In December 2009, for CNBC European Business magazine, I was one of twelve writers to pen a prediction for ’50 Things That Will Change Your World in 2010′. I plumped for ‘personal CCTV’, including bike-cams and in-car ‘bad driving’ monitoring units.
Here’s what I wrote:
GEORGE ORWELL might have predicted our surveillance-obsessed Big Brother society but he didn’t foresee the rise of personal CCTV: citizens watching each other. Getting short shrift from a car rental clerk? Watch the smiles break out when you threaten to YouTube the grimaces direct from your mobile phone.
On the road, a more practical use for the mobile video camera is emerging: the post-crash eyewitness. To record SMIDSY (sorry mate, I didn’t see you) collisions, hands-free video cameras are being fitted to motorbikes and bicycles. China’s Muvi Micro DV Cam is just 55mm tall, has a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, and is only €100. The X170 helmet-cam from the UK’s Drift Innovations is twice the size and price but shoots 720 x 480 pixels and sports a tiny LCD screen for instant playback of roadside transgressions.
In automobiles, the technology has gone a step further, recording performance parameters before, during and after an accident. Around 120,000 cars in the US and South Africa are already fitted with a Total Event Data Recording system from DriveCam, which costs €1,500 a year and involves “driver coaching”. Around €1,100 cheaper, the Roadhawk camera fits behind the rearview mirror and, with its GPS chip, logs speed, position, direction and G-force. Crash reports can be generated with video embeds and mapped in Google Earth. Already widely fitted, ‘black box’ cameras could become compulsory for fleet operators as they improve driver behaviour, reduce insurance costs and, as careful motoring equals frugal motoring, save on fuel bills.
Bike cams are certainly proving useful although convictions after recordings of bad driving incidents remain thin on the ground. It’s possible (just a smidgen, anyway) that some motorists now think twice before accosting cyclists, especially after the BBC reported some cyclists are now sporting evidence gathering cameras.
But I believe the biggest jump in road safety will come when motorists have to have cameras fitted. The Roadhawk-style cameras mentioned above are now widely used in the US, fitted to commercial vehicles. Some parents also make their teen offspring drive with such cams.
Now, in the the UK, the Co-operative has launched a Young Driver insurance package, with reduced premiums for those new drivers who can prove they’re not as suicidal and crazy as their peers. To qualify, a young driver has to have a ‘Smartbox’ fitted in his or her car. This isn’t a camera but it measures safe driving techniques and transmits data to a monitoring station.
This ‘pay how you drive’ solution is for 17 to 25 year olds and was launched on March 16th. The Smartbox uses iPhone-style accelerometers and GPS chips to work out whether the driver is braking too suddenly, accelerating too aggressively, cornering at speed, and just plain speeding. Sadly, it can’t yet measure whether a teen is texting and driving so the tech is missing a key feature.
David Neave, Director of General Insurance at The Co-operative Insurance, said:
“The new ‘pay how you drive’ product will help make the UK’s roads safer by giving drivers a genuine insight into their driving behaviours…For the first time in UK Insurance history young drivers will be rewarded for safer driving and their driving assessed every 90 days based on the four driving behaviours. If responsible driving behaviours are demonstrated they will receive a Safer Driving Discount…However, if a policyholder consistently drives badly, for example repeatedly breaking speed limits or taking corners too sharply, then their insurance premium could increase by 15% of the initial policy price.”
The Smartbox allows customers to log into an online ‘Driving Dashboard’ to see how their driving has been rated against the four driving behaviours. It also gives advice on what they can do to improve. Each behaviour is illustrated by a speed dial and drivers will be rated on a green (good driving), amber (generally good but showing some bad behaviours) and red (bad driving).
Neave: “The Co-operative Insurance is committed to young drivers and improving the safety of the UK’s roads. We believe that by giving young drivers the opportunity to log into their individual Driving Dashboard to see how their driving is rated and to access safe driving tips will act as an educative tool and a deterrent against driving badly, which can only be a positive for road users and pedestrians across the UK.” [And cyclists].
The fitting of ‘good driving’ technology is welcome news. It would be great for similar tech to be fitted in all cars but at a bare minimum it should be fitted in every car where the motorist has committed any sort of driving offence. There’s no need to fret about curtailment of ‘freedom’ because if motorists didn’t speed, didn’t drive aggressively and didn’t do all the things they now hardly ever get chastised for, they wouldn’t trigger the Smartbox.