How Could Traffic Enforcement Play Out On Roads Of The Future?

On the roads of the future, it’s possible that speeding tickets will be doled out by new automated law enforcement systems instead of by police officers in patrol cars.

Systems now being developed by the federal government to handle vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications in an upcoming connected-car era may have the capability to more precisely track the locations and speeds of individual motorists.

Officials behind the creation of these communications systems say V2V and V2I communications are not intended for law-enforcement purposes, and a report issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month said there’s not enough data in the transmissions to link such speed calculations to individual motorists.

The agency’s top-ranking official said it was indeed possible. He said the roadblocks were in the consumer acceptance of such automated enforcement, not in the capabilities of the system.

“I know there is potential for law enforcement to optimize some of these things, but if we go too far, too fast in that direction, it could create some consumer backlash that could hurt its adoption,” said David Friedman, NHTSA’s deputy administrator. “The technology is there, but our initial design is not focused on that.”

Even if enforcement possibilities are not the intent of V2V and V2I systems, the applications of connected-car technology may eventually lie beyond the authority of its creators: laws governing traffic enforcement are largely a function of local and state governments.

With the advent of license-plate readers that record motorists’ passing of fixed locations and in-car GPS systems that collect and store location data, privacy advocates are already wary of diminished protections in automobiles. Despite assurances to the contrary, they feel it’s inevitable that V2V and V2I communication will be used to measure speed and penalize motorists who exceed limits.

“The fact you can start to track vehicles in real time, it’s too tempting to not try to implement this,” said John Bowman, communications director at the National Motorists Association. “Any type of rigorous or draconian traffic enforcement, at some point they’ll probably try to implement it. The temptation is too great.”

By transmitting and receiving real-time location information to and from other cars and traffic infrastructure, these systems will dramatically reduce accidents, untangle congested areas, optimize routes and provide information to emergency responders.

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