Remote control helps the road take charge of the driver

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The Independent Online
It is 2020. You are driving on a motorway and you are no longer in control. Your speed is governed by an electronic "cruise-control" system which keeps you and your fellow drivers in convoy at the same speed. Signals transmitted from cables in the road control your speed and steering, while on-board radar in your vehicle ensures you keep your distance.

This was part of the motoring future outlined by the chairman of Jaguar Cars, Nick Scheele, in a speech to the British Association yesterday.

In 25 years' time, drivers would be unable even to start their cars if they have drunk any more than a small amount of alcohol, Mr Scheele said. A sensor would detect the raised ethanol level in the cabin air and immobilise the engine.

Mr Scheele forecast intervals of 100,000 miles between services, mobile telephones which would also serve as "portable travel assistants" and speech-recognising computers to adjust the seat and mirrors to the driver's favourite position.

"It seems Utopian but it isn't," he said. "We're just 24 years away from this becoming a reality." The portable travel assistant would act as a navigator, using global positioning satellites to show where the car was on a map screen on the dashboard. It could also obtain information about current and imminent congestion on potential routes and the best roads to take, give local weather forecasts and book parking spaces.

Taking control away from individual drivers on motorways would reduce congestion and stop-start driving, while increasing their capacity. Mr Scheele forecast that almost all cars would have remote-control facilities by 2020, because those which did not would not be allowed on main highways. Mr Scheele, who has been with Jaguar's owners, Ford, for his entire career, also favoured charging drivers to use motorways but politicians had "shied away" from this because of its unpopularity.

Pollution, noise and congestion could be dealt with by science and technology and "an abundance of political imagination and political will". Calls from a small and vocal minority for curbs on drivers' freedom of movement should not be heeded, Mr Scheele said.

Some of his audience were sceptical. One questioner wanted to know if the portable travel assistant might have the good sense to advise its owner to take the train from Birmingham to London rather than to drive. Mr Scheele answered that he often made the journey by train. "I'm in favour of investment in good public transport but we can't tell people to take it - it's their choice."

He said the kind of technology he was talking about would be available on mass-market cars by 2020. But, however Jaguars changed, they would always be expensive.

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