GPS Tracking For All Vehicles In Thailand?
Two weeks ago (21/10/19) the Thai minister of transport put forward the idea that all vehicles in Thailand should have GPS tracking:
The primary argument was that this would reduce road deaths through the application of driving behavior monitoring. His suggestion has been lampooned and quickly withdrawn, however, this is an important topic and one worthy of discussion.
How does this idea work?
Essentially a GPS Device is fitted to a vehicle, the device would have a sim card on it which passes data to a GPS service provider who would then pass it onto the department of land transport. The data would be collected and used to reduce road deaths.
At that point it becomes a little less clear how the data would be managed or used. Many GPS devices have on board accelerometers and motion sensors which can be used for monitoring driving behavior. Most GPS systems are not accurate enough by themselves to be able to establish things like harsh braking, accelerating etc but using the Accelerometer such data can be collected.
Is this being done anywhere else?
Largely not. The cost is extremely high. However, there are similar systems in place in a number of different countries. Let’s take a look at some of these:
Singapore currently has a universal system for road pricing and tolling. All vehicles sold on the island are fitted with a telematics device which is primarily designed for use in the Tollway and parking systems across the island. A large project is underway to introduce a GPS system in 2020 to replace the gantry based system currently in place.
South Africa experienced an explosion in crime following the end of Apartheid. This led to most vehicles being fitted with not one but two GPS systems to reduce the incidents of car theft, car-jacking and kidnapping. This led to a huge growth in the South African GPS industry.
Since 2018 all cars sold into the EU market have been fitted with devices which are part of the EU wide e-call program. These devices are not designed for GPS tracking but rather for detection of accidents. This program has cost billions.
GPS tracking is mandatory in the Xinjiang autonomous region on all vehicles. Again like South Africa this is primarily a safety and security use case.
Many other countries including the United States, Thailand and Australia have requirements for commercial vehicles. This is primarily aimed at road safety through monitoring working hours, dangerous payloads and no go zones.
No details were given on how the scheme would be applied or whether it would be applied retrospectively to vehicles currently on the road. The cost of applying them would be extremely high this is beyond doubt. The service would cost 300 baht per month (around $10) and the device 3,000 ($100).
If this was applied universally to all new vehicles and all vehicles, which need to be registered including motorcycles then we are looking at 40m vehicles and a cost of around $4b or 120b THB for the devices alone. The on-going service fees would be another 144b per year ($4.8b USD).
The total health budget for the whole of Thailand is 187b THB, which gives you perspective of the amount of money, which would need to be spent to implement this. Not to mention the fact that devices will need to be replaced from time to time due to failure and that there will need to be substantial investment in processes and systems to manage and utilize the data.
Why is this idea being proposed?
Thailand has a chronic problem with road safety. Every year around 30,000 people die on the Kingdom’s roads. This is the same number as the whole of the European Union which has 600m people. The vast majority of these are motorcyclists in rural roads (75% according to data from the RVP).
In 2016 Thailand ranked 2nd in the world for road deaths, just behind Libya. Since then Thailand has climbed in the rankings and is now 9th from the bottom. The military Junta did invest significant time and effort in attempting to reduce road deaths. Whilst we don’t have data to support this the ban on alcohol implemented on major Buddhist holidays (whilst not implemented to reduce road deaths) may have had a significant impact on deaths.