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Driven to Distraction; Is Driving for Pleasure on Borrowed Time?

Updated: May 21

Black Box GPS car monitoring

Today is Blue Monday; statistically the most despressing day of the year. I must apologise for my mood being as black as the ice on the roads, but I can’t escape the notion that the future for car enthusiasts is as bleak as the weather.

This all probably stems from being mid-way through 1984 by George Orwell, but gazing into my crystal ball I can't help but come to the realisation we are all sleepwalking towards the demise of driving for pleasure as we know and cherish it. The doom mongering over the electric car has us hoodwinked, and it's very possible we are missing the governments long con.

I don't fear the EV. I don't think they are the answer to global warming - that is a whole other can of worms - but I do believe car engineers are extremely intelligent and passionate people. I trust they will crack the code which makes electric vehicles truly fun to drive, rather than outright impressive. By all accounts the Hyundai Inoiq 5 N is already a kilowatt smile inducer and the Porsche Taycan is a wonderful way to travel. The driving fire will remain, even if it isn't an internal combustion one. I just hope they can make them affordable too.

No, in my humble opinion, the greatest enemy us car enthusiasts face is the blanket enforcement of Black Box monitoring. It's already started with the summer 2023 EU law mandating all new cars must be fitted with a GPS that restricts the car to the given speed limit. Sure, you’ll argue that the device can be overruled for up to ten seconds in emergency situations or to complete a safe overtake. You’ll also argue that you’ve no intention to purchase a brand new car so it doesn’t affect you.

What you’ve got to let sink in is speed monitoring isn’t the end game. Governments always move goalposts. It's their standard operating procedure to introduce a minor irritation, then just as it becomes accustomed to, they turn the screw. Just look to ULEZ for an example. You aren’t thinking about the amount of fuel duty and company car BIK tax missing from the HMRC balance sheet as they incentivise going green.

Road tolls are inevitable, and what's the best way to monitor it? Via a GPS box of course! When the government introduces tax-by-mile, that is when such a device will become compulsory for all road users. At that point, the insurers rub their hands together and roll their sleeves up. Armed with all the manipulated data they can get their hands on, insure by mile will also become law - or outright refused unless retrofitted.

Hyundai Motor Unveils ‘NPX1’ Concept Model at Tokyo Auto Salon
Cars like the Hyundai Inoiq 5 N give hope for the future
Hyundai Motor Unveils ‘NPX1’ Concept Model at Tokyo Auto Salon

Imagine being charged by how many miles covered, how statistically risky the road is you drive along, what time of day you travel down it, and how many g-forces you generate in the process. Then there is the prospect of working or going for dinner in a high risk area, or visiting a relative and leaving the car on the street, all being tracked and calculated by an algorithm. Everything will be totted up and conveniently debited directly out of your account every month. Penalties, points and bans will come not from flashing blue lights, but filtered by some AI algorithm manufactured by Cyberdyne Systems.

Is this a tin foil hat conspiracy theory? Or is the writing on the wall? Why, for instance, are we seeing electronic tampering laws being introduced if not to lay the foundation? The fears about the goal of making modifying a car illegal are unfounded - the government's simple aim is to outlaw circumvention or cheat devices that override the GPS monitor. Of course, this will still mean a death by one thousand cuts to the multi-billion pound aftermarket industry, or much worse, drive it underground and under the influence of criminals.

Inevitably, this will also lead to further cuts in professional Road Traffic Policing, even though it would allow forces to concentrate their resources on more serious car crimes. Nationwide traffic divisions are already feeling the strain, having had their numbers drastically cut by over 50% across the last decade, alongside losing highly experienced officers. Governments love nothing more than the double win of increasing revenue whilst slashing budgets.

Black box monitoring in cars

Yet the GPS device and all its baggage won’t make the roads any safer. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. You only have to spend a short amount of time on any average speed monitored stretch - I don't think I've ever seen worse standards of driving than in a motorway road works...Middle lane hoggers religiously sticking to an indicated 49mph, oblivious to the forty-plus tonne HGV barrelling down on their back bumper. The problem multiplies at rush hour as the lemmings all bunch up even further whilst scrolling through their Instagram, Tic-Tok and Tinder feeds.

That's because a driver who isn’t engaged by the process of driving is a bored one, and when boredom creeps in, so does the temptation to reach for that oh-so addictive mobile phone. For those who aren’t dependent on the dopamine of likes, massive frustration awaits. Imagine being stuck in a snake of traffic behind a tortoise driver on a country lane, pottering along well under the speed limit. Everyone behind bunched up, leaving no safe gap to exploit for overtaking. Not that anybody would overtake, because it would cost a fortune. The only potential benefit I can see is a car communicating a breakdown within a smart motorway network. Unless the battery has failed.

The unsettling fact is these laws are being made by politicians who spend very little time themselves behind the wheel. They spend a lot of time in cars, but chauffeur driven ones. An MP doesn’t have to worry about parking a car on the street, or how to safely run a charging cable to a vehicle without enduring the wrath of the where there is blame, there is a claim brigade. The fact is, as always, it all comes down to money and we the motorist, as ever, are the easy target to milk dry.

Sorry to be the harbinger of doom. I predict all this will happen well before the 2030 deadline to stop the sale of the internal combustion engine. To enjoy driving in the future, we are going to have to start thinking outside the (GPS) box.


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