Introduction About us ITS Features ITS News Links Contact us
On the case - the creation of an insurance industry led standard for vehicle tracking 13/1/2004
A telematics scheme, designed to remotely degrade the engine power of stolen vehicles and assist in their recovery, is expected to be made available in the UK in 2005. Field trials are already under way that will, it is hoped, lead to the creation of a European standard.

CAT 5 has been developed by Thatcham, the British insurance industry's research and development establishment, in co-operation with the UK police, with the aim of improving the recovery rate of stolen, high-value vehicles.

Made up of three, distinct components - the hardware, the installation procedure, and the SOCs (Secure Operating Centres), all three elements must comply with the system's rigorous requirements in order to be recognised.

"CAT 5 is being developed in response to the need for a more efficient means of preventing vehicle thefts and is, in part, a response to the increased incidence of (ignition) key thefts," said Inspector Andrew Rooke of the ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) ITS working Group and a member of the CAT 5 working group. "The problem is particularly serious for the insurance industry who see a low recovery rate of stolen, high-value vehicles and high theft claims."

But the new scheme is more than 2 years behind an almost identical setup already operating in The Netherlands and Belgium, while others also exist in Germany and France.

"What puzzles me," said Tjip Koopmans Director of the Dutch Certification Institute, SCM (Stichting Certificering Motorrijtuigbeveiliging), "is that Thatcham was not represented on the same CEN committee (TC 278) as the Dutch and Belgians. If they didn't like what we were doing, they should have said so. As it is, Thatcham is developing an after-market system while our system caters not only for the after-market but OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), as well. We are now in danger of having two standards."

Nor is that all. CAT 5, is likely to become an insurance industry requirement for all high-value cars in the UK, leading, inevitably, to a considerable extra expense for car owners.

"The cost of CAT 5 is, at about 2,000 (2,750 Euro), likely to substantially outweigh the 5% insurance premium reduction that the industry is talking about," said Chris Cooper, Director of Operations at Navtrak. "I can see drivers of high-value vehicles shopping around for an insurance company that will insure them without the need for CAT 5 and saving themselves a great deal of money."

Despite the criticism, Thatcham remains optimistic about the prospects of lowering the incidence of high-value vehicle thefts. "We have quite specifically designed the system as an after-market product," said Martyn Randle, a research engineer at Thatcham and a founder member of the CAT 5 working group, "so as to reduce the chances of a successful (criminal) attack. No two installations will be the same, in the sense that the location of the tracking device within each vehicle will be different."

But this, according to Koopmans, raises yet another problem. "Mercedes' own engineers took four days to find a suitable location for the tracking device," he said. "If it took them that long, how will a dealer manage any quicker, without interfering with the electronic systems of the vehicle?"

There is, however, little doubt that the existence of such systems have a positive effect on the theft and recovery of high-value vehicles. "Around 60% of all high-value car thefts now involve the use of the vehicle's own key," said Inspector Rooke. "Improved vehicle security has had little effect on the ability of the thief to enter people's homes and steal the key. But the prospect of being remotely tracked and arrested in possession of the vehicle does have an effect." Later this year, CEN (Comite Europeen de Normalisation) is expected to publish a European draft pre-standard on vehicle tracking systems that will make clear the limits to which manufacturers and system suppliers may go, particularly in relation to engine degradation/influence. There is confusion about whether or not CAT 5 is compliant with the draft.

On the one hand, Thatcham claims that the system has been developed within the guidelines set down by PSDB 14/02 (Police Scientific Development Branch, report No. 14 of 2002) and that much of this document has found its way into the CEN draft pre-standard. On the other hand, Koopmans, who is himself a member of the working group (WG 14) of TC 278 that drew up the pre-standard, and is Chairman of the Commission for Anti-theft of the CEA (the European insurance association), disagrees.

"The Thatcham system does not comply with the (pre) standard," he said.

In the end, this might not matter a great deal, except that a major part of the credability of the system relies on a pan-European reach. Secure Operating Centres (SOC) in other jurisdictions will need to be satisfied that a British request for a vehicle to be tracked complies with the accepted practices set down in an eventual European standard.

This is likely to manifest itself in a refusal by local police to act. "The police are much more likely to respond to a request to stop a stolen vehicle if the request comes from a trusted local source," said Alan McInness, Chairman of Working Group 14 of TC 278 and himself a former police officer. "They have huge demands on their time and cannot always be expected to act in support of a commercially obtained product, particularly if the request comes from a non-police source, abroad."

There is also the controversial question of engine degradation to be considered. In a paper delivered to the ITS World Congress in Madrid, last November, Superintendent Jim Hammond of the UK's ACPO ITS Working Group, made it clear that the police would welcome the power to remotely degrade the engine power of stolen vehicles. While this is not current ACPO policy, there is ample evidence that as soon as the technology has reached the point where vehicles can be stopped in safety, the pressure to allow police to make us of degradation, will grow.

Martyn Randle of Thatcham made it clear that while it would be possible for a secure operating centre using the CAT 5 system, to remotely stop a vehicle, there was no prospect of using it in the near future - unless the police requested it. As matters stand, no EU member state allows a vehicle to be remotely brought to a halt although German and French law permit a vehicle to be slowed. In the UK, as in the rest of the EU, it would require a change in primary legislation to give full effect to the degrading process. In the meantime discussions on the subject are under way with the Geneva-based ECE standardisation body, the GRSG, the results of hich are expected to be published soon.

"The difficulty," said Randle, "is that while the decision to order the vehicle power to be switched off comes from a police officer, the actual signal is sent by the SOC. This could result in a delay of a minute or two during which time the circumstances surrounding the stolen car could have changed."

What is being actively considered is the ability to send a signal to the vehicle so that, once the ignition switch had been turned off, the engine cannot be restarted. The facility exists within the Dutch/Belgium system, is allowed for under the draft pre-standard and, in the UK, the regulatory authorities appear to be satisfied that the technology is robust enough to allow its deployment.

Can CAT 5 deliver? It may be too early to say with any conviction, one way or the other, but certainly the tracking and communications technologies are readily available as off-the-shelf solutions and the administrative protocols are also in place - laid down in PSDB 14/02. The only question marks are those relating to the willingness of the police to commit resources to the scheme, access to the vehicle CAN-bus - something that vehicle manufacturers are traditionally reluctant to assist with - and the extent to which drivers will buy into the system. They may, of course, have no option.

For further information, contact:
1. Martyn Randle of Thatcham on #44 1635 868 855 or E-mail:
2. Alan McInnes, Director of ACPO CPI Ltd and chairman of WG 14, Tel. #44 7946 604 201 or E-mail:
3. Chris Cooper, Director of Operations, NavTrak Ltd, Altrincham, Cheshire, UK, Tel: #44 161 929 5788 or E-mail:
4. Tjip Koopans, Director, Stichting Certificering Motorrijtuigbeveiliging, Holland. Tel: #10 284 34 02 or E-mail:
5. Inspector Andy Rooke, ACPO ITS working group, Tel: #44 1273 475 432, E-mail:
See also:
back to top
return to features