Make cars like trains

| Niels ter Meer

The Enschede-Fietsstad advertisements are up again. This made student columnist Niels ter Meer think of something: can’t we make cars a bit more like trains?


I saw them again — the advertisements for ‘Enschede Fietsstad’. You know, the thing where a cyclist has to install an app to get priority at traffic lights. The thing I complained about before. While I usually write about general topics, today the engineering student comes out because this made me think of something: why don’t we do the same for cars, but better?

In particular, little devices in moving vehicles doing things made me think of trains, and in particular the device in them: the ATB, the automatic train influencing system. In essence, the system picks up signals from either the tracks themselves or from beacons in between them, which determine how fast the train is allowed to go. Speed restriction? If you don’t slow down, the system will do it for you.

I bring this up because as we know, despite what those advertisements want you to believe, Enschede is still very much focussed on cars. The amount of times I have been driven of my socks (jay for Dutch idioms), in fietsstraten no less, by someone clearly going over the speed limit, is uncountable. To be honest, it is beyond me that we let barely licensed individuals drive multi-ton vehicles without any real enforced restrictions — as in, you can’t go faster, even if you would want to. On top of all that, apparently most traffic accidents are a consequence of speeding, and the velocity correlated with their severity. Contrast this that to some, speed limits are mere suggestions; their vehicle’s power rating an excuse to go fast. In other words, instead of asking motorists nicely to hold themselves to the speed limit, how about we make them?

So here’s my plan: since fines don’t really seem to work, how about we install in every motor vehicle an automatisch voertuigbeinvloedingssysteem, an automatic vehicle influencing system? At our current tech level, I can’t imagine this being anything but workable. The system is dead simple; only needing access to the signals from speed restrictions and the engine control unit. The electronics are cheap, especially in bulk. It would just function as a speed-limiting cruise control, but now with an some extra inputs.

Enschede and the UT are, I think, the perfect place to experiment with this. A city with a car problem, with a technical university — entrepreneurial, if you insist — with a civil engineering, mechanical engineering, and embedded systems departments (You could even call this my snuffelstage for those departments). We could figure out how to make this nigh impossible to game, to show the climate, enforcement, and safety advantages. Do the things universities are good at.

I wonder why not, or when we will. Imagine how great that would be. A columnist can dream, right?

Stay tuned

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.