Sunday musings: Car information rights, new Heathrow runway kills, travel fees go crazy


These thought-provoking stories start with a question about who owns the data created by your automobile such as functionality and tracking your movements. When can possible future deaths influence federal policy? Should it? And, onerous fees spread from airlines to other areas of travel.

The right to be aware of automobile telematic information

This section refers to Massachusetts Ballot Question 1 that goes to vote on November 6, together with the Presidential and Vice-Presidential elections. The ballot question is important for drivers across the country because it deals with ownership of data that is produced by your automobile.

Does the car company that collects this data and sells it deserve to control information about your property and your actions? Or, should the individual have access to the information as well?

The use of this collected data allows car companies to see developing problems with your automobile. Knowing this information may allow car owners to deal with developing problems before they get to be big problems. It provides data to some companies that calculate movement of your car, then aggregate it to provide traffic data that is shared with other drivers.

When you get your car repaired, shouldn’t you have access to this information so that you can share it with any repair shop? Automobile companies are looking to control use of the information they collect about your car and only send it to “authorized repair outlets.”

Most parts of a car are wired into a computer network, enabling the vehicle to send, receive and store information. Networking all the parts of a car together allows computers to connect to car systems for things like providing maintenance or diagnosing problems.

Various sensors in the car monitor the conditions of individual components. For instance, there are sensors that monitor air pressure in tires, wear in brake linings, seatbelt use, airbag deployment and exterior lights. If there is a problem, you are alerted through your dashboard display (usually accompanied by some annoying beeps!).

Advances in communications technology now allow cars to transmit this information beyond the dashboard, and to remotely connect with the manufacturer or other third-party providers.

This integrated use of telecommunications and informatics is generally known as “telematics.”

This information about your property and your actions should be shared with you. You should be able to choose where you repair your automobile. Perhaps, in the future, automobile companies and other data processors should be required to request your permission prior to collecting information about your property and movements. The time is coming — within a decade most automobiles on the road will have this data collection capability.

Group claims new Heathrow runway would result in 150 deaths per year; new airport only 50

In the debates over whether to expand London Heathrow or build a new airport, proponents of a new airport suggested that building a new runway would result in 100 more deaths per year. Of course, they assume the community surrounding the new runway wouldn’t grow and claim benefits of the wind blowing pollution out over the North Sea.

Here in the U.S. we have bureaucrats that take these kinds of “probable death rates” into account when making rules. For instance, the FAA has determined that small children can be held on the laps of parents during flight. The reasoning? If the kids were forced to purchase airline tickets, many families would elect to drive rather than fly. Since driving is statistically more dangerous than flying, the rules that would better secure children on airplanes and require them to purchase a seat would lead to more deaths, not fewer.

The study found that nationwide, 110 people die prematurely per year because of pollution from airports, 50 of them attributable to Heathrow. They projected that to increase to 250 in 2030, with 110 due to Heathrow, even without airport expansion. That’s because of higher utilization of airports, population growth, and aging citizens being more susceptible to respiratory illnesses.

I wonder how many other rules are justified with such torturous logic?

Travel fees spread from airlines to hotels to cruise lines and more

USA Today traces the sad spread of fees throughout the travel industry. The FTC, I understand, is looking at this explosion of fees as a form of DRIP pricing.

It works when a consumer is enticed to purchase a product with a low-ball price (like airlines selling only airfares). Then the prices to use the product increase as new fees are served to consumers. In the case of the airlines, the drip continues through the entire trip. On the outbound flight new fees for baggage and seat reservations might be added together with other fees. Then on the return trip, the same extra fees are introduced. No wonder airlines do not want passengers to see the full price prior to ticket purchase.

Buying an airline ticket, checking into a hotel, and even showing up first used to get you more than a seat and a bed. Now, travelers have to choose from an à la carte menu of services or conveniences to board first, use the gym or even zip through toll lanes more quickly.

And they often have no choice but to pay up — unless they’re flying business or first class, are frequent fliers with an airline or have the right credit card with airline perks.

Aaron Gellman, professor of transportation at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, says the industry is “trying to push the limits until they find out what they are.”

“How far can they do it before there’s a rebellion?” he asks.

  • Jonathan_G


    In the section on automobile telematic information, you say in the very first sentence that the section is about a Massachusetts ballot question. You then go on at considerable length, asking rhetorical questions, describing telematics and the value of such information. What you fail to do is describe the ballot question, or even mention it again after introducing it right at the start. Are you practicing to be a politician?

  • DCTA

    Likewise, the section on fees – one would assume that the “front” piece by Charlie would at least hint at hotel/car fees……