, and more are planned in Belgium and France. Although resistance is expected from drivers as well as from motor manufacturers, ISA could be introduced gradually, first with new cars and later as a retro-fitting to the remaining older cars - rather as seatbelts were introduced a generation ago. The trials show that a surprisingly large proportion of people come to accept ISA after they have lived with it for a while - again, much like the experience with seatbelts.
The Economist Technology Quarterly, June 23rd 2001
(1) fuss = unnecessary excitement
(2) enhance =improve
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