User-generated ‘slow down’

Back in 2018, the Indian Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) released a new set of rules for automobile manufacturers in India. Apart from new rules regarding seat belt reminders and airbags, there was one more important rule: speed alert warning system!

The basic idea is this: for M and N category vehicles (M = motor vehicle with at least four wheels used for the carrying passengers, N = same, for carrying goods which may also carry persons in addition to the goods), they should include an audible speed warning system that warns the driver with frequency not less than 1 cycle every 2 minute when the vehicle’s speed indicated in the speedometer exceeds 80 km/h and continuously or intermittently with frequency not less than 1 cycle every 2 seconds when the vehicle speed indicated in the speedometer exceeds 120 km/h. (Source: PDF from MoRTH)

Now, anyone who has traveled in a cab/taxi equipped with a vocal speed alert system (you hear a lady’s voice that goes, “Please slow down. You are exceeding the speed limit”) knows that if the driver exceeds a speed, you, as a passenger, are in for some monumentally annoying times. Your options are to bear it, or plug your ears with earbuds/phones and listening to something else to drown that alert in case the driver seems bent on not caring for it.

When this rule was announced in 2018 (for all vehicles sold after July 1, 2019), this point around ‘annoyance’ was posed as a question to then Joint Secretary, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Abhay Damle (he moved out of the role in 2019).

He had replied: “We asked that if the maximum speed of the country is 120kph, why should drivers not be alerted when they exceed 120kph? A specific standard has been created, that, as and when the vehicle moves beyond 120kph, there will be a continuous audio alert which has to be a little irritating. And I was very pleased to see the irritating effect of one of the cars which has been developed. The moment it goes above 120kph, it makes an irritating noise which probably makes the driver reduce speed. It’s a very effective speed management system which we believe will be helpful in the future.

In fact, a man from Chandigarh even sued Maruti-Suzuki claiming that these alerts are ‘deficiency in service and unfair trade practice’!! He lost the case in the consumer court, understandably.

So, let’s take the irritation for granted – there is no point in debating whether this audible speed alert is needed or not, or if there is a different way that can be less irritating since it is already a rule.

Quite a few cars have already implemented this rule, like Maruti-Suzuki’s Ciaz and S-cross.

Here is what it sounds like, in a Ciaz.

Cars like KIA even allow you to edit the settings – reduce the speed for which alerts should start.

Compared to the cabs’ vocal speed alert (also in the KIA video above), these beeps seem benign and quite feeble (in comparison, strictly). I think we may even internalize that beep and perhaps get used to it, and it becoming a blindspot’s equivalent in sound as we speed up.

But, assuming that the speed alert is for our benefit (and to stay alive with all limbs intact), how could this be implemented better, if beeps seem feeble and vocal alerts sound irritating?

In a really ingenious move, Mahindra’s upcoming XUV700 is advertising ‘personalized speed alerts’. The idea, as per the promo snippet, seems to be that you can record your own speed alert message and set that to play when you cross 80 kmph and 100 kmph. But, is your own voice better than any random woman’s voice that you hear in cabs?

How Mahindra is framing this idea in a really interesting way is that they are not merely saying ‘personalized safety alerts’ where you assume you can record your own voice.

They are framing it as, “in your loved ones’ voice”! Imagine getting your spouse to alert/warn you, or your kids to record their voices to a warning script! Now, that’s inventive and something that may jolt you to reduce the speed!

I also feel there could be a lot of interesting variations that could open up via this personalized system.

Imagine, getting your dad to record in a stern voice.

Or, if you are the religious type, getting your priest to warn you.

Perhaps get celebrities to record their voices that you can download from Mahindra’s website and use (perhaps for a fee)?

You could even record your own voice with a funny script that could humorously alert you. For instance, “Abeyaar, trying to reach God so soon? Why not wait for a few more years, huh?”.

I feel Mahindra is sitting on an interesting viral promotional goldmine here and used well, this could be a really good source for unique user-generated to promote the vehicle over a long period of time.

Cover pic courtesy: The Globe and Mail

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