The End Of Enforcement?
Simon Pickup discusses compliance and enforcement technology for driverless vehicles
Does the inevitable introduction of increasingly automated cars and ultimately driverless vehicles spell the end of the photo enforcement industry? Since those connected and autonomous vehicles will have intelligence on board to make all the driving decisions they won’t break the speed limit or run red lights? Surely…well, it may not be so simple.
Firstly, it’ll be decades before there are only completely autonomous vehicles on the roads. So there’s a place for camera enforcement at least until then. But indeed those enforcement systems and programmes will have to change to cope with a mixed environment. Analogous to the insurance question: who receives the ticket when a driverless car is photographed, for example, driving in a dedicated bus lane? Ultimately the vehicle manufacturers may take liability, yet if the “auto-pilot” is off at the time an offence is detected, the driver should be held responsible, but the enforcement system needs to know who’s in control at the time – man or machine.
Secondly, as increasingly automated vehicle control becomes available, the vehicles will have to have demonstrably accurate speed measurement on board. This means the courts won’t be able to dismiss so lightly the defence that “my GPS shows I wasn’t speeding, your honour”. Of course, we all need to be protected from those who might wish to modify the “brain” of their autonomous vehicle, as is sometimes done now for improved performance, but the future will open up many more possibilities, whether malicious or merely selfish. Ensuring the integrity of the on-board decision system sounds like a candidate for digital signatures, encryption and certification, an area where the automated photo enforcement industry and authorities have strong expertise and a track record in safeguarding the chain of evidence. Will some core of an automated vehicle’s decision system have to be formally tested, certified and sealed?
There’ll also be new compliance issues to deal with. Which vehicles are eligible to join a platoon? Which can use the “automated lane”? Is the driver suitably trained, skilled, alert and sober, for those vehicles which will require a driver to take over at times? Do we need to ensure vehicles have the latest software updates, including virus checkers and intrusion prevention? How do we handle the sometimes-bizarre reactions to human drivers in the presence of automated vehicles? How will we encourage compliance – what type of enforcement will be appropriate?
Happily, it’s not all negative. These challenges are soluble and there is a significant incentive to solve them, given the many individual and societal benefits expected to be delivered through automated and connected vehicles – benefits to safety, travel times, journey-time certainty, road-space utilisation, emissions, accessibility of mobility and, of course, the convenience of being able to do something else whilst being driven from A to B.
I would like to think that these benefits can be granted in greater proportion to those drivers/operators showing a commitment to compliance. I am inspired by the UK DVSA’s (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) programme which exempts “exemplar” trucking operators from costly roadside inspections. (Exemplar operators are those who grant DVSA online access to their fleet telemetry and management data, demonstrating responsible operations.) I envisage that exemplar car drivers can be offered benefits along the same lines – perhaps reduced taxes, access to priority routing, access to fast lanes on motorways and so on. All of this is enabled relatively simply through the connected and automated vehicle technology coming online.
During the upcoming period of very fast change in the autonomous/connected capabilities of vehicle models, there’ll be a diverse mix of vehicles that will have to be able to interact safely and sensibly. There’ll be different versions of the V2X (vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure) communications protocols that will have to inter-operate. Of course vehicles will also have different physical performance in terms of their limits of acceleration, turning and braking.
Will each vehicle manufacturer write their own algorithms determining how they should act based on what they “know” is around them, including unconnected vehicles, pedestrians and hazards? I can imagine a pulsating mesh of vehicles with some odd oscillating resonant behaviour when separation algorithms disagree, trying to find equilibrium. Will minimum/optimum separations be agreed between automakers, and/or regulated in whole or part? How quickly should overtaking vehicles return to the slow lane? These are only a few examples, but there’ll be many more, as yet unimagined. Will compliance checks and enforcement be needed?
On the positive side, once connected vehicles become prevalent, the blunt instrument of fixed speed limits in multiples of 10 km/h (or mph) can be replaced by continuously varying limits wirelessly communicated to vehicles. There won’t need to be roadside speed signs. Even further ahead, authorities may be able to define rules by which a vehicle can be legally authorised to determine its own maximum safe speed, based on knowledge of its own capabilities, surrounding vehicles (and their capabilities), weather, road geometry and condition, time of day, visibility of potential hazards, quality of data connection and mapping information. With this, there’s no reason why vehicles cannot to be allowed to travel at significantly greater speeds under the right circumstances.
Perhaps connected vehicles will be able to continuously report self-test data to avoid or minimise the inconvenience of off-road regular compliance testing (eg the UK MOT). Perhaps every vehicle on the road, with its known-accurate speed measurement and sensing technology, can be a mobile speed camera, detecting speeding, tailgating and other offences in a way that can be reliably prosecuted.
Let’s not forget that privacy is an important concern, but the DVSA example has shown that many well-behaved commercial road users are willing to sacrifice some privacy for tangible benefits, and to market their gold status; the black-box insurance industry has been somewhat successful in the private market, but it remains to be seen how much data the broader population of private road users are willing to give away for the various benefits brought as vehicles become so much more connected.
It is easy to think that this is all unrealistic, and it is true that the rate of change in driving technology has been slow in recent decades, but we can already see game-changing features such as Tesla’s autopilot coming onto the market. The road enforcement industry – the technology providers, the authorities as regulators and purchasers, the road operators and other stakeholders – need to be prepared to be flexible over the coming decade, to encourage innovation and allow their systems and processes to adapt over time.
The technology is moving very fast. Regulation is necessarily slower, in order to ensure safe adoption meeting desired policy outcomes. The enforcement industry has often led within the realm of Intelligent Transport Systems because of the clear business case. Whilst traditional fixed camera systems may have a limited life, there are exciting possibilities coming in this nexus between technology and law, if we’re all up to the challenge.
Simon Pickup has been a long-term executive in Redflex Traffic Systems and is now an independent consultant at Pickup Infinity Limited