Under new EU rules, every new car and small in Britain will be fitted with a tracking device within the next three years. MEPs claim that the new technology, which automatically alerts the emergency services in the event of a crash, will save 2,600 lives a year. But campaigners have highlighted the massive breach of privacy that the technology poses.
The European Parliament voted yesterday to approve the new law, which will ensure that a black box is fitted as standard in all new vehicles. In the event of a crash, the device will relay the time, exact location, direction of travel, severity of the crash, and whether airbags have been deployed.
As a member of the European Union, Britain is being forced to accept the legislation against the will of the current government, the Express has reported. Last year, Transport secretary Clare Perry warned of the huge cost of the scheme, estimated to be about £370 million, saying that the technology did not justify the outlay.
“The benefit of making it mandatory in all new cars does not justify the cost of implementing it; I believe it was something like £370-odd million,” Ms Perry told the Transport Select Committee. She said that given “the increasing responsiveness of our road network,” the British government felt it to be unnecessary.
“However, we are entirely happy for other member states to implement it, if it is appropriate for their own networks — perhaps if they have a less responsive emergency service, for example,” she added.
Britain attempted to secure an opt-out when the measure came before the EU Council of Transport Ministers, but was unsuccessful.
The European Commission has estimated that the device will add £72 to the cost of each new vehicle. MEPs insisted that they have written privacy safeguards into the legislation, by stipulating that information gathered can only be transferred to a third party with permission.
But privacy campaigners disagreed. Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “There is a clear risk that once this device is installed, drivers will lose total control over who has access to their data and how they will use it.
“Forcing drivers to have a device installed in their car, which is capable of recording and transmitting exactly where and when they are driving, is totally unacceptable.
“The European Parliament itself admitted that it expects a whole host of commercial companies to have access to this data.”
The car manufacturing industry has long lobbied for the technology to be made mandatory. Insurance experts have also welcomed the move, predicting that drivers who refuse to install the devices may be driven off the roads within ten years through inflated premiums.
At an industry conference earlier this month, speakers opined that the new technology will soon become “opt out” rather than “opt in”.
Tom Ellis of insurance comparison website Gocompare, who spoke at the seminar, told the Telegraph: “In 10 years’ time there will still be customers who prefer not to have a telematics device installed, [but] it will be an opt-out situation, rather than an opt-in.
“There will be reasons for people opting out – perhaps because they are bad drivers, or unhappy with the privacy element, or have an old car. But they will have to accept a higher premium to insure their car.”