Q: With so many carjackings occurring, why doesn’t the government require GPS systems on all cars? It would seem to be in the realm of safety, because it would deter theft.
T.G., of Collinsville
A: While your proposed solution to this potentially deadly crime might seem like a no-brainer, a similar good-Samaritan law in Europe received harsh criticism for the same reasons you’re already hearing here: cost and, more important, privacy.
In April 2015, the European Union passed laws making it mandatory that all cars and small vans built after this year be fitted with a tracking device that can automatically call emergency services after an accident. Even if people inside the vehicle are unable to respond, the device will send out the exact location, time, direction of travel, the scale of the impact and whether airbags have been deployed, according to The Daily Telegraph in London.
In addition, drivers witnessing the accident will be able to push a button to alert authorities, an especially helpful tool if they’re in unfamiliar surroundings and unsure whom to call. Testing found the technology could reduce emergency response time by as much as 60 percent in cities and 50 percent in the country, potentially saving 2,500 lives annually and reducing the long-term consequences of serious injuries by delivering faster treatment.
So, as you would ask, what’s not to like?
Plenty, say those who opposed the law. First, the so-called eCall device would add an estimated $100 to the cost of every car, but that takes a backseat to the primary concern: protecting driving information, habits and locations from commercial companies such as insurers as well as hackers with nefarious motives.
“There is a clear risk that once this device is installed, drivers will lose total control over who has access to their data and how they will use it,” Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, told the Telegraph. “Forcing drivers to have a device installed in their car, which is capable of recording and transmitting exactly where and when they are driving, is totally unacceptable. The European Parliament itself expects a whole host of commercial companies to have access to this data.”
The EC, however, argued the fears are overblown, saying the device will not send signals unless an accident occurs. (Likewise, you may not want that GPS device constantly transmitting your location.)
“There are absolutely no reasons to be worried about your privacy,” the EC said.
Nevertheless, before they started their move to leave the EU, British ministers warned that benefits might be outweighed by the expense, saying that the estimated $320 million to $445 million cost by 2033 would reduce road deaths in Britain by just 1 percent.
In the meantime, you’ve probably already seen pushback by American drivers against those event data recorders — so-called “black boxes” — that have been added to nearly all new cars since 2013, according to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration.
When a vehicle is involved in an accident, these devices automatically preserve such information as how fast the car was traveling, whether the brake was activated and whether the driver was steering erratically. Although originally intended to help carmakers design safer vehicles, the increasingly rich treasure trove of information that these devices preserve are winding up in lawsuits and criminal cases. For example, after a 2011 accident, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray said he wasn’t speeding and he was wearing his seat belt, but his car’s black box said he was unbelted while driving 108.
Even though they do not transmit location, those who value their privacy have been fighting for the right to turn these devices off.
“Obviously, if that were an option, some insurance companies might want to take that into consideration in pricing insurance,” Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., told NPR in 2013. “I understand that. But nonetheless, I think the average person should have that choice.”
So you can imagine how those same people would feel knowing that a GPS unit might be capable of being tracked at any moment, even though the government might have the best of intentions and promise to protect privacy. After all, there already have been some cracks in the protective armor. For years, auto dealers and repo men have been slipping GPS devices into cars to take the keys away from those who default on their loans. And in 2016, the Milwaukee Police Department for one began using a device that could shoot a small GPS device onto a fleeing car so that it could be tracked without a dangerous high-speed chase. Early results showed it to be deployed successfully half the time although the department was hoping for 75 percent with practice.
Even India has made GPS units mandatory for all commercial vehicles by year’s end. Here, OnStar and similar services remain an option, but with talk of a nation of self-driving cars, it may be inevitable as cars are required to “talk” with each other more and more.
What award-winning actor’s father was best known as Clem, the deputy sheriff on “Bonanza”?
Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: While Dunlop was founded in 1889 by tire pioneer John Boyd Dunlop, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. was started in 1898 in Akron by Frank Seiberling. Seiberling simply decided to honor Charles Goodyear, who reportedly died penniless in 1860 despite developing vulcanized rubber in the 1840s.