Dawn Of Self Driving Cars Leading To Tough Questions About The Future Of Law

Dawn Of Self Driving Cars Leading To Tough Questions About The Future Of Law

When and it what capacity can and should law enforcement direct the actions of those vehicles? A recent report published by the RAND Corp. attempts to identify and ponder these questions that will likely arise when law enforcement is confronted with self-driving vehicles.

While the report indicates that these questions are new and emerging, similar questions arose when the first vehicles hit American roadways.

The RAND report presents a hypothetical scenario as follows: “The police officer directing traffic in the intersection could see the car barreling toward him and the occupant looking down at his smartphone. Officer Rodriguez gestured for the car to stop, and the self-driving vehicle rolled to a halt behind the crosswalk.” Should the officer’s direction for the vehicle to stop be allowed under current laws and regulations regarding vehicles?

It seems that the question should be answered in the affirmative. In today’s world, drivers are required to stop when directed to do so. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that self-driving cars should do the same.

The issue arises, however, as to where to draw the line. When is a slippery slope created? Should police officers be able to direct self-driving cars to stop if they suspect a crime has been committed? And, if the passenger does not want the car to stop – can he or she override the car’s program to stop or does the direction by the officer control? All interesting issues.

The report also raises additional issues such as whether under current stop, search and seizure laws, police officers should or should not be able to direct a self-driving vehicle to identify its occupants and history of its locations.

What if a person is or is not in the vehicle? Who makes sure that the police officers have gone through the proper “judicial controls” before conducting such a search? The report points out that, “the dark side to all of the emerging access and interconnectivity is the risk to the public’s civil rights, privacy rights, and security.” Again, it would seem that these types of questions are answered on a daily basis when defendants inquire as to whether an officer had the requisite reasonable suspicion, probable cause, etc. in order to stop and question a driver.

The RAND report does not attempt to answer these “new” questions – it instead questioned a panel of 16 experts in technology and criminal justice to identify new technological developments in vehicles that may impact current law enforcement procedures and policies. According to the panel, these types of questions are already on the minds of law enforcement. And the questions will become more imminent and crucial as self-driving vehicles hit the roads sometime in the future.

The lead author of the RAND report, John S. Hollywood, reports that police currently are not pushing for enforcement control of self-driving and Internet-connected vehicles, but rather that, “developing policies and procedures for self-driving unmanned and automated vehicles” were a first priority. In fact, “Develop[ing] an interface for officers to directly take control of unmanned vehicles” was at the bottom of the priority list.

It appears that the current policies and procedures that govern law enforcement will have to be tweaked in the future when self-driving cars are a reality. However, it may surprise us that the new questions might have very similar answers to the old ones.

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