I have gazed across the Pond in bafflement over Brexit until two days ago. I now grasp the depth and breadth of British anxiety over political and legal ties to Brussels and it boils down to regulatory over-reach.
Yesterday, the European Commission announced that it had adopted new rules “stepping up the deployment of Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) on Europe’s roads.” What the commission has actually done is to create a de facto mandate of a 20-year-old Wi-Fi-based wireless technology (dedicated short range communication or DSRC) for collision avoidance and toll paying applications in a manner likely to cost thousands of lives and reverse decades of vehicle connectivity progress.
This is only the latest chapter in the EU’s misguided efforts to use its regulatory power to influence automotive design decisions. A more than decade-long effort to require automatic crash notification technology resulted in an eCall mandate which came into force nearly a year ago requiring all new type approved cars in Europe to come with a module capable of directly calling the nearest public service access point (PSAP) to report a crash – in the event that one has occurred.
The EU eCall mandate placed an undue financial burden on car makers and the PSAPs to support an application based on an outmoded technology specified by the Commission. The objective was to save 1,200 lives annually. The equivalent of this EU mandate would be, in the U.S., for the Federal government to require all cars be outfitted with OnStar. It’s clear to me that neither consumers nor auto makers would welcome such a mandate – in spite of its life-saving potential.
The same sentiment applies to the ITS-G5-related vote this week. The EC wants to mandate a 20-year-old Wi-Fi technology for collision avoidance, toll payment and other applications – creating another financial burden with little anticipated investment return.
There is a lot at stake. The EU, generally and admirably, has half the annual per-100,000 miles fatality rate as the United States. With 1.2M people dying on highways annually on a global basis, preserving that life-saving leadership is essential.
One must ask, though, at what cost? Estimates of the cost of full deployment of DSRC technology in the U.S. run to $100B. Is the EU prepared to take on that burden? A cellular-based solution would offload much of that expense onto the existing wireless carriers, which are capable of recapturing those investments from resulting commercial revenue.
China has a highway fatality rate several times the level of the U.S. China is opting for 5G and C-V2X technology for collision avoidance and other safety and non-safety-related applications. The U.S. Department of Transportation has shifted to a technology agnostic stance, while adopting cellular technology for other safety-related applications.
In spite of growing global ambivalence, if not hostility, toward DSRC-based ITS-G5, the EC saw fit to make a decision likely to have the impact of a mandate. That mandate, will require that cellular modems find a way to communicate with DSRC systems if they want to access prioritized ITS safety messages.
The scope of the EC’s malpractice and malfeasance is enough to cause one to forgive the more than 15M British citizens that voted to Brexit. First eCall. Now ITS-G5. Please, show me the way out of this regulatory-obsessed regime.
How can the current trajectory be reversed?
According to the EC announcement: “The Commission decision takes the form of a Delegated Act. The publication of the Delegated Act is followed by a two-month period during which both the European Parliament and the Council may oppose its entry into force.”
In the words of one observer: “There is very little room for maneuver at this point. Opponents might prepare to trigger the review clause 33 to propose a new technology, but this will eventually require a “backward compatibility” with ITS-G5.”
European Parliament (EP) text has been officially submitted. EP has now two months to raise an objection on the file, otherwise the Delegated Act is adopted.
Procedure to raise an objection:
An objection against the Delegated Act can be driven and raised via:
1. TRAN Committee – members of the committee vote with simple majority
2. One political party (e.g. EPP) – irrespective of its size – the members of one political group support a motion for objection
3. Alignment of minimum 38 MEPs – (from different parties/irrelevant if members of TRAN) support a motion for objection
4. If (1) or (2) or (3) is successful – text goes for vote in the EP Plenary – to pass the motion for objection 376 MEPs should vote in its favor
- Next meeting of TRAN Committee when the Delegated Act steps will be decided is April 8.
- The Member States in the Council should vote with qualified majority in support of the motion to object against the proposal for Delegated Act – this means out of 28 ministers and these 16 ministers should represent at least 65% of the total EU population.
Observers of the European Commission might be distracted by ongoing Brexit debates or might consider the organization somehow irrelevant or unworthy of their attention. One thing is clear: The European Commission is neither irrelevant nor unworthy.
The organization has the power to make decisions with lasting impact both negative and positive. The most dangerous of those decisions are the ones specifying, regulating or mandating particular technologies.
The process leading up to the mandate for eCall created massive uncertainty in connected car technology deployments for European auto makers resulting in delayed deployments, lost investments and time and, certainly, additional loss of life. It also resulted in the introduction of the so-called “dormant SIM,” a device that will only connect in the event of a crash.
The run up to the de facto ITS-G5 mandate similarly injected confusion and delay of new technology adoption in the automotive market. The outcome is likely to be two parallel vehicle-to-vehicle technology paths being implemented simultaneously – ITS-G5 and C-V2X – with all of the cost, complexity and delay that that implies – and a corresponding and continuing loss of life.
So, yes, I finally understand Brexit. I get it. The EC can’t seem to stay in its lane when it comes to regulating automotive wireless technologies. Further participation in the EC is pointless and resistance is futile. Ergo Brexit.