Mandatory Speed Limiters: Are They Here, and What Will It Mean?

Posted by: Lydia on 7/08/2019

Category: General

Recent months have seen big car news out of Europe: Lawmakers have started down the path of making car speed limiters mandatory by 2022

Although this idea is still unfolding, it appears likely to happen, meaning that all new European cars may soon be fitted with technology that limits the car’s speed. It does this by using GPS and camera technology to note local speed limit signs around the vehicle, and then matching the car’s speed to them.

But will speed limiters be seen in Australia anytime soon? And if so, what would it mean for our daily lives and driving experience? Here's a closer look.

The impact of Europe’s changes in Australia

Occasionally, you'll hear about odd local laws that are unique to particular parts of the world. For example, Melbourne’s ubiquitous hook turns are known to test the patience of both Aussies and visitors alike.

But distinct from a local road law, any European speed limiter law is going to have a massive impact. 19.2 million motor vehicles were produced in the EU in 2018 – some 20% of the 98.1 million produced worldwide. If, from 2022 on, this many vehicles have the Intelligent Speed Assist system (ISA) made mandatory, it could mean that any European car purchased in Australia will also have it too. So even if other new cars on our roads don’t have this feature, you may have no choice if you love driving BMWs or Volvos.

Are European speed limiters necessary in Australia?

Australia has been a global leader in driving home the dangers of speed. Many parts of our country have some of the strictest speed camera tolerances in the world. There is a legitimate debate about how effective their presence is, and how the revenue they raise is spent.
But it can’t be overlooked that we’ve seen a strong reduction in road deaths compared to decades ago, thanks to a strong anti-speeding campaign – and that’s a clear-cut positive. 

That’s why it’s important to keep an open mind about speed limitation technology, especially because you'll be able to override it (even if it means the vehicle will make annoying sounds when you do). Yet Australia no longer has a car manufacturing industry, so local cars with speed limiters won’t be made. Even if speed limiters do become law in Australia, many new issues could arise about whether all imported cars must be fitted with them, or only the ones made in Europe. That would then pose difficult questions about what happens to popular cars made in other countries like Japan and South Korea.

There are also the differences in culture and other road safety factors. Mandatory speed limitation on vehicles may make sense for the narrow streets of Paris or Rome, but they may not work elsewhere, such as in the modern major cities of Australia. There’s also the argument that there are other ways to pursue increased safety, like working toward making major cities car-free to reduce the risk of accidents. 

The other side of the road

The downside to these limiters will be obvious to car fans: they restrict your ability to have some extra fun with your vehicle. We're not suggesting you thump the pedal down as soon as the light turns green and chase down the horizon – such behaviour is not only likely to attract police attention, but will also rapidly accelerate wear and tear on your tyres

But there’s nothing illegal about pursuing those little moments of joy you can have as a driver, safely within the speed limits, like giving your car a little extra acceleration as you climb a hill or backing off the acceleration going through a corner – and, of course, those fun moments like the transition from regular road to freeway that require you to speed up rapidly over a short distance.

These moments may seem inconsequential to drivers who regard a car strictly as a device that gets them from A to B, but to real car fanatics, these little moments can make the whole drive worthwhile. That’s why these limiters will pose a problem to many purists. The good news is that they are not yet mandatory around the world, and at time of writing, they are only provisionally approved in Europe – so things may yet change. 

Finding the limit 

Even if the idea sounds good in theory, in practice, a long implementation process can be expected.

As anyone who has used GPS to navigate in their car knows, sometimes a lag or dropped signal is unavoidable. If you're just watching for your next turn, it's not a huge issue. But as speed limiters would utilise GPS technology to function correctly, any interruption with the GPS signal could become a safety issue.

That’s why, like the pioneering work being done with the self-driving car (SDC), it can be anticipated that countries further afield will be watching European developments in this early period with interest. Even though they are widely in use, there are still occasional issues with GPS devices and speed camera operation today. Introducing speed limiters will raise the stakes whenever a failure occurs, so a higher standard of reliability for this technology must be achieved.

The SDC is also an important consideration in this space too, since it's set to arrive on scene in a big way during the decade ahead. It seems these vehicles will be designed from the start to stick to speed limits. Over time, it’s likely speed-limited vehicles and the SDC will increasingly appeal to the same audience of people who are keen for more automation in their daily commute. 

This means the current debate about speed limiters may roll into a wider one surrounding the SDC vs. the traditional car. For purist drivers, staying behind the wheel of a car they can completely control will likely remain most appealing.

Regular cars may one day be considered ‘old school’ as innovation delivers new car technology. But for now, they're not going anywhere, as even the European law will only apply to new cars being built. So if you love driving with your speed totally under your control, you can rest assured you’ve got plenty of road time ahead of you.

What’s your perspective on mandatory speed limiters? Let us know in the comments below:

Image: Pixabay