Sometimes cars are too clever

Transport for London is going to trial speed limiters on a number of vehicles this Summer – which reminds me of the EUREKA Prometheus car project from the late 1980s/early 1990s.  As a PR officer at Peugeot, I took a group of journalists on a visit to drive new car systems, which included autonomous intelligent cruise control that managed the relative speed and distance of cars to improve road safety.

The range of Prometheus systems was intended to make roads safer and also improve the environment.  I’m currently marking University final year undergraduate dissertations, several of which look at “green” communications – and apart from a brief mention of the origins of environmentalism being in the 1970s, most seem to think that public and PR interest in “green” issues is a 21st century phenomenon.

The reality is that many industries have spent decades working on technological solutions, but without more corporate willingness, political interest and consumer markets, they have not progressed beyond generating media attention over the years.

Indeed, in the 1990s, one of my projects whilst working at Toyota was handling PR for the RAV4 EV through a venture on the island of Jersey.  This involved tourists being able to hire one of a fleet of electric vehicles in a partnership with hotels and the local electricity company.  The concept did generate a lot of media attention, but also enabled Toyota to research the vehicles in real driving conditions.

Many other trials of electric vehicles have been undertaken over the years – and this is of course, another initiative that the UK government announced in the recent budget that it is going to explore.  Again, plenty of column inches reported this.

Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether the intentions of companies and governments are more than “greenwash” in terms of simply generating positive media coverage around the environmental agenda.

Also, does this attention on future technology not mask some of the more immediate solutions that people themselves can take to improve road safety and reduce the impact on the environment?

Driving behaviour is something that motorists themselves can address – which means using public relations as part of educational or persuasive campaigns.  Is it really easier to make cars more intelligent rather than try to influence people?  Do you want machines to be in charge of your behaviour?

Sometimes I already feel cars are too clever – today mine bleeped that the passenger wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.  There was nobody in the seat, however.  Just my handbag.  Anyone who has ever picked up my bag might agree it weighs the same as a small child, but do I really need my car to tell me this?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.