Car Culture

Ford launches car that prevents you from speeding

Technically Incorrect: The S-Max is equipped with an Intelligent Speed Limiter, which reads speed limit road signs and slows you down accordingly.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


speedlimiter.jpg
And suddenly you're going very, very slowly. Ford Europe/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

When engineers dream, do they dream of a world in which everyone is an engineer?

Or do they leave room for a couple of topless models and a few cartoon heroes?

I ask for no reason other than that I've just heard of a new technology that will excite engineers, I'm guessing, slightly more than it may excite all real people.

It's called Intelligent Speed Limiter. You might choose to think of it as the most wonderful, helpful backseat driver. It was announced Tuesday by Ford of Europe in a blog post and a pulsating YouTube video.

What might you imagine that an Intelligent Speed Limiter would do? Well, in Ford's words it "monitors road signs with a camera mounted on the windscreen, and slows the vehicle as required."

As required by the technology and the law, you understand. Although the blog post announcing it tantalized drivers with the headline: "Could this spell the end for speeding tickets?"

Yes, your car might have its own independent straitjacket, but think of the money you'll save.

I'm being unusually unfair. The car in which it's being launched -- Ford's S-Max -- allows you to turn the speed-limiting intelligence on and off. This is not, like Google's idea of self-driving cars, compulsory.

But how will it feel when you've forgotten it's on and you suddenly grind to a crawl at 2 a.m? Of course I don't condone speeding. But there's a certain controlling element to this that some might find uncomfortable.

It works by using electronics to adjust the amount of fuel delivered to the engine. So it's not as if your backseat driver or driving instructor will arbitrarily put on the brakes. Not quite, anyway.

If you want to override the system, you put pedal to the metal quite hard, just so that the engineering gets the message.

Still, there's something a touch novel about the way Ford of Europe's active safety supervisor Stefan Kappes described the problem: "Drivers are not always conscious of speeding and sometimes only becoming aware they were going too fast when they receive a fine in the mail or are pulled over by law enforcement."

A familiar woe for some. Therefore, he said: "Intelligent Speed Limiter can remove one of the stresses of driving, helping ensure customers remain within the legal speed limit."

Please focus on the logic holding that sentence together and consider whether it needs a little servicing.

A Ford spokesman told me that this technology is strictly confined to Europe and to the S-Max. The company will monitor the reaction and see how great the demand will be.

What is quite bracing, though, is that he also told me: "This came out of consumer research in Europe. We asked customers what they'd like in their cars and this is one of the things that came up."

Yes, those poor Europeans are worried about getting too many speeding tickets.

I did wonder, though, whether the idea of having your speed limited like this might be seen as one of those injections you get before surgery. Isn't it ultimately preparing us for the self-driving car era, where everything rolls along at the legally required pace? Ford doesn't seem to disagree. It's simply testing this out to see what happens.

It seems clear that those behind automotive technology intend to change human behavior in possibly radical ways.

Cars may essentially become little trains, chugging us cheerily from one destination to the other. However, I'm moved by Kappes's theory that his company's invention will save us money. Will it really?

What will our local councils do for money when they can't catch us speeding all day? Our official buildings will crumble, our local utilities will become useless. And, worst of all, where on earth will our councilors be able to have a fine expense account lunch?