Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Technology: Messing with free choice every day in every way

A GPS device that can limit the speed of cars that are travelling too fast will soon be on trial in NSW.

I would just like to say: No, wrong!

I won't bother going into the numerous big-brother, personal privacy arguments. I won't bother going into how this is removing responsibility from individuals and therefore fostering a climate of sheep who can drive even less well than they can now. I won't follow Andrew Fraser's quoted comments that this is putting off the need for a meaningful increased police presence, which I heartily agree with. I won't even bother going into whether or not we should trust the government to make our decisions for us, or whether or not the government is, on this one (speed limits) even remotely right (hint: no).

I have far more practical concerns:
  • You're in an emergency and you need to get away from the raging bushfire/to hospital/away from the flood waters? Tough.
  • The road you're on is signposted at 100 but the GPS thinks you're on the parallel road which is signposted at 60? Tough. (You think that GPS is more accurate than that? Then you are very naive indeed. Rafe at allaboutsymbian.com tried to use GPS tracking on a Nokia to make map artworks, and his track claimed that he crossed several streets that he hadn't. All it takes is a bit of uncertainty.)
  • The road you're on is signposted at 100 but the database the GPS is operating off is out of date and thinks it's signposted at 80? Tough.
  • The battery in the GPS is dying and it gives spurious readings? Tough.
  • The battery in the GPS is dying and it starts monkeying with your fuel system? Tough.
  • America decides to go to war with someone else and fiddles with the satellites for a couple of days? Tough.
  • You need to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle? Tough.
  • You need to overtake a vehicle going at 5 under the limit and want to do it quickly? Tough (I have, myself, gained 30km/h on more than one occasion on the bike when overtaking large caravans).
  • You're driving in traffic, the GPS decides you're going too fast and starts to slow you down just as someone nips in behind you, they don't react quickly enough and rear-end you (don't try and tell me that's unlikely)? Try proving that to the insurance people!

Plus, how quickly does the GPS react? I have stood in one place, in a completely open area, and seen my N95 report a speed of 25km/h, altitude fluctuations of 100m and location fluctuations of at least as much. Granted this is a small, low-powered, inefficient device and a stand-alone GPS unit for a car is a considerably better proposition, but come on. I will trust this system when I have no other options, and not a second before.

Link to the ABC Online story

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