The real threat of EU speed limiters is to older cars

BACK to the Future might have ended a bit differently had Doc Brown ventured a few years further. Rather than only time-travelling as far as the heady, pre-Brexit days of 2015 and returning with a flying DeLorean capable of running on household waste, he might have found himself dealing with EU-mandated speed limiters instead.

It would have been a fairly rubbish ending, with our time-travelling star stuck in the 2020s because it’s no longer allowed to power up to 88mph (although it would’ve spared everyone the third film, which perhaps isn’t such a bad thing). Yet for all the hysteria you might have read in the tabloids about new cars having their velocity vetoed by Euro-approved intelligent tech, I reckon the real risk to the cars we know and love today lies much further down the line.

There is a lot in the European Commission’s rules for new cars post-2022 that make sense. Would I have a drowsiness-detecting sensor jolt the driver in the other lane back into action, rather than him drifting into my path? Most definitely. Help with braking in emergencies and better seatbelts? I’m down with that. There are suggestions too for tech that prevents you from driving if you’re plastered, which is long overdue.

It’s not the principle of the tech that troubles me, but the logistics. If all cars in a decade’s time have their speed controlled intelligently, then there has to be some sort of communication between their internal electronic trickery and whatever roadside gantry is beaming the signals out. This isn’t the stuff of Tomorrow’s World, as it was trialled down in Kent last year, but if you want to drive something older than a brand-new Audi you might find you’re at a disadvantage – or not allowed altogether.

Put it this way – I spent last weekend driving around in a 29-year-old Mitsubishi which, with a bit of TLC, could probably reach the same age again. It saves all the environmental grief of making a brand-new car from scratch, but because an electric sunroof and a radio/cassette is about the height of its gadgetry it would be a nightmare to retrofit with intelligent speed limiters and data recorders. The long-term risk is that it, and thousands of older cars cherished by their owners for all sorts of reasons, won’t be allowed onto our increasingly smart roads because they’re too analogue.

The challenge for the powers-that-be is working out how to move with the times without inadvertently legislating all of our Triumph TR4s, our MG Midgets and – in my case – our 29-year-old Mitsubishis off the roads.

Otherwise I’ll be asking Doc Brown if I can hitch a ride.

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