News: Drivers fear EU's "mandatory black boxes", but is survey misleading?

From black box to green fog of confusion

eCall 112 assist system

ITS IMPLEMENTATION is still more than two years away but a system that will be fitted to all new cars, alerting the emergency services to the location of a vehicle, is already spreading confusion and alarm among UK motorists fearful it will take the fun out of driving.

Motorpoint, a car supermarket, asked motorists if they agreed with EU legislation requiring the mandatory fitment, from October 2015, of what it called “black boxes” to all new cars. It said the boxes would “keep track big Brother style of how fast [they] drive, how hard they brake and how many journeys a year they take.”

Such a system is called telematics and can be used by insurers to tailor premiums to a motorist’s driving style.

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Of the 2,000 people who responded to Motorpoint’s poll, 1,430 (71.5%) said they disagreed and wanted the EU to shelve its plans.

However, Motorpoint has since admitted it got its wires crossed and that the “black box” it said would be mandatory is not a full-blown telematics system but the new Europe-wide eCall system that is designed only to alert the emergency services to a car’s location following an accident.

The system, which is likely to be brought in from late 2017 and not October 2015, uses a microchip in the car to communicate with an emergency control centre. The UK government initially resisted eCall’s introduction but said it had negotiated a watering down of the system so that it transmits only the car’s location at the time of the accident, and does not store details of the vehicle’s journey prior to the event.


A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “The UK government was concerned about data protection and has made amendments to the proposed system so that no data is retained. It self-deletes. It will only store the three most recent location fixes so Big Brother won’t know where you are at all times; only the emergency service at the point the alarm was raised.”

Unlike eCall, true “black box” telematics systems are not mandatory but there are growing fears that their fitment will one day become a standard requirement of the insurance industry and that anyone who refuses to have one fitted to their car will pay a higher insurance premium.

A spokesman for the Association of British Insurers said telematics systems were becoming popular with insurers as a way of modifying driver behaviour but that they were more likely to be offered to particular risk groups such as young drivers, rather than across the board.

Steve Wright, a spokesman for Motorpoint, apologised for the confusion over the company’s use of the term “black box” but insisted drivers were concerned by growing levels of surveillance.

“It’s that feeling of Big Brother watching you that grates with drivers,” he said. “It takes all the fun out of driving. If they’re going to know where you are what else, further down the line, will they want to know?”