Error parsing XSLT file: \xslt\FacebookOpenGraph.xslt If you thought seatbelt chimes were bad.
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If you thought seatbelt chimes were bad.

Date: 18 April 2007

Guy Bird is our editor-at-large and political columnist

'Talking CCTV' is soon set to reprimand street dwellers nationwide, writes Guy Bird. Could your fleet driver be next?

"Put the litter in the bin." zzzztt.zzzztt, "Stop bundling with your drunk mates" zzzztt.zzztt, "Don't spray-paint the wall on the side of Lidl" zzzztt.zzztt. ".oh and your tag style is rubbish" zzzzzzzttt.. If you heard the news the other week you might have also heard some of these phrases uttered by an unnerving electronic voice emanating from a tannoy system attached to CCTV cameras high above the streets of Middlesbrough - alongside grainy CCTV images of freshly caught miscreants righting their wrongs and then afterwards waving to the high-up CCTV units that spotted and reprimanded them.

The story was about a 'talking CCTV' pilot scheme in the North-east English town where the cameras no longer merely monitor the local public but also urge them to rectify their anti-social behaviour. The pilot has been so successful the Government has just earmarked £500k each for a further 20 further councils to set up similar schemes.

Which got me thinking how long it might be before fleet managers could be offered Government sweeteners to install similar kit inside their fleet vehicles. With proposed road pricing set to monitor your car's every exterior movement it's not so far fetched to imagine a future where your behaviour inside it could also be under surveillance. There's already commercially available video kit that can record a driver's every move - from bum manoeuvre to bum scratch - so adding a 'telling off' option would surely be a doddle.

Of course there have been cars that have 'talked back' to their drivers before. But at least the fictional Knight Rider's K.I.T.T had David Hasselhoff's best interests at heart and even annoying seat belt chimes win your car an EuroNCAP crash safety star. But cars that could pipe up about your every driving misdemeanour would soon get very irritating and would surely distract any driver's 'focus'.

Backchat backlash

“Hearing an electronic ET-style voice saying "It's not worth it, turn the other cheek," could be enough to get you up to ramming speed - or alternatively make you turn on your own vehicle, reach for the baseball bat and beat up the dashboard until it stops.”

Guy Bird

The usual pious response to this intrusive big brother activity is: "You'll have nothing to worry about unless you're doing something wrong" - but in motoring terms, define 'wrong'. What would be considered worthy of electronic Government/fleet manager-endorsed backchat? Would it just be limited to harsh braking and foot-to-the-floor acceleration (and how hard is harsh)? Would picking your noise while changing the CD be picked up on, or trying to get the satnav settings back to English after a failed attempt to alter the bass and treble on BMW's iDrive be an offence worthy of electronic condescension: "You i-d-i-o-t, it's so simple, I can't believe you can't work it yet" zzztt.zzzztt?" And if you make a real blunder - like mistakenly changing down from fifth to first at 70mph - the last thing you want is in-cab CCTV telling you what a poor gear choice you made. The noise from the engine will have told you already.

How would it monitor and reprimand road rage? Hearing a electronic ET-style voice saying "It's not worth it, turn the other cheek," could be enough to get you up to ramming speed - or alternatively make you turn on your own vehicle, reach for the baseball bat and beat up the dashboard until it stops. Neither would improve driving style.

The whole thing's a bit like those signs around primary schools that flash at you to 'Slow Down' even when you drive by at a steady 32mph at 11pm on a Sunday evening (shouldn't the under seven's school play have finished by now - it's past their bedtime after all?). Bottom line, when interference comes in these forms and is not deemed to be reasonable (unlike the same flashing sign at 9am on a weekday) they can have a reverse impact, and only make independent humans reject their message.

Do the kids know best?

The final insult to injury is that in the real-life streets' 'talking CCTV' scheme the Government is actually encouraging school kids in the 20 areas that have been awarded talking camera set-up money to come up with initiatives about respecting their environment - with the best entries getting to have their voices do the reprimands (luckily for the launch day only). The fleet equivalent would be the voice of the office junior telling you off for swearing or berating your poor third-to-fourth gearchange - all from a black box behind your ear. It could literally send high mileage drivers completely mad. Fleet managers - if the Government ever offers you the money to set up such a scheme, resist its filthy cash. Not even for your van drivers. It would be a nanny state gone mad.