Traffic Reports

The technology disturbs me, even if I appreciate the intent. We took our first longer road trip this week in the car we purchased a couple of months back.

It wasn’t the first time we had been on the Autobahn (not counting short trips to the Basel airport), though it felt like it. Back in February there was a two hour plus drive home from the dealer where we purchased the vehicle. I didn’t count that as a trip though, I was trying to get used to both a car and a road I had never driven; it wasn’t what I would consider a normal trip.

For this drive I was much more relaxed. I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but my wife has GPS on her phone, and I knew the first few hours were all highway driving. It was a chance to relax, talk, listen to some music and enjoy the drive.

Rather than keep searching for something I liked on the radio, I just stuck a CD in the player, Mick & Elli KBB, a Swiss blues group that I thought would make nice driving music. And it did. Until the traffic report.

The listings of slowdowns and construction issues on the highway didn’t make much of an impact on me. It is frustrating when you don’t know the language. I could understand some of the warnings, but not enough to avoid them. I recognized some of the place names, but they were irrelevant to me. We were long past Freiburg and Basel and not heading anywhere near Berlin. Obviously, this was a country-wide report.

I hadn’t asked for a traffic update, and my wife gets them on her phone anyway, so I asked: “Why did you switch from the CD to the radio?” The answer: “I didn’t.”

Sure enough, as the traffic report ended, the CD resumed playing. Somehow, whoever does traffic reports for the Autobahn is able to commandeer the radios of the vehicles travelling on the road. I guess I didn’t notice it the day we picked up the car because I didn’t have the radio on for that drive. The car is 16 years old; I didn’t think they had technology that advanced in 2002.

The implications are disturbing. Interrupting my music with a traffic report is more or less harmless – but what other things can be done to my vehicle remotely that I am not aware of? And by whom?

Our car in Canada came with a satellite radio that can be activated or deactivated by the service provider. It also come with a roadside assistance package (that I never had to use). By pressing a button, I could be instantly connected with a customer service representative who could unlock the car doors and, I think, remotely start the vehicle. That meant a two-way voice link. I always wondered if people in the call centre could eavesdrop on any conversation they wished without people in the vehicle knowing. I presume so – but with millions of similarly equipped cars on the road I figured I was pretty safe from random eavesdropping. Not that I have anything to hide, but it is the principle of the thing.

We live in an age where technological marvels have become commonplace. That is generally a good thing. It would be generally agreed that traffic reports are a good thing. Knowing of possible delays can allow drivers to choose alternate routes, saving themselves time and reducing congestion.

With all technology though there should be the understanding that it is an option, not something to be imposed without question. In choosing a CD as opposed to listening to the radio I was making the statement that I didn’t want to be focusing on the cares of this world (as found in a radio news cast), I just wanted to listen to some music. Traffic reports were available on my wife’s phone if I wanted them.

Somewhere, someone decided that my choice wasn’t important. I think I resent that. More frustrating is that apparently there is nothing I can do about it. I resent that even more.

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