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Traffic Tracking Satellites Are Here

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Traffic Tracking Satellites Are Here

J. Square Humboldt
April 7, 2006

Space-age technology has given us a number of modern mainstays ...

Now, it's about to give us a traffic ticket.

Satellite tracking has come to the highways. The United Arab Emirates has begun the process of deploying 700,000 black boxes in their citizens' vehicles for the purpose of tracking them to collect roadway tolls and, when necessary, citing speeders. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have already ordered the first 10,000 units.

A wealthy region abundant with fast cars, the Emirates have long been concerned at their high rates of fatalities on the roads. Recent statistics revealed 22 deaths per 100,000 residents. Considering that a high proportion of those deaths are innocents --- such as passengers and occupants of collateral vehicles --- such a mortality level was simply unacceptable.

So, as each local vehicle comes up for licensing, the government will spend about half an hour extra and fit it with a 6in-x-5in (approximately 15cm-x-13cm) box which will allow it to be monitored by satellite. That means the government will ultimately know the position of each vehicle at all times and how quickly it's moving.

The ramifications for perceived security are as significant as they are for safety and taxation. Thus, this implementation is going to be watched closely by a variety of countries.

Drivers in Singapore are accustomed to government-installed meters in their vehicles, which interface electronically with 'gates' to the central business area, automatically deducting a 'toll' for the right to access. Cash cards which can be replenished are used to feed the meters. The system is very efficient, much more so than the photo-cells used in London to record whether cars entering the central business district have the appropriate stickers on their windows and has the British looking elsewhere for a better solution. They want to implement tolls over wider areas of their country, which makes the Emirates' system much more attractive to them than that of Singapore.

Many countries in Europe and elsewhere utilize radar-activated cameras to catch speeders. The satellite system is expected to be much more efficient, however. Not only can it identify speeders, it can be programmed to first notify the violater --- via the black box --- to slow down. If the warning is ignored, then a citation will be delivered electronically and/or via mail. Clearly, the thoroughness of satellite coverage will not only render virtually every other mode of traffic monitoring obsolete, it will be constantly and ominously present in the consciousness of any person who gets behind a steering wheel.

Given that a favored mode of attack by terrorists is the car bomb, countries from Saudi Arabia to the USA are most interested in the tracking capabilities of the satellite system. Of course, for this to be effective, security measures to ensure the imperviousness of black boxes will have to be developed. Given the resources of the nations mentioned, there will surely be no shortage of ideas.

Finally, authorities everywhere are intrigued by the possibility of these black boxes serving the same purpose as their counterparts aboard every airplane, which is to provide an ongoing recording of data which can be preserved and analyzed in case of accidents. Safety features for both vehicles and road surfaces can be better scrutinized for effectiveness. This will not only expedite the process of product improvement for the pertinent manufacturers, but also for the insurance companies who will have more information with which to determine more appropriate policies for their customers.

There will inevitably be people and groups who will view the dark side of this sort of all-encompassing tracking system. Perhaps ethical questions will arise, but the potential for total accountability regarding national highway issues has a tremendous number of positives.

Thus, for anyone so inclined to believe this sort of satellite tracking will become an infringement on their privacy or personal rights, their best alternative would also be doing the environment a favor:

They can use mass transit.

Copyright 2006 - The Longer Life Group

J Square Humboldt writes for the Longer Life Group, which provides information designed to improve the quality of living. His page is at http://longerlifegroup.com/cyberiter.html and his observations are published three times per week.



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