Policing in a Self-Driving World

I think one of the biggest areas of society that self-driving cars will change, and one of the least-appreciated areas, will be policing.

Most of the interactions I have had with police are related to driving, and once the car is driving for me, those interactions will go away. Maybe they’ll be replaced by other police interactions, or maybe not. But it will be different.

The Marshall Project has a thinkpiece up about this topic today:

So what’s the big deal if police can no longer make traffic stops? It’s about half of what police do, says [criminology Professor Joseph] Schafer. He estimates such stops, along with traffic accidents, account for nearly 50 percent of all police-public encounters.

The end of traffic stops would have surprisingly large implications.

For example, traffic stops were a key part of the race riots in Ferguson, Missouri:

Another aspect of this situation might stem from a system that burdens the poor and black in Ferguson. Minor traffic offenses are the starting point, and the costs spiral up rapidly if the offenders do not pay the fines on time or do not appear in court. The income from court fines represented the second largest source of revenue for Ferguson in 2013. On October 1, 2014, the city of St. Louis cancelled 220,000 arrest warrants and gave a three-month delay to the offenders to get a new court date before the warrants would be reissued.

Ferguson might be an outlier, but traffic fines provide a huge part of the budget of many police departments or even cities.

Police may be sanguine about self-driving cars until it really becomes obvious how deeply self-driving cars can hit their funding structure.

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