Currently reading: Will onboard tech cause road deaths to soar?
With technology getting even more advanced and the possibility of centre consoles mirroring your mobile phone becoming a reality, will road deaths sky rocket as a result?

Of the several internet browser tabs open on my desktop at the moment, one reads: ‘A world without work is coming; it could be utopia or it could be hell.’

Coincidentally, that is often my second thought on a Saturday morning. Another says: ‘Facebook in the car will cause road deaths to soar’, to which I think: “Well, it probably won’t, will it?”

We do fear change, don’t we? Yes, an avalanche of technology is arriving and sometimes it feels like coping with it is going to be quite the struggle. The thrust of that first story I mentioned is that we should plan for the day when robots eventually put us all out of a job, just like Tomorrow’s World said would happen by 1995.

The second story focuses on the fact that the screen in your car will soon replicate anything your smartphone can do. Some already do.

Whether this is a change for better or worse depends on your mood. I usually think things change for the better and would take the 2016 version of my village newsletter – where the big story is outrage because people park on the village green’s verge – over a period when the thrust of the front page would have been about the plague or marauding Vikings.

But war, famine, Brexit, exile, political collapse and now motorised Facebook keep the presses turning, I suppose, breeding a fear of cars whose centre consoles mimic a smartphone. Tech arrives before the legislation to control it and, as a result, people get all of a pickle.

Not unreasonably, to be fair, because some people will be stupid enough to use their phone’s functions while driving. Think of what your phone can do: web browse, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Jetpack Joyride… fiddling with any of these on the move is ridiculous. Some cars have voice control to assist, but these systems are so hopeless that they’re as likely to telephone your ex-wife as skip forward a track on Spotify.

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So what’ll happen? The government has shrugged its shoulders and reminds drivers that responsibility for not being clowns is theirs alone. Car makers could/might/might not disable complicated software while a car is in motion, or on-board cameras could decide whether the passenger is doing the bidding. But they might do neither. I don’t think deaths will soar, but they might curve up a little, and it’ll be worth thinking even harder about how you filter on a motorcycle, or on which roads you should cycle. Then legislation will catch up, in the way that next year new measures will give drivers double the current penalty points for using a phone on the move. Six points on your licence is a deterrent in the way that three points simply is not.

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Eventually, autonomy in vehicles will mean you can do anything you like on big roads, but until then, I suppose we’ll be destined to muddle through, like always.

And so it’ll go on, change threatening, sensible people reacting, right up until my last column for this magazine when the autonomous vehicle finally arrives and Autocar becomes Autoautocar. I’ll be replaced by a robot who, unfortunately for him, will find his first road test is of a fully autonomous car, and that he has nothing to write about. Ha! Take that, the future.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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Peter Cavellini 8 October 2016

Well, to be honest.........

Yes and no,we are heading for gridlock in certain areas of the UK already,so technology might have to play a part in keeping us safe or safer maybe.Maybe in the not to distant future we won't own a Car,we might hire one or if self driving Cars become reality we will just like a Taxi for the Airport,book a Car or whatever our needs and it will arrive at your House and deliver you there or where ever you want to go.To much tech in Car's will be confusing,your supposed to be looking out the windows making sure your safe,i can't honestly think anyone will sit in a Car like this and NOT look out the Windows fearing for there self preservation!
tlb 7 October 2016

Status Quo

People already use their phones to call, text and play Pokemon while they are driving. I expect the same stupid people will use their ICE to do that if they can - which is probably safer that what they are currently doing with the phone itself. I suspect most responsible people will just use it as it's intended - to control their music, NAV and phone functions which is the same as they currently use their ICE for.
androo 7 October 2016

New safety tech will balance things up

As we get more entertainment tech so we will get more safety tech. Soon AEB will be mandatory, I presume, and things like lane departure and lane keeping tech will be standard or mandatory. A cars drift into full autonomy it won't matter what the occupants are doing. In the meantime, I'd like to see cars reporting their drivers when they commit offences. I'd like to see high performance cars refuse to allow high performance on certain roads, and I'd like to see cars refuse drivers who are drunk or who break the speed limits. And don't get me started on mobile phones.
DBtechnician 7 October 2016


I would have no problem with a vehicle recognising that it is in a built up area and limiting the speed accordingly but as for my car reporting offences to the authorities, well that would make the highway like one of those over zealous private car parks where slight infringements of the rules lead to fines in the post. No thanks if my car did that it would be on first name terms with the police inspector.