Road Safety News

Coroner points finger at black box technology

Friday 12th July 2013

A coroner in Gloucestershire has concluded that two teenagers who died in a car crash may have been rushing home to beat a curfew placed on their car through black box technology (Gazette).

Oliver Pain (18) and his passenger and friend Harry Smith (17) died while driving home from a night out with fellow members of the Sodbury Vale Young Farmers’ group.

An iKube, a small black box which uses GPS to track the vehicle, had been installed in the car by insurers Towergate Smart.

As part of the policy agreement, aimed at making insurance cheaper, the car should have been stationary from 11pm to 5am - otherwise the owner received a £100 fine.

David Dooley, acting Gloucestershire coroner, said that he believed the disparity in penalties encouraged young drivers to speed home to beat the curfew.

He said: “I do consider that this technology, perhaps inadvertently, is creating a risk that wasn't there beforehand. It is geared towards hurting them in the pocket by breaching their curfew.

“There's perhaps an incentive in the mind of an 18-year-old. On the balance of probabilities, the decision to speed was to avoid breaching this curfew penalty.”

Recording a verdict of accidental death for both men, Mr Dooley said he would write to Towergate Smart to ask them to review their penalty policy to prevent similar circumstances in the future.

Click here to read the full Gazette report.


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Dave: A device that records amongst other things, the acceleration, braking and speed of a vehicle in the period leading up to a crash is better than what we have at present where the Police have to try and establish this as best they can relying on witnesses, the honest self-reporting of those involved and whatever forensic evidence is available. As far as I know, this is only done in depth when it may be a fatal, whereas a black-box could theoretically ‘tell all’ in every case.
In this particular incident the device revealed that the driver had been driving recklessly – you can split hairs if you want about what constitutes ‘speeding’.
I agree though, black-boxes won’t give the complete picture and in-car cameras would, as an additional means of recording what happened 'outside the vehicle', be even better – when I referred to ‘these devices,’ I should have included dash-cams.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (9) | Disagree (0)

Hugh, I recognise your considerable personal experience in road safety, but I can't see how black boxes can “revolutionise accident investigation”. They will provide confirmation of the route travelled, the exact time of collision and the speed at the PPP (point of perceived perception) before the collision, but not what happened.

In this particular case, had the black box not been there, the investigators may well have coded “exceeding the speed limit” as a “possible” factor. What the black box did was confirm that speeding definitely was not a factor.

This collision is not unusual. Speeding is very common, even today, yet the vast majority of even the most serious collisions occur when people are not speeding:

What would “revolutionise accident investigation” is in-car CCTV. That would tell accident investigators, where all the road-users were, who did what, what led up to the collision etc
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

Although this forum is not about discussing individual crashes, nevertheless it has highlighted this particular one due to the supposed ‘black box’ connection. However, the irony is that, according to the more lengthy coverage of this incident in the Daily Mail which I’ve since read, the black-box was able to tell the crash investigators that the on that particular journey the car had “repeatedly broken speed limits… up to 74mph” and had “hit the tree at 57mph”. Without this device, this would not have been known.

I’ve commented before, when all vehicles have these devices fitted, it should revolutionise accident investigation and hopefully make STATs 19 more reliable and credible.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (6) | Disagree (3)

I think Coroners do feel obliged to find something other than the obvious to highlight, when dealing with fatal car crashes. Yes it is possible or even probable that the driver in this case was in a hurry causing him to drive recklessly /carelessly but, strictly speaking, the reason for the hurry wasn’t the ‘cause’ and not necessarily that relevant. Was the black-box connection just speculation? Would the driver have driven in that manner anyway?

If it was thought that the driver had been rushing to get to the supermarket before it closed, would the coroner be writing to the supermarket chain asking them to review their opening hours?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (13) | Disagree (5)

Speeding was not a factor in this collision according to the article I read in a national newspaper. The black box showed the driver had exceeded the speed limit marginally on occasion but also showed that the collision occurred on one of the occasions when the driver was within the speed limit.

Obviously the driver may have been “travelling too fast for conditions” (defined as within the speed limit) but that is exactly the sort of effect that the combination of a curfew, a fine and black box technology may contribute to.

“Travelling too fast for conditions” has been a factor in more KSI collisions than speeding (or indeed alcohol) every single year and may generally be a greater issue when “speed management” policies are applied.

Clearly black box technology might reduce some collisions while increasing others but, as with many road safety interventions, the trials needed are just not being done.

This is a shocking tragedy and I extend my sympathies to all who knew the two young men.
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (5) | Disagree (5)

No one has blamed the box, as far as I know, but it is assessed as being a contributory factor. I would hope that there is evidence and argument that these boxes have a net positive effect.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (12) | Disagree (3)

While this is undoubtedly a real tragedy, I'm frankly astonished at the coroner's suggestion. There is irrefutable evidence that black box technology reduces casualties.
In this particular case the driver was below the posted speed limit immediately prior to crashing. While we won't know if that was 'inappropriate' without seeing the road, there may well (and likely) to be other key factors like inexperience, distraction to name a few.

Another headline that's not particularly helpful. The debate should really be about how our sons and daughters can be trained by PDIs or how quickly they can secure a licence through 'crash test' courses et al.
Jan James CEO Dynamic Group

Agree (19) | Disagree (6)

How sad this news is but can the black box be to blame? Had the two teenagers set out home earlier they would of been able to get home safely and in time without the need to speed.
George Northampton

Agree (15) | Disagree (7)

Once again, looks like the law of unintended consequences has led to a tragedy.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (6) | Disagree (13)