Curb­ing dan­ger­ous tourist driv­ers

The so­lu­tion was ob­vi­ous – I just needed help to see it!

New Zealand Classic Car - - Price On - By Greg Price

Afew is­sues back I wrote about the Volk­swa­gen emis­sions de­ba­cle. As is al­ways the case I re­searched that ar­ti­cle thor­oughly, but due to the usual time con­straints I missed an ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion to the vexed prob­lem of tourist driv­ers in rentals caus­ing may­hem on our roads. For­tu­nately one of this mag­a­zine’s ar­dent read­ers has pointed me in the right di­rec­tion, and in do­ing so, has sug­gested what can only be de­scribed as the sim­plest of so­lu­tions. You might ask why some­one hasn’t come up with it be­fore now. Well, there are sev­eral rea­sons why noth­ing will ever be done. The first and most im­por­tant one is that by the time you read this, tourism will re­port­edly be the largest ex­port earner for New Zealand, tak­ing that po­si­tion away from dairy­ing in re­cent times. Se­condly, no one will ever do any­thing that might dis­cour­age the in­flux of tourists, re­gard­less of how many lives might be lost while they are here. But firstly, what is this ‘sim­ple’ so­lu­tion?

The so­lu­tion

The reader re­ferred me to what is known as OBD-II (the most re­cent ver­sion of ‘On­Board Di­ag­nos­tics’). Now, it was VW’S OBD sys­tem that was used to fool the di­ag­nos­tic equip­ment so VW’S emis­sions would meet the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Au­thor­ity’s (EPA) stan­dard.

OBD sys­tems are in most cars and light trucks on the road to­day. OBDS also have a data-log­ging func­tion. Data log­gers are de­signed to cap­ture ve­hi­cle data while the ve­hi­cle is in nor­mal op­er­a­tion, for later anal­y­sis. Some auto in­sur­ance com­pa­nies of­fer re­duced pre­mi­ums if OBD-II ve­hi­cle data log­gers or cam­eras are in­stalled — and if the driver’s be­hav­ior meets re­quire­ments. This is a form of auto in­sur­ance risk se­lec­tion. The data-log­ging can also be used to mon­i­tor driver be­hav­ior by fleet ve­hi­cle oper­a­tors (such as truck driv­ers, or rental-ve­hi­cle driv­ers).

Anal­y­sis of the ve­hi­cle’s black box data may be per­formed on a pe­ri­odic ba­sis, au­to­mat­i­cally trans­mit­ted wire­lessly to a third party, or re­trieved for foren­sic anal­y­sis af­ter an event. This is where the OBD-II sys­tem comes in. OBD-II is no longer only used by pro­fes­sion­als and hob­by­ists to re­pair ve­hi­cles. OBD-II in­for­ma­tion is com­monly used by ve­hi­cle telem­at­ics devices that per­form fleet track­ing, mon­i­tor fuel ef­fi­ciency, pre­vent un­safe driv­ing, as well as for re­mote di­ag­nos­tics and pay-as-you-drive-in­sur­ance. Al­though orig­i­nally not in­tended for the above pur­poses, com­monly sup­ported OBDII data such as ve­hi­cle speed, rpm, and fuel level al­low Gps-based fleet-track­ing devices to mon­i­tor ve­hi­cle idling times, speed­ing, and over-revving. By mon­i­tor­ing the OBD-II a com­pany can know im­me­di­ately if one of its ve­hi­cles has an en­gine prob­lem, and by in­ter­pret­ing the code, the na­ture of the prob­lem. OBD-II is also mon­i­tored to block mo­bile phones when driv­ing, and to record trip data for in­sur­ance pur­poses.

Warn­ing Alert

Think about it! You have some looney-tune let loose in a rental camper­van hav­ing just stepped off the plane, and if one of th­ese devices is fit­ted, the minute (s)he ex­ceeds the speed limit, or crosses to the wrong side of the road, a loud mes­sage in the driver’s na­tive tongue could blast out from the ve­hi­cle’s stereo, alert­ing them to the prob­lem. If no re­me­dial ac­tion is taken im­me­di­ately, the ve­hi­cle could be re­motely im­mo­bi­lized there and then. If nec­es­sary, the lo­cal traf­fic po­lice could be alerted as to the lo­ca­tion and the al­leged of­fend­ing, and pro­ceed to the ve­hi­cle’s po­si­tion. Im­mo­bi­liz­ing is also an op­tion if the OBD-II in­di­cates that the driver is tam­per­ing with the sys­tem.

As to the costs — seem­ingly there are none, or at least they would be very lit­tle, as the gad­getry is al­ready in place in all cars made af­ter 1996.

So here’s how I see it would work. The tourist steps off the plane, and af­ter a manda­tory 24-hour rest pe­riod, is pro­vided with the nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion about which side of the road to drive on, speed lim­its etc, and a cell-phone-use ban while the en­gine is turned on, and is then taken to their rental ve­hi­cle.

Safer Driv­ing

This mag­a­zine goes on sale in Fe­bru­ary, which has been iden­ti­fied as the most dan­ger­ous month on the roads, be­cause of the in­flux of tourists. A lo­cal reporter sug­gested that treat­ing ev­ery­one else on the road as a po­ten­tial killer is one way to stay safe. Most mo­tor­cy­clists and clas­sic-car own­ers do this now any­way, but (and again, thanks to the NZ Clas­sic Car reader who sug­gested us­ing OBD-II), if the Govern­ment bit the bul­let and made it manda­tory for ALL rental ve­hi­cle com­pa­nies to mon­i­tor their rental ve­hi­cles us­ing OBD-II, and to pro­vide that data when nec­es­sary to law-en­force­ment agen­cies, we’d all be a lot safer — and we’d still get lots of money from tourists. Per­haps we should also con­sider mak­ing rental com­pa­nies re­spon­si­ble for what hap­pens with their ve­hi­cles?

Some­one should ask the Min­is­ter of Trans­port why NZTA has not been di­rected to in­ves­ti­gate/reg­u­late/man­date the use of OBD-II in all rental ve­hi­cles.

There also needs to be some more-ef­fec­tive longer-term reper­cus­sions for of­fend­ers, such as a life­time ban from rent­ing ve­hi­cles in New Zealand, and some de­cent jail time where there is loss of life. A few months in the pokey (if at all) is not send­ing an ad­e­quate mes­sage to th­ese id­iots who think it’s okay to crash a rental, kill some­one, pay a few hun­dred dol­lars in fines, and slope off back home to their own coun­try.

In Uganda, at the height of his reign, for­mer Pres­i­dent-for-life, Field Mar­shal Al Hadji Doc­tor Idi Amin had the right idea. He wanted all tourists to sim­ply leave their valu­ables and cash in a bucket at the end of the air bridge, then get back on the plane! Given our poor crash rate for tourist driv­ers, par­tic­u­larly in the South Is­land, per­haps we should adopt that prac­tice here? Oth­er­wise, let us have OBD-II com­bined with dat­a­log­ging pro­vi­sions made com­pul­sory for all rental ve­hi­cles in NZ as soon as pos­si­ble. If that af­fects tourism ad­versely, then that’s just too bad. In the mean­time, watch out! Ev­ery­one else on the road is out to get you, so stay safe.

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