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Cars & Technology - Driving Down a Slippery Slope?

Technology is now an indispensable part of our daily lives, even in our cars and on the roads. It involves everything from the EZ-Passes in our cars to the GPS systems that save us from getting lost. However, there are disadvantages to the widespread use of technology, such as the loss of privacy. At what point does technology stop being beneficial and morph into an intrusion of people's lives?

Since its introduction, the EZ-Pass system has proven to be incredibly efficient. It saves people time and money on toll roads, but they may soon pay a steep price for this convenience. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recently announced that they will start monitoring the speeds of motorists via the EZ-Pass system. First, the Port Authority will issue a warning to anyone who goes through a toll at a speed above the posted 5 m.p.h limit. After the initial warning, drivers caught violating the speed limit will have their EZ-Pass accounts suspended. The length of suspension increases with each additional speeding violation. After a warning, the second violation results in a 60 day suspension, a third a 180 day suspension and a four-time violators will have their account suspended for an entire year.

New Jersey State Senator Mike Doherty recently introduced a bill which would ban towns in the state from using red light cameras, which detect traffic violations, to ticket drivers. Senator Doherty explained, "I don't like the idea of 'Big Brother' watching us on every street corner and I don't see any evidence that it's made New Jersey's roads any safer" Studies on the effects of red light cameras have been mixed, some suggest that the cameras reduce accidents by inducing drivers to be more cautious. However, other studies imply that the cameras actually create accidents, when drivers suddenly brake to avoid running red lights.

Currently, New Jersey law limits the uses and the placement of red light cameras. Towns cannot use the cameras to monitor the speeds of vehicles - their use is confined to catching motorists who fail to stop at red lights. The cameras can only be installed after a local ordinance is passed and even then, a town must apply to the state Transportation Commission for approval of an initial pilot program.

But technology is not only being used by government to monitor motorists. Increasingly it is available to private citizens to monitor the driving activity within a particular vehicle. Parents of teenagers often use new advances in technology to check on their teenagers' driving habits New advances give parents many options to parents hoping to keep their kids safe. Some apps for phones completely disconnect its calling and texting capabilities when a vehicle is moving. Others will automatically read texts aloud and send an automated reply. Currently, the apps will shut down the texting and calling capabilities of everyone in the car. Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology and Rutgers in New Jersey are working on an application which would only shut down the driver's phone, which would be a revolutionary improvement on existing programs.

Advanced safety systems allow for more direct control via technology. It is now possible for parents to monitor and control things such as a vehicle's maximum speed, the volume of stereo and seatbelt usage. Another program monitors whether a vehicle is being driven in a controlled manner, alerting parents when their teen is driving recklessly or perhaps while intoxicated. Other options include implanting cameras within the car, which record all sights and sounds within the vehicle. GPS devices are also a popular option and can be used to "provide information related to speed, seatbelt usage, passengers in the vehicle, and location."

These technological advances may seem beneficial, since keeping regular motorists and particularly teenage drivers safe is a good thing. But there is the ever present danger that this new technology will be abused and eventually create a "1984" type of existence. Some hints of this have already emerged. It is now quite common for spouses to use some of the technologies listed above to spy on their partners and to track their movements. This is a grey area of the law, which is still developing as technology continues to evolve. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of the new forms of technology that now exist in our society. It remains to be seen whether the convenience that technology affords us is worth the price of an increasing lack of privacy.

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