Here's How Self-Driving Cars Will Revolutionize Law Enforcement

In the field of law enforcement, a handful of groups, such as the Police Futurists International (PFI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), believe that driverless vehicles will disrupt the way police manage crime and patrol streets.

Michael Cheng
    Oct 31, 2016 8:10 PM  PT
Here's How Self-Driving Cars Will Revolutionize Law Enforcement
author: Michael Cheng   

By Michael Cheng

Envisioning a future that does not involve human drivers is difficult to picture for some individuals. For example, pioneers of the industry, including Chris Urmson (ex-director of Google's self-driving car division), foresees a future wherein teenagers will not need to acquire a driver's license at the age of 16. Breaking this tradition could actually make roads safer by allowing vehicles with hundreds of years of collective driving experience to take over the steering wheel, which in the future, will also be obsolete (level 5 autonomy).

In the field of law enforcement, a handful of groups, such as the Police Futurists International (PFI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), believe that driverless vehicles will disrupt the way police manage crime and patrol streets. Currently, most of the focus of self-driving technology revolves around private cars and public transportation. But the reality is, the nascent technology can be applied to a wide range of other sectors, like shipping, aviation and medical emergency services.

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Automated Police Duties

PFI, an organization that focuses on addressing criminal justice issues using futuristic technology, suggests that a large bulk of police work will be automated, when self-driving vehicles hit mainstream markets. Traditional police cars could be replaced by drones that monitor public roads. Moreover, an entire fleet of law enforcement vessels could be controlled and managed by one person, who doesn't have to physically be present when a ticket is issued for minor road violations.

"You could have multiple drones with one person back at the station applying human judgment when something pops up," explained Joseph A. Schafer, the criminal justice department head at Southern Illinois University. "Unlike today driving around, they might observe a fight in process."

Companies designing and developing autonomous cars, such as Google, are already adding special features that would give priority to city service vehicles (fire trucks, ambulances and police cars- just to name a few) on the road. Such emergency vehicle recognition systems would be able to quickly recognize approaching city service vessels and pull over to the side without hesitation.

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The Pointing Game

In addition to new processes and vehicles, autonomous policing will come with a completely revamped set of regulations and guidelines. With focus on liability concerns that involve driverless cars, it seems that no one is sure who should carry legal responsibilities in the event of a collision or minor traffic violation. Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that autonomous software will be considered as the driver when a human steps inside a self-driving car (this may not be applicable in early models of driverless vehicles that allow human intervention). This pivotal decision suggests that car manufacturers, software developers and designers may play a large role in settling road violations in the future.

"What we've been saying to the folks in the DMV, even in public session, for unmanned vehicles, we think the ticket should go to the company. Because the decisions are not being made by the individual," said safety director for Google's self-driving car program Ron Medford, during an interview with The Atlantic.

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