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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