This Changes Everything…

Self-Driving Cars and Traffic Citations


Image Credit: Cop pulls over Google’s self-driving car

In 2015 the United States was on track to have its deadliest traffic year since 2007.

And although not all of these deaths may be preventable, sadly most were…

That is one of the biggest reasons I am a huge supporter of the advancement of self-driving cars. The needless loss of life that could be prevented with technology is enough that we should be throwing tons of resources behind this issue.

But before we break the bank, we’ve got to follow the money.

“A police officer was caught by surprise recently when he pulled a motorist over for driving too slow, only to discover there was no one behind the wheel.”

Political views aside on other means of revenue generation for our “great” nation, it is commonly accepted that traffic citations are often a source of revenue, especially for local governments. And just like other industries are facing disruption, the government will have to join the side of innovation or be left in the dust as the car industry changes.

The following are 7 issues I see that law enforcement and the citizenry will face when self-driving cars begin to be integrated into our streets.

1. Routine Stops

The article quoted above where the officer found a driverless car is funny. Funny, until you are a “passenger/operator” in the vehicle when the police lights flash.

My concerns are with the legal assignment of responsibility in a self-driving car situation, specifically with traffic violations.

Say the police in the story above found you behind the wheel. But you weren’t driving. At least not in the everyday sense we know today. Now say the car had exceeded the posted speed limit. Are you to blame? I suppose if the car allows for operator override, yes? Assuming you were paying attention and knew the speed limit…

To further complicate the matter, I am hoping and envisioning a self-driving car networked with sharing-economy ride services that would mean I don’t even own the car that takes me from A to B. So the vehicle in question doesn’t even belong to me and now I am facing a legal accusation.

This is something we will need to sort out going forward.

2. My next issue that we will face is what will the drivers be doing?

Tesla has its new ability, hands free on the highway. And I don’t know about you, but I like to do things when I am just sitting around. I would like to be able to read a book or maybe even take a nap as I ride to my destination.

Or say I have business to attend to and need to send out a quick text….

But in some places, like the town of Little Elm, Texas, they have a new law on the books that “even holding your phone or other electronic device, you can be ticketed and fined”.

What if you are behind the wheel of a self-driving car and on your phone?  Still get a ticket?

3. Accidents

John Taylor, Esq. in his article “Automated driving: Where will it take us?” addresses the issue in depth and addresses personal injury lawsuits and how they involve claims for negligence relating to the operation of a Motor Vehicle.

How does one identify the party at fault when the party is akin to an appliance, or when the failures can be those appliances can be attributed to software or hardware? There are two approaches that I imagine as we move forward into this new age. First, the laws need to be updated to support the potential scenarios we may find ourselves in. Second, when an accident occurs, the strategy for litigation will also change.

4. Red Light Cameras

Another means of traffic control and citation comes from the law enforcements use of red light cameras. Now we have technology vs. technology. This is where I see a great opportunity for both the government and the governed to partner to improve self-driving technology.

There is an elaborate pre-existing network of traffic control cameras that allow the continuous monitoring of our roadways and traffic lights. This data could be shared and partnered with a self-driving car network to allow the vehicles access to information.

This could allow cars to stop in advance of red lights. It could also help with traffic flow and other traffic pattern issues.  This article “Google Maps For Android Gets Predictive With Driving Mode” already shows the ability of avoiding traffic issues with predictive driving features. And apps like Waze have built a community that helps report other issues like objects in the road and lane closures that help fellow Wazers.

The technology can be partnered together to make the world a safer place to be transported.

5. Tolls

 Most all navigation apps alert that “tolls” are part of a route. In the scenario that I am imagining, being picked up by a Lyft or Uber type service self-driving car, the acceptance of tolls at the start of the ride will need to be stated clearly and credited to the user’s account.

Being clear and upfront is the key.

6. Vehicle Maintenance/ Registration / Damages

Presumably the platform that runs the network would be responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle. But say one rolls up for you to get in, but you notice damage. Will there be a way to report it? Will a replacement arrive quickly enough to get you to where you need to go?

Maybe a quick photo will be all it takes…

In my state, all vehicles have to have registration and inspection.

Which is another source of revenue for the government.

A fleet of networked vehicles will hold the promise of needing less cars on the road, which not only alleviates traffic, but is better for the environment and allows for a reduction of the use of resources. But this would also hamstring the money flow that comes from the necessary stickers.

Even if the self-driving fleet had to maintain its registration sticker, the company responsible would be liable, right? So if an officer pulls over my self-driving ride, am I gonna have to get a citation?

Not over my dead body…

Which brings me to my last concern:

7. Auto-Pullover

I see this as a potential life saving feature and a huge pain in the ass. On the plus side, I could see this feature being integrated into the network with the traffic control system. The emergency response vehicles could send out a signal that could beam to the self-driving vehicle and cause it to move aside so the EMT can safely and quickly pass.

The flip side is the ability of law enforcement to use a similar system to require your vehicle to stop, possibly without your knowledge or consent.

Which could end badly with the way some people have thin skin and preconceived notions that the police are out to get them.

However, this again could be good in the case of need where the police are in pursuit of a criminal.

In the future, it may be all a matter of perspective.

If not already…

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