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Transportation Crime The Almighty Buck

Driverless Cars Could Cripple Law Enforcement Budgets 626

Posted by Soulskill
from the jaywalking-soon-to-become-very-expensive dept.
colinneagle writes "Google's driverless cars have now combined to drive more than 700,000 miles on public roads without receiving one citation, The Atlantic reported this week. While this raises a lot of questions about who is responsible to pay for a ticket issued to a speeding autonomous car – current California law would have the person in the driver's seat responsible, while Google has said the company that designed the car should pay the fine – it also hints at a future where local and state governments will have to operate without a substantial source of revenue.

Approximately 41 million people receive speeding tickets in the U.S. every year, paying out more than $6.2 billion per year, according to statistics from the U.S. Highway Patrol published at StatisticBrain.com. That translates to an estimated $300,000 in speeding ticket revenue per U.S. police officer every year. State and local governments often lean on this source of income when they hit financial trouble. A study released in 2009 examined data over a 13-year period in North Carolina, finding a 'statistically significant correlation between a drop in local government revenue one year, and more traffic tickets the next year,' Popular Science reported. So, just as drug cops in Colorado and Washington are cutting budgets after losing revenue from asset and property seizures from marijuana arrests, state and local governments will need to account for a drastic reduction in fines from traffic violations as autonomous cars stick to the speed limit."
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Driverless Cars Could Cripple Law Enforcement Budgets

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:30PM (#47048763)

    So what's the next shakedown target in this game of "citizens vs government"?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aurizon (122550)

      As we speak, we have large penalties for all the driving offences, speeding, not stopping, bad lane changes and signal failures. The main reason is the large cost of the police and court system.
      I suggest they impose a summary fine amount, with no points or other consequences, of $10 on each offence and use traffic cams to impose them. The ticket would have a choice of $10 pay and be done with it or $300 for a court appearance, plus driver demerit points and insurer notification of a trial discovers guilt. U

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Richy_T (111409)

        Yes, life would be so much easier if we could just eliminate that whole legal system thing.

      • With the need of LESS law enforcement, maybe that's not such of a bad thing.
      • by jopsen (885607) <jopsen@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @05:48PM (#47051181) Homepage

        As it is now, people are forced to fight and win/lose, the system costs rise.

        Speeding tickets is the one place where plea bargins makes sense... So yeah consider that...


        On topic, this article is ridiculous.. most Americans won't be able to afford a new self driving car for years... So the poor will still have to pay tickets for many years to comes (you really have well rigged system for the rich).
        Either way, when self driving cars are dominating you'll also see other things, such as: fewer accidents, less time wasted in traffic, less wear and tear on the road. All things that save the state money.
        Not to mention all the productive hours people spending in traffic, where they could be productive, make money and generate even more taxes.


        Better transportation is probably good for the economy.

    • If we're smart, the next target will be making sure tax revenue and spending (like on police forces) must match so that locales don't do annoying, ineffective things like writing much more tickets to make up the difference.

      If we're about as dumb as we always have been, more tickets for jaywalking, more sales taxes (which are politically okay because they affect poor people a lot more than rich people), and cutting spending (on poor people obviously).
  • by Kaenneth (82978) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:32PM (#47048781) Homepage Journal

    Good /GrumpyCat

  • At least the car will be polite to the ticketing officer....
  • by AlienSexist (686923) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:32PM (#47048789)
    "Gee Officer, I don't know why this thing is speeding"
    • by sinij (911942) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:45PM (#47048955) Journal

      Is this wise? They know where you live. Plus, your car can tow away itself.

    • If the vendor pays, then the vendor owns the brain in the car you bought rather than YOU owning the brain in YOUR car.
      They will make modding the car illegal as they own it. And if they are liable for it's misbehavior, that even makes sense.

      Do you want to live in a world where you own your property?
      Or would you prefer to rent a license from the corporate overlords?

      • Do you want to live in a world where you own your property?

        I take it you don't actually read EULAs...

        Seriously, what makes you think, considering the way electronic/software law has gone, that the manufacturers won't make you sign a document that waives their responsibility AND your ownership of the machine, like, game consoles, or mobile phones, or [name something with hardware/software]? If I'm not legally allowed to modify the software in my 13 year old Xbox, I highly doubt I'd be allowed to do the same with a brand new auto-car.

      • by dnavid (2842431)

        If the vendor pays, then the vendor owns the brain in the car you bought rather than YOU owning the brain in YOUR car. They will make modding the car illegal as they own it. And if they are liable for it's misbehavior, that even makes sense.

        Do you want to live in a world where you own your property? Or would you prefer to rent a license from the corporate overlords?

        I don't mod my car now, for the same reason the vast majority of people do not mod their cars now: it would void the warranty. I doubt they would make it explicitly illegal to "mod" an autonomous car, they would just place significant liability responsibility on anyone tampering with the autonomous driving systems. As well they should: if you tamper with them and that tampering causes someone to die, you should be held fully responsible.

        I own my own home (and the land its on), I don't rent or lease becaus

  • by Andrio (2580551) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:32PM (#47048791)

    Saving the common people several billions a year would send nothing but good vibrations up the economic chain. Yeah, some cops may lose their jobs, but the billions extra that people would have every year means other jobs get created elsewhere.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:39PM (#47048881)

      And direct and indirect public and private expenses due to traffic accidents will plummet saving much, much more than the speeding tickets could ever generate.

    • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:40PM (#47048885)

      Saving the common people several billions a year would send nothing but good vibrations up the economic chain. Yeah, some cops may lose their jobs, but the billions extra that people would have every year means other jobs get created elsewhere.

      There is no reason for any police to lose their job. Now the police can go back to doing what they are supposed to be doing. Traffic tickets aren't supposed to be a source of revenue. Every police office operating a radar gun and giving out traffic tickets is one less police officer available to go after real criminals.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This. The revenue for cops should come from state/local taxes, the money for the roads should be through the DMV/licensing fees (like it is in most of the places I've lived). If these cops don't need to be out stopping petty speeding crimes, that makes them available to bust the *real* criminals: politicians.

      • by lgw (121541)

        I like this world you imagine where police officers "go after real criminals". Sounds better than our world.

      • If the number of cops that we have is greater than the number of cops we need to actually keep us safe, then some cops would lose their job. The reality would be that those cops shouldn't have been employed in the first place.
      • by Dahamma (304068)

        Of course there is a reason (there is no money to pay them), and traffic tickets ARE a major source of revenue, so it doesn't really matter what they were "supposed to be".

        The only way to maintain the same number of police officers would be to collect an extra $300,000 per officer in whatever municipality pays their salary. It doesn't matter where the money comes from when they are calculating the budget - if income from fines drops, they have to make it up somewhere else.

        And it's so much more complicated

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Unlike neoliberal economists I categorize economic activity by importance. Cops shaking down motorists for cash is a deadweight loss to the economy.

  • Translation: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:32PM (#47048795)

    A study released in 2009 examined data over a 13-year period in North Carolina, finding a 'statistically significant correlation between a drop in local government revenue one year, and more traffic tickets the next year'

    The justice system and the police are primarily a revenue tool, to be unleashed as required, and controlled by factors other than the law.

    And people wonder why the police are largely treated with mistrust and disdain.

    If speeding tickets are just a shake down to pad out budgets, then the police are just flunkies, crooks and toll collectors.

    Fuck the police.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:34PM (#47048817)

    There's no money lost here. Writing tickets didn't generate anything for the economy, other than perhaps the reduction in destruction of property. Clearly if driverless cars aren't breaking the laws, then that reduction is occurring in a much more efficient manner. Thus driverless cars are a net GAIN to the total economy, not a drain.

  • Supply and Demand (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Less speeders means less traffic cops which means less need for traffic cops which means budget problem solved. Cops that exist to give traffic tickets will not be needed. After all, if traffic tickets pay their salary, and there are no more traffic tickets...sounds like supply and demand balancing things out just fine.

  • Oh no! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:36PM (#47048845) Homepage Journal
    But, but what about our conflict of interest? How are we supposed to operate a law enforcement and public safety organization without making revenue collection part of enforcement? How are we going to make the system unfair if we start eliminating inherent conflicts of interest? It's totally unfair to the government, we must punish those people for not breaking the law by making them pay a fine. I mean that's what we already do in some states (like mine) to punish people who try to help the environment by driving green vehicles.

    Seems to me that if enforcement actions are no longer necessary, then you won't need as big of a police force so the loss of revenue will be offset by not having to pay the salaries of all of those traffic cops. This is a non-issue.
    • by vux984 (928602)

      Seems to me that if enforcement actions are no longer necessary, then you won't need as big of a police force so the loss of revenue will be offset by not having to pay the salaries of all of those traffic cops. This is a non-issue

      Traffic enforcement is clearly revenue generating, over and above the cost of the enforcement itself.

      Other police work, is clearly not. There is no revenue from solving a murder, or a missing person, nor for catching a rapist, or theif.

      So the traffic enforcement was subsidizing th

  • So no more end-of-the-month speed traps by police departments to balance their budgets? Whatever will our police departments do for money? Reminds me of the outcry when The National Maximum Speed Law was eventually disregarded by almost every state and they raised their respective speed limits back up to 65mph on most highways -- because lowering it to 55mph did nothing to reduce accidents. Oh, the funds staties lost.
    • by Spy Handler (822350) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:41PM (#47048903) Homepage Journal

      So no more end-of-the-month speed traps by police departments to balance their budgets? Whatever will our police departments do for money?

      Wait, I've gotten speeding tickets before and I've always had to write the check to the city/county courthouse, not the police department.

      • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @03:41PM (#47049675)

        Which usually goes back to local law enforcement, or at least a portion of that, but not in all states. There are cities here in Missouri where the local governments made up most of the revenue from traffic violations. A couple cities were famous for this until the state passed some laws prohibiting them from doing this.

        Nebraska, I believe, collects all traffic fines revenue and then doles that money out to the schools instead of police departments. Doesn't matter if it's a local cop or a state trooper who pulls you over and issues you the citation, the money goes to the state to prevent what occurred in Missouri.

  • Freeway Neutrality? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tranquilidad (1994300) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:37PM (#47048857)

    Allow the local governments to charge more for faster lanes.

    Oh, wait, they already do that in some localities [hctra.org].

    • by Megane (129182)
      I was giggling inside until I saw "katy" in that link and realized it was Houston. They're working to put "managed lanes" in Austin, too, on Mopac. At least in the case of Houston, they've had HOV lanes on I-10 almost forever. I'm not sure how they can tell whether you are HOV or not (the front window isn't enough, what if someone is in the back seat?), so I guess it's based on having HOV hours and toll hours, but they don't explicitly explain that.
    • by bigwheel (2238516)

      Or allow people to pay more for the luxury of driving 10 mph faster. (I'm being sarcastic.)

  • So what...? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:38PM (#47048863) Homepage

    So law enforcement budgets will be lower, but the need for law enforcement will also be lower because you won't have to pay as many cops to run around patrolling the roads and writing tickets. Plus there will be fewer injuries and less property damage due to reckless driving, which means less economic waste.

    If law enforcement legitimately needs more money, then raise taxes and pay for it. People keep talking like it's bad for the economy to permanently address problems because we'll have fewer jobs consisting of temporarily patching those problems. It's just another variation on the "broken window fallacy" [wikipedia.org].

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:38PM (#47048865) Homepage

    current California law would have the person in the driver's seat responsible

    The car is either driverless, or it isn't. Either the car maker is responsible, or the owner is.

    But, really, who the hell is going to take liability for a device which says "I'm in charge of driving, you just sit there" right up until it goes into panic mode half a second before you impact with something and says "bummer dude, you're now in charge, evade quickly, liability transferred to passenger".

    Sorry, but if I'm sitting there reading my newspaper or whatever, I'm not controlling the vehicle. If I'm responsible for controlling the vehicle, then I will actually be controlling the vehicle.

    There's simply no room for a sudden shift in blame to the person in the drivers seat ... that makes no sense whatsoever.

    And if the car suddenly loses its marbles and mows down a bunch of schoolkids, you think the cargo/passengers suddenly own responsibility for that?

    This to me has always been the point at which driverless cars kind of fall apart, determining who is really in charge, and defining what that means.

    • Driverless is not very accurate description of what is going on. Semi-autonomous seems a bit better but lacks marketing flash.

      I'd suspect that no matter what the 'driver' is going to be given the ticket, maybe the 'car' gets a copy too. Some investigation will have to be done (and laws updated) to determine fault (what is you live in a no fault state). Was the car in autonomous mode? Was the firmware/software current? Did the driver ignore a warning?

      The expectations of the driver will also have to be d

      • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @03:35PM (#47049601) Homepage

        Driverless is not very accurate description of what is going on. Semi-autonomous seems a bit better but lacks marketing flash.

        The car is either autonomous, or it isn't. If it isn't autonomous, I'll drive it myself and be in control the whole time.

        Semi-autonomous means we'll give you the illusion you're not in control, but we might randomly shift blame to you.

        Either the car is 100% in control, or the driver is 100% in control. There is no gray area in which both are in control. There is no transition from "car in charge" to "human in charge".

        It has to be all or nothing. Semi-autonomous is a huge bit of weaseling to say "we're mostly in control, but you're responsible". It can't be a fluid thing where once you've dozed off or started doing something related to not driving the car where all of a sudden you are in control and must react.

        If you really think liability is going to be determined by what firmware the car is running, and who is responsible for updating it ... then I will tell you right now, driverless cars will forever be in the domain of a gimmick, but for which the actual laws aren't inadequate. And, if the laws aren't adequate, you either need to fix all of the laws, or basically say you can't have driverless cars.

        Me, I'd refuse to take any responsibility for the vehicle, and wouldn't sit in an operators seat. Either the car has it and can handle it, or it bloody well can't.

        And, until someone settles the legal questions of "what happens when I'm sleeping in my backseat with nobody to interact with the car", being in a legal gray area more or less nullifies anything supposedly useful about a "semi autonomous car".

    • Does the law mandate someone being in the driver's seat? What happens if me and two of my friends get in and avoid the driver's seat? What happens if I send my car out for my kid or groceries by itself? That last one may not be a now question, but it is a question that will need to be answered sometime.
    • by ichthus (72442)
      Furthermore, one of the nice things about autonomous vehicles will be the ability to have ZERO passengers in some circumstances. Need to pick your dad up from the airport? Send the empty car. Kids need to be dropped off at school while you do a little grocery shopping? Let the car drop you off, take the kids, and then return to the parking lot of the grocery store.

      No person should be responsible, because no person should be required present.
  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:39PM (#47048877)
    When people are convicted of crimes, they are to be punished. Tickets are that document of infraction (crime punishable by fine). More severe punishments are misdemeanors and felonies (punishable by fines and/or free lodging at the slammer). So when governments use tickets as revenue sources, something has gone wrong in judicial process (yes, so what else new?).
  • by Zed Pobre (160035) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:39PM (#47048879)

    ... but have they tested it with a black dude in the driver's seat [youtube.com]?

  • The question I'd like to see answered with data to back it up is how many time are officers out handing out moving vehicle violations vs. how much money do they bring in? If they weren't out spending time/budget on writing tickets, would additional work get done, or would there be superfluous staff that could be cut? I think it's important to have a well staffed police department should trouble occur, but if they are using tickets to increase their budget I question if they are just trying to support too much overhead.
  • by sir_eccles (1235902) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:40PM (#47048893)

    You know through taxes.

    While you're at it how about properly funding schools through taxes rather than bake sales. Actually there are a lot of things that could benefit just by being properly funded by taxes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:41PM (#47048901)

    More and more departments are buying more and more stuff they simply don't need. More and more departments are starting up SWAT teams they don't need. I'm sorry, a town of 5,000 simply doesn't need a special weapons and tactics unit. They just don't. Studies have shown that when departments start up special units, guess what? They want to use those units. These units get paid more. Police salaries are already too high in many places. Police administration salaries are ridiculously high, some over $250,000. Admin salaries should be capped below 100k. Police salaries should be capped at well under 100k. Public servants should never be getting rich. All public service jobs should be capped.

    For too long, police and cities have begun to rely on the "revenue" from tickets and parking citations. Parking I can see somewhat. But too many places have quotas that police have to meet with giving out citations rather than actually policing. All cities should require police to walk their beats for the first few years like they used to. Police have gotten away from this and as a result, the streets are worse, no one knows anyone else, and the police don't have a vested interest like they once did.

    Enough of this nonsense.

  • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:43PM (#47048927)

    Would it pull over if it sees the blinking lights / siren behind it?

    Could you spoof it with a bunch of blinking xmas lights on the side of the road?

  • Either move them to other types of crimes or let them go. I don't see why law enforcement should be immune to downsizing. If it's essential to keep these guys on the force, it shouldn't be hard to make the case to the taxpayers.
  • Need more cops (Score:4, Insightful)

    by linear a (584575) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:47PM (#47048987)
    $6.2 gigabucks/year is $300K/officer? That means 20,667 officers for the whole country. Methinks one or more numbers here is fudge.
  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by azav (469988) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:50PM (#47049035) Homepage Journal

    The problem is "law enforcement" agencies using enforcement as revenue streams for cities and states.

    This puts law enforcement against the very people they are supposed to serve and protect.

    • This puts law enforcement against the very people they are supposed to serve and protect.

      Not according to the SCOTUS - go look up "Warren v DC"

      Per that decision, the job of LEOs is to, "maintain the status quo," and they in fact have "no duty to protect the safety of individual citizens."

      Food for thought next time your local PD starts trying to scare you into increasing their budget so they can hire more officers to "protect" the public.

    • Yes. Having fines go to local law enforcement really is the root of the problem.

  • Apparently there is a strong case to be made that traffic fines are a covert source of taxation. Therefore we need to make laws that insure that the cities, states and counties lose a bit of money every time a ticket is written. We must insure that there is no financial motive for traffic law enforcement. This a a huge example of the rut that modern times impose upon us. Unfair, unreasonable, traffic enforcement just might be the only way we have to prevent criminal chaos from ruling the streets
    • There is nothing COVERT about it. Driving 65 in a 50 in Virginia in a long line of cars going 65. I am the only one with an out-of-state tag so of course the popo pull ME out of the line. Out of state drivers rarely come back to court, they just send in the cash.
  • by RandomUsername99 (574692) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:52PM (#47049059)

    If the system is funded in large part by criminalizing a behavior so consistent and common that it can fund life-long full time salaries with benefits and pensions, then it's a system worth dismantling. Defending the need to criminalize otherwise law abiding adults for budgetary purposes is obscenely poor governing. If we, as a society, deem the crime important enough to stop, and it's rampant enough to be an epidemic, make an earnest effort to stop the crime. If it's really not that big of a deal, change the laws to reflect that. Riding the sweet spot where it's not enough of a penalty, consistently enough, to really dissuade people from doing it, yet it's enough to be profitable for the people exacting the fines, is unethically exploitative. If your government department needs funding, then get it through taxes, not extortion.

  • So this would be like those autonomous traffic light camera's issuing automatic tickets, which it totally about driver safety and totally not about the creation of a revenue stream.

    Issuing speeding tickets should be about you know "law enforcement" and "public safety", not the generation of wealth.

    In the new world we are heading, autonomous cars would likely be tamper proof (unless at a properly registered service prefecture), and should a seal be broken, its location would be immediately transmitted for ma

  • Easy, change the road signs over to captcha problems making it difficult for driver less cars to determine the speed limit or road instructions.
  • by thewils (463314) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @03:02PM (#47049199) Journal

    Driverless car pulled over by driverless cop car and given a ticket.

  • If the government operations, police etc, are reliant on speeding tickets and other fines to operate then there is a serious problem with the funding model for that operation.

    A very serious self interested model that should have been rejected from conception by a rational society.

    Ok the civil structure is funded by fineing people for misbehaving. Means that the civil structure either requires that people misbehave or that people who are not misbehaving get ticketed anyways. The pressure will then be on the

  • by crow (16139) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @03:04PM (#47049221) Homepage Journal

    It's not just about the money. Traffic stops are a major tool that police use in law enforcement. If they think someone is suspicious, they look for a traffic violation as an excuse to pull them over and investigate. Likewise, normal traffic stops give officers a chance to notice suspicious activity.

    Someone should dig up the numbers for the percentage of arrests that begin with a traffic stop.

    I'll Google that for me:

    http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHT... [nhtsa.gov]

    While there may not be solid data nationally, at least in this one area, traffic stops account for about a third of all arrests.

  • 1. good... Our law enforcement is far to militarized as it is. Fewer MRAPs and Assault Rifles would do the police some good. Maybe they should have more patience and be a little less willing to start throwing stun grenades and spraying the room with lead if they couldn't afford vests.

    2. The driver should receive the ticket. People will be modding their cars just like they do their phone. Give the driver the ticket, who will then call the car manufacturer for reimbursement if it was the manufactures fault.

  • Aren't the driving rules there for our safety, not for local government profit?

    Boy, the GOP must LOVE this idea because it reduces the size of government and frees up police for more important jobs

  • by way2trivial (601132) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @03:25PM (#47049485) Homepage Journal

    is 20,773 cops NATIONWIDE, or 415 cops per state....

  • by jratcliffe (208809) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @06:02PM (#47051291)

    That $300k number is just absurd. $6.2 billion in fines, divided by $300k per police officer, would imply only 21,000 police officers. There are 34,500 officers in New York City ALONE. Wikipedia puts the total at around 930k sworn officers with arrest powers (765k state/local, plus 44k part-time, plus 120k federal).

    Even using only fulltime, and ignoring the Federal officers, would get you to about $8k, not $300k.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L... [wikipedia.org]

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