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|I'm Sorry, Dave, You're Speeding
Wired News | March 4th 2004
MELBOURNE, Australia -- At the Melbourne Motor Show last week, Toyota unveiled a controversial concept car that would very closely monitor, and in some cases restrict, the actions of its driver -- including refusing to turn on.
To drive the sleek Toyota Sportivo, a driver would have to enter a memory card into its console to turn on the engine. Based on the driver's experience and driving record, the car adjusts its engine performance, cutting back for motorists with less experience or spotty driving records.
"Drivers of the future who have grown up in an electronic age of heavy remote speed camera enforcement measures and electronic tollway charging systems are accepting of new technology that assists their lifestyle as well as monitoring it," a Toyota press release about the car says. "It is essential for drivers to be fully and accurately informed in this era of increasing electronic surveillance."
While some say a car that would second-guess its drivers' abilities might have limited appeal, Toyota says the purpose of the electronic logging and authentication isn't to snoop, but to inform.
"What we're suggesting is the driver's license in the future will be a smartcard, and it's embedded with all the data required to operate the car more safely and efficiently," Toyota project manager Paul Beranger said.
Toyota said it doesn't have plans to put the concept car on the road. The carmaker built the prototype to highlight Australia's local car-designing talent. But the vehicle does introduce some concepts that would shake up governments and vehicle bureaucracies.
With the Sportivo, there wouldn't be separate numbers for the license plate on the car and the license in a driver's wallet. Instead, a screen on the car's rear bumper would display a number linked to the driver's license, which would be encoded on the smartcard.
One advantage would be that the actions of drivers would be tied exclusively to their licenses, not the car. Since at any given moment many drivers on the road don't own the cars they're driving (because they either rented or borrowed the vehicle), the electronic logging would allow motor vehicle departments to charge the driver for speeding violations, parking tickets and unpaid toll charges -- not the owner.
"It's ultimately not the owner who's responsible for the car when it's on the road, it's the driver," Beranger said. "If the car is caught for speeding, the ticket goes to the driver, not the owner."
The driver-based record keeping could also change laws for young motorists. In Australia, new drivers are automatically placed on probation for three years when they get their license. Because of the new logging capabilities introduced in the Sportivo, the probationary period could be based on the number of hours behind the wheel, much like the way airplane pilots are licensed.
The power output of the engine can be restricted according to the license grade, and drivers whose licenses have been suspended would be unable to operate the car at all.
In addition, one Australian state, Victoria, requires vehicles to have alcohol breath analyzers tied to an engine lock for some serious and repeat drunk drivers. And Australia's federal government has considered a universal ID, called the Australia Card. The proposed card would store a wide array of personal information, and Australians would have to carry it at all times to obtain employment, health care and government services.
While the Australian senate twice turned down the proposal and public outcry killed the idea, privacy organizations say the smartcards needed to operate future cars look suspiciously like the universal IDs.
"We have a problem with the smartcard licenses because they will not stop with just dealing with speedsters," said Irene Graham, executive director of civil liberties organization Electronic Frontiers Australia. "They're proposing that the new licenses will be used over the Internet to identify people when dealing with government departments. We are concerned that businesses will come up with all sorts of reasons for identifying yourself."
While Toyota views its concept car as nothing more than a showcase for cool gizmos, its electronic logging functions would creep into everyday life, giving more surveillance powers to the government, critics say.
Still, the car is packed with more-conventional, less-ominous gizmos. The same smartcard would store each driver's preferences for seat position, mirror angles and favorite radio stations. Its speedometer reads signals from speed signs on the road and displays the speed limit in comparison to the car's velocity. Phone and GPS devices let the driver keep track of friends' whereabouts. And it would sport a 240-horsepower engine.
The Sportivo would be equipped with all-wheel-drive and a high-performance PBR braking system, putting it on par with Japanese turbo rockets like Subaru's WRX.
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