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January 25, 2012
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How do you police cars that drive themselves?

Self-driving vehicles are currently being tested in California, raising questions among academics and officials

By PoliceOne Staff

Self-driving vehicles are currently being tested in California, raising questions among academics and officials that include — of particular relevance to law enforcement — what would happen if one of these vehicles needed to be pulled over.

Google is leading the testing, and according to the New York Times, has demonstrated that computerized drivers are workable and could prevent traffic fatalities and injuries, which number at 33,000 and 1.2 million annually.

Last week speakers gathered at the Law Review and High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, a daylong symposium for debating the finer points of the so-called autonomous vehicles. Speakers said even if they are technologically feasible — and a few kinks need to be worked out — insurance regulation, legal liability and privacy, and other challenges loom, like whether police can stop the cars.

"It’s a 21st-century Fourth Amendment seizure issue," Frank Douma, a research fellow at the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota said.

The vehicles would supposedly be law-abiding, which itself poses another problem for Dr. Sven A. Beiker, executive director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University, who said "because the car is so polite it might be sitting at a four-way intersection forever, because no one else is coming to a stop."

Other speakers noted the federal government does not have enough information to determine how to regulate the technology, and law professor Gary E. Marchant emphasized issues of liability.

"Why would you even put money into developing it?" he asked. "I see this as a huge barrier to this technology unless there are some policy ways around it."

Beiker said he could not predict exactly when autonomous vehicles might arrive due to the various challenges.

"Twenty years from now we might have completely autonomous vehicles," he said, "maybe on limited roads."






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