Intelligent speed assistance (ISA) and is due to become mandatory across all new cars in the European Union in coming years. While federal regulators in the US have shown little interest in following suit, New York City is about to embark on a trial programme of its own that could open the flood gates for ISA to be adopted by public fleets across the states.
Following a gradual decline since the mid-2000s, traffic related deaths in major US cities such as Chicago, New York, San Francisco and LA have surged again in recent years – despite improvements in vehicle safety systems. And speeding is a major factor in these traffic related deaths, being a factor in 29% of all these fatalities in 2020, up from 26% in 2019.
In the quest to reduce traffic related deaths where speeding is a factor, the European Commission passed a regulation in 2019 that makes ISA mandatory across all 27 EU countries. This means from July 2022, ISA will be mandatory for new models/types of vehicles introduced on the market, before applying to all new-vehicle sales (of new or existing models) by July 2024.
Not to be left behind, Mayor Eric Adams of New York City last week announced that the city would be “leading by example by installing intelligent speed assistant technology in our city fleet vehicles”. This pilot programme would begin with 50 city-owned vehicles and operate for 6 months. As part of the trial, the city would be partnering with the US Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center, a national research organization, to evaluate the pilot. The analysis will examine data captured by the vehicles’ telematics system to compare speeding behaviors before and after ISA installation.
According to the Bloomberg article, NYC operates about 30,000 vehicles — the largest municipal fleet in the US. However, NYC could enhance its negotiating power by combining its fleet procurement with other cities and states, incentivizing OEMs to offer ISA on new models to other customers as well. Then there is the General Services Administration, the massive federal procurement agency. With over 200,000 vehicles in its fleet, its influence would be far larger than NYC’s.
But is ISA just a fancy tech term for speed-limiters? Well, yes and no. At least in the version of ISA that is referred to by the European Commission the system is “is required to work with the driver and not to restrict his/her possibility to act in any moment during driving.” Furthermore, the driver is always in control and should be easily able to override the ISA system. So it’s less of an absolute speed limiter and more of a nudge, or a series of nudges.
The ISA regulation provides four options for systems feedback to the driver, from which car manufacturers will be free to choose from:
Furthermore an integral part of the system is also its ability to combine GPS data and ‘mapped out’ speed limits with real world conditions – by way of sign recognition cameras. Click here for a detailed account of how such a system works.
We’ve known for a while that speed plays a key factor in a significant proportion of traffic related deaths. And the theory behind ISA is sound (no pun intended), even if the version that the EU regulations mandates allows for the system to be ‘easily overridden’ (the default for the system is ‘on’ every time you restart the car). It essentially introduces a small amount of ‘friction’ to the act of speeding, so that speeding is still possible but must now be more-or-less a conscious act. And it can be genuinely helpful in certain situation besides reigning in a motorist’s wanton and careless desire for speed – such as in urban areas where the speed limit is constantly changing, or in the transition zones between rural villages and the national speed limit. It will certainly make it less likely that anyone driving in an ISA equipped car will be able to talk their way out of a speeding ticket by saying “I was just following the car in front” or “I didn’t realise I was going so fast, I’m usually a very careful driver...”
NYC’s trial will also be interesting to follow because of the huge implications it could have for municipal owned fleets across the US, as already hinted at by the Bloomberg article. But what about the private sector? Why wouldn’t delivery companies and other private fleets want this feature in their vehicles to improve safety for their drivers and the public? And if this feature is indeed able to demonstrate safety improvements in the real world (which we’ll know soon enough from the EU’s experience) then surely insurance companies all over the world will be factoring this into their offerings. While everyday Americans may not be likely to adopt this themselves in droves anytime soon, there seems to be plenty of good reasons for both public and private sector fleets to go all the way with ISA.