See things clearly

A few years ago, some of the OBASHI team were on the road, driving to an important meeting.


The driver, who shall remain anonymous, was behind schedule, so when he hit the motorway he, ‘put the foot down’.


Unbeknown to him, a speed camera system was in place on some of the gantries above the road.


So, a week later, he was rather shocked to receive a speeding penalty notice through the post.  The document contained a crystal clear snapshot of the car on the motorway, and the faces of the front-seat occupants were easily recognisable.


The system had automatically ‘read’ and recorded the car number plate, the data and time, and the speed of the car. 


This data had then been transmitted hundreds of miles to the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA).  The DVLA databases then automatically matched the data with records relating to the car and driver, and the penalty notice had been automatically dispatched.


A fine of £60 could be paid, or the case could go to court for trial.


Nobody enjoys paying these types of fines, but it was a ‘fair cop’.  The law had been broken and there was no getting out of it, so he sent off the money, and he had some penalty points added to his driving license.


A few months later, in the middle of the night, a friend of mine was driving through town, and he was pulled over by a police patrol car.


The officers informed him that he had been doing 12 mph over the speed limit. 


My friend pointed to his son, who was sitting in the back-seat of the car, and he explained he was ill, and that he was taking him to the hospital down the road.


Seeing that the child was obviously unwell, the policemen quickly let my friend go on his way without writing a penalty ticket, but with a warning to stay under the speed limit.


Thankfully, after a bit of treatment, the boy was soon fighting fit again.


Humans, despite all our prejudices and biases, can at least understand shades of grey, should we choose to do so. But systems like the motorway speed camera have little subtlety – often they are judge and jury. 


This is not to say that they are necessarily a ‘bad’ thing.  But at the dawn of the age of the ‘internet of things’ and the ‘smart city’, with the widespread deployment of digital technology which can see, hear and record much of what we do, we should be aware of

the long-term consequences of impulsive and stupid actions, the trails of which are forever crystallised in the modern context.

And, should we adjust our behaviour accordingly, we may have to reflect on what we actually mean by “freedom”.



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Comment by Henrik Liliendahl Sorensen on February 24, 2012 at 9:00

Hi Fergus. Well I must admit that I have received a few photos from the Danish police when I lived there also containing my speed and number plate id. Their practice is, for privacy reasons, to place a black square where the person beside the driver is or may be sitting. But UK authorities couldn’t use that technology, because then the driver in the right side would be hidden :-)

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