Dealing with future mobility requirements: How do legislators and authorities handle them?
Dealing with future mobility requirements: How do legislators and authorities handle them?
( Source: gemeinfrei / Unsplash)

Designing data policies Policing the future

Author / Editor: Shift Automotive 2019 / Florian Richert

Many question marks around the autonomous driving could already be clarified, but not yet all. Legal issues remain a challenge. Autonomous cars will soon be on our roads, but can law enforcement keep up with AV innovation?

Filming a Hollywood blockbuster high speed car chase between the LA Police Department and a renegade character has been a classic set-piece for directors of action movies over the years, featuring close-up shots of a sweaty brow and some over-dramatic wrestling with a steering wheel. However, with the advent of autonomous vehicles (AV), will these car chases be consigned to history, and what does this new technology mean for those tasked with hunting down the bad guys?

As the technology that underpins autonomous driving makes the transition from conceptual thinking to pilot scheme, it’s only a matter of time before fully driverless cars begin to appear on public streets. There are new developments in the driverless car space almost daily and major car manufacturers, ride sharing services and technology companies, including Google and Apple, are investing in what they consider to be the future of mobility, with the industry forecast to be worth $7 trillion by 2050. As the potential grows for driverless cars to eventually dominate our roads, what are the implications for those tasked with policing them?

Facial recognition

In China, where the government is providing huge financial backing for the development of autonomous driving, there has been a proactive shift in road traffic policing using AI technology – undoubtedly with a view to greater digital integration in the near future.

The pioneering super city Shenzhen, home of huge technology firms like Huawei and Tencent – and 12 million people – is expanding its network of facial recognition surveillance cameras following its successful first step in identifying jay-walkers. These cameras will be situated in particularly busy intersections, and around schools, and provide not only an image of the car’s registration plate, but also a 4K picture of the driver’s face, which can then be identified from a police database using facial recognition technology.

What’s more, in response to the increase in demand for digitised law enforcement, Huawei have reportedly submitted a patent for technology that detects whether the ‘driver’ in an autonomous car is fit to be in control of the vehicle. Current legislation dictates that just being sat in the driving seat means that a person is in control, and this will remain the case in AV vehicles.

By means of a set of questions, together with advanced facial recognition software using surround sensory cameras, the technology will be able to monitor facial expressions and movements that indicate whether a person is under the influence of a drug, including alcohol, or simply too tired to be responsible should the car need to be physically commandeered. This is a proactive solution that should, theoretically, challenge driver complacency in the new age of mobility solutions, preventing legal question marks around who is to blame should the system crash and require them to respond to real time driving conditions.

Exploiting legislative loopholes

Meanwhile, in the USA, legislation is constantly being updated to reflect the growing research and capabilities of AVs, with the House of Representatives passing an autonomous vehicle legislation bill last year that encourages the testing and deployment of AVs with a view to securing safety standards. With 72% of business leaders defining AI as a “business advantage,” the most sophisticated criminal enterprises will no doubt be tracking the changes, with a view to taking advantage of the legal loopholes that exist during this transitional period.

Criminal groups have always been quick to exploit cutting edge technology for their own gains – cyber-crime in all its various forms being a case in point. AVs could be conducive to narcotics smuggling, for example, particularly level 5 models that will require no driver. To this end, law enforcement organisations will need to revise their strategies to allow for traffic stops of AVs if there is a suspicion that the vehicle is being used to transport drugs or indeed any other contraband.

Will overriding individual AV systems prove to be a more arduous process if there is no human interaction? Traditionally, stopping drivers who have performed a minor traffic violation has been a method through which police can jump start investigations into suspicious activity. The advent of unmanned vehicles will therefore result in fewer driving infractions and take away the ability to conduct the traffic stops that have, up to this point, proved effective in uncovering illicit criminal activity.

Autonomous police vehicles

On the other side of the law, it’s interesting to note the corresponding development of autonomous police cars, with Ford submitting a patent to develop driverless police cars. Through AI integration, these vehicles will be able to detect breaches of traffic law, issue remote warnings to offending vehicles, and check the validity of the driver’s licence. Tracking the movement of illegal goods remains a sticking point but streamlining traffic regulation through autonomous police cars could ultimately allow for police resources to be diverted elsewhere.

Many of the questions that need to be answered when it comes to law enforcement in the age of AVs will be dependent on the evidence that comes from further development and testing. Stretched police forces may find that constantly playing catch up and forecasting where the technology is heading could prove a fruitless task. What’s more, policing tactics, particularly on the front line, are generally reactive to the way that criminals operate. It will therefore be up to the chiefs and commissioners to decide whether predictive implementation is a course worth pursuing, in order to effectively adapt to future challenges.

About Shift Automotive
SHIFT Automotive is taking place from 10-11 September 2019 in Berlin, in conjunction with IFA, the world’s leading trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances.