As driverless cars slowly inch toward public deployment, their presence has rapidly increased in test cities all over the world. OEMs, startups and tech giants alike are eager to test their latest innovations, hoping to perfect and eventually release vehicles that can ditch human drivers. There have been many discussions about how safety, cybersecurity and insurance will be handled. However, there is another key question that has not received nearly as much attention: how will law enforcement interact with driverless vehicles?
Terence J. McDonnell, a staff sergeant with the New York State Police, said that the most basic issue – can driverless cars be pulled over? – has already been addressed. “They’ve designed the vehicles to recognize the lights and to respond accordingly,” said McDonnell. “The vehicles out there right now on our roads do that reasonably well.”
With regard to erratic behavior (a vehicle that’s moving dangerously or inappropriately), McDonnell expects most of the potential problems to be eliminated as AV development progresses. If there are issues, however, he said it wouldn’t take much to alert nearby officers. “Certainly anything that piques the attention of law enforcement as being something out of the ordinary, potentially illegal or nefarious, is going to be warranted for a stop,” said McDonnell. “It’s a very low level of suspicion that’s needed to make a vehicle traffic stop.”
Autonomous vehicles are likely to rely on a number of location-based technologies, including GPS and V2I/V2V. These technologies will provide a lot of information that many companies are excited about, including OEMs and insurers. This data could be useful to law enforcement agencies as well. “As with any big data situation, privacy and privacy laws are a huge concern,” said McDonnell. “One of the recommendations of the AAMVA (American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators) guidance is to design the vehicle to leave an electronic fingerprint of who gave the inputs to tell the vehicle what to do. You get into a privacy issue, but the manufacturers understand that and have already been engaged in with us as to what we really need, what are we really looking for.”
McDonnell also sees value in how V2I technology might help police, particularly in a traffic control situations. “Strictly for first responder community, if our vehicles are V2I or V2V, to be able to send information that we’re operating in emergency mode [would be helpful],” he said. “To turn on four-way red lights at intersections, and to turn on or send notifications to vehicles ahead of us that we are approaching at a high rate of speed – things of that nature. There’s a very wide gamut of things that are being considered as to how V2X technologies can improve the safety for law enforcement.” With the right sensors, first responders may not even need to manually send the information to other vehicles – it could occur automatically.
“It could operate so that when you turn the lights on, it lets the infrastructure know,” said McDonnell. “And it knows what your direction of travel is, rate of speed, all that type of thing. So it’s not that you’re actually asking for it to happen, it may happen automatically.”
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Louis Bedigian is an experienced journalist and contributor to various automotive trade publications. He is a dynamic writer, editor and communications specialist with expertise in the areas of journalism, promotional copy, PR, research and social networking.