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An overview of external advances

Technology has also had a major impact on our roads and the way we drive. Speed cameras and active traffic management have changed the roads on which we drive - and not always to the great pleasure of the motorist.

Fuel technology

Despite all the technological changes, fossil fuels are still the prime source of power for the modern car.

Petrol and diesel remain the main fuels used over the past 20 years with Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) a distant third. In 1990 just 6%2 of new cars registered ran on diesel; in 2007 it was 40%3. Amongst the alternatives, hybrids - combining conventional petrol or diesel with an electric motor - have become the more widely accepted.

And in the last 6 months, the first Fuel Cell vehicles have been launched in California and Japan - fuel cells differ to batteries in that they create energy via a fuel, normally hydrogen, as opposed to just storing and discharging energy as is the case with batteries.

The future of car fuels will be looked at in more detail in the third 2008 RAC Report on Motoring.

SatNav and traffic information

SatNavs were originally developed by the United States military and have been fitted to cars since the early 90s. Traffic monitoring technology trials started on the M25 in May 1990. For the first time, monitoring traffic flows electronically and in 'real time', was possible. The secondary benefit of this was that the data could then be transmitted to cars, giving drivers the opportunity to change routes before getting caught in jams. Then, in 1999, SatNav, digital mobile phone and road traffic information technology was combined to create SmartNav. This enabled in-car SatNav devices to respond to traffic congestion and actively re-route drivers around the trouble spot.

Will the future continue to combine technologies to the greater benefit of the motorist? Will all cars be able to communicate with each other and provide real time information on what they are doing and what is happening on the road around them? If yes, combining satellite, mapping and traffic information technologies will keep drivers better informed and give a greater range of choices.

The key challenge for manufacturers then, is to make sure that these 'active' technologies do not distract motorists to such an extent they cause dangerous driving.

Speed monitoring and awareness

Speed cameras first appeared in the UK in 1992. Their deployment was designed to reduce accidents, injuries and deaths. But they have been contentious from day one, with many motorists viewing them as a way of raising revenue rather than enforcing safety measures.

This view is becoming more entrenched, with three in four motorists surveyed viewing speed cameras as revenue raisers, up from just over two thirds in 2006.

The Government is now taking steps to try and diffuse this negative perception by improving warning signage, as well as the visibility of the cameras themselves. First time speeding offenders in some counties can now attend speed awareness courses instead of collecting points on their licences and a fine.

More positively, almost three in five motorists believe average speed cameras have improved traffic management, even though they were introduced as a road safety measure. Four out of five also view speed awareness signs positively as a way of reducing drivers' speeds.

RAC calls for:

  • a nationwide audit of speed cameras to be carried out to ensure that each one can demonstrate a proven effect in reducing accidents and those which cannot, should be removed.

² ACAE new passenger car registrations breakdown by specifications: share of diesel.

³ SMMT Motor Industry Facts 2008.

Road and infrastructure engineering

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