The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Two Words Come To Mind... Bull and Shit 

Slashdot has recently pointed to two rather disturbing articles on the government's desire to use GPS in cars, in Canada, and in the United States. Frankly, both of these ideas scare the crap out of me... but at least Canada's (so far) is aimed at actually improving driver safety, and not making money:

The system being tested by Transport Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Department of Transportation, uses a global positioning satellite device installed in the car to monitor the car's speed and position. If the car begins to significantly exceed the speed limit for the road on which it's travelling the system responds by making it harder to depress the gas pedal, according to a story posted on the Toronto Globe and Mail's Website.

Forcing this into cars I still think is a bad idea for all sorts of reasons. First of all, I don't want yet another thing attached to my gas pedal that can break, making my car undrivable. Secondly, I don't think the government realizes how lucky they are with how they can set speed limits right now.

For many people, a lot of speed limits are very low... which is why people regularly break them. They do this because the benefits of speeding outweighs the potential cost of being caught, because the risk of being caught is low. Government officials think that by making the risk of being caught 100%, that people will slow down. I think they're wrong. People will argue that speed limits should be increased, and if government becomes to Draconian about enforcing them, you'll see people running for office on a speed limit platform... which will take away a major money maker for government. Hell, in the U.S. we see cities which install red light cameras, and then shorten the time of the yellow light to catch more people. In some localities, the local police department will artificially lower the speed limit on major highways and create money making speed traps. Is this about safety or money?

The proposal in the United States is even more scary:

The U.S. Department of Transportation has been handing millions of dollars to state governments for GPS-tracking pilot projects designed to track vehicles wherever they go. So far, Washington state and Oregon have received fat federal checks to figure out how to levy these "mileage-based road user fees."

Now electronic tracking and taxing may be coming to a DMV near you. The Office of Transportation Policy Studies, part of the Federal Highway Administration, is about to announce another round of grants totaling some $11 million. A spokeswoman on Friday said the office is "shooting for the end of the year" for the announcement, and more money is expected for GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking efforts.

In the United States, the goal is increasing the amount of money being made, or depending on who you talk to, behavior modification. The article claims that the goal is to change when people drive (to off peak hours), but this is pure bull. People can't and won't change when they drive, so this is really about generating more money. Why won't they change when they drive? Because the decision as to when to drive is not a choice driven by price, its mostly necessity. Work starts at a particular time, or I need something from the grocery store now (and the store is open now).

Not only is the decision of when to drive often not up the driver, but there are already plenty of reasons to drive off peak. The biggest reason is because traffic is less at those times, and people don't like driving in traffic. The government is arguing that the reason to impose this GPS is tax is to decrease peak hour traffic tie ups, when in reality that is already a reason for many people to avoid peak travel times. It's also already cheaper to drive off peak hours, because stop and go traffic burns more fuel.

But the reality is, tax driven behavior modification rarely works. People do what they want to do for more reasons than just money. It usually takes a very stiff, and very punitive tax to overcome that, and driving is too important to everyones lives to implement that sort of severe tax.

The U.S. proposal is even more scary since there are no built in protections for how else the data would be used. 100% speeding ticket enforcement anyone? Once again, I think this will lead to a push for higher speed limits if it ever comes to fruition. Frankly, I don't care what the general goal is... I don't want the government knowing where I am all the time. I don't care what nice benefits might be touted (like emergency location in an accident)... I'll risk it.

Here's what scares me the most:

Even more shocking are additional ideas that bureaucrats are hatching. A report prepared by a Transportation Department-funded program in Washington state says the GPS bugs must be made "tamper proof" and the vehicle should be disabled if the bugs are disconnected.

"This can be achieved by building in connections to the vehicle ignition circuit so that failure to receive a moving GPS signal after some default period of vehicle operation indicates attempts to defeat the GPS antenna," the report says.

It doesn't mention the worrisome scenario of someone driving a vehicle with a broken GPS bug--and an engine that suddenly quits half an hour later. But it does outline a public relations strategy (with "press releases and/or editorials" at a "very early stage") to persuade the American public that this kind of contraption would be, contrary to common sense, in their best interest.

One study prepared for the Transportation Department predicts a PR success. "Less than 7 percent of the respondents expressed concerns about recording their vehicle's movements," it says.

That's it? Seven percent were against it? That's pathetic. To quote Ben Franklin... "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."


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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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