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Speeding Ticket Robots — Laws As Algorithms 400

An anonymous reader writes "As the age of autonomous cars and drone surveillance draws nearer, it's reasonable to expect government to increasingly automate enforcement of traffic laws. We already deal with red light cameras, speed limit cameras, and special lane cameras. But they aren't widespread, and there are a host of problems with them. Now, Ars reports on a group of academics who are attempting to solve the problem of converting simple laws to machine-readable code. They found that when the human filter was removed from the system, results became unreasonable very quickly. For example, if you aren't shy about going 5 mph over the limit, you'll likely break the law dozens of times during an hour of city driving. On the freeway, you might break it continuously for an hour. But it's highly unlikely you'd get more than one ticket for either transgression. Not so with computers (PDF): 'An automated system, however, could maintain a continuous flow of samples based on driving behavior and thus issue tickets accordingly. This level of resolution is not possible in manual law enforcement. In our experiment, the programmers were faced with the choice of how to treat many continuous samples all showing speeding behavior. Should each instance of speeding (e.g. a single sample) be treated as a separate offense, or should all consecutive speeding samples be treated as a single offense? Should the duration of time exceeding the speed limit be considered in the severity of the offense?' One of the academics said, 'When you're talking about automated enforcement, all of the enforcement has to be put in before implementation of the law—you have to be able to predict different circumstances.'"
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Speeding Ticket Robots — Laws As Algorithms

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  • by mozumder ( 178398 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @05:13PM (#43406201)

    rather than risk a speeding ticket every clock cycle.

  • You got 1.5 billion tickets in the last second, because you went 1.1 MPH over the speed limit.

    Yeah, that will go over real swell.

    Especially since, much easier would be to add a routine to the smart cruise control to never exceed the speed limit to begin with.

    • by jbresciani ( 2860867 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @05:20PM (#43406277)

      and if they don't pull you over to ticket you, how does it fix the problem? you are ticketed for speeding because someone somewhere has deemed that speed unsafe to yourself and/or others in that location. if you simply ticket, you didn't fix the problem. if you pull them over and ticket, then there is a good chance they will shy away from speeding for a little while.

      I know people who've received multiple automated speeding tickets but they didn't get the first one for three days, then they got three more form the same location. Lesson learned, but potentially to late.

      • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @06:22PM (#43406967)

        you are ticketed for speeding because someone somewhere has deemed that speed unsafe to yourself and/or others in that location.

        Or because the cop in question needs a few more tickets issued to make his quota.

        Or perhaps the area is a "speed trap".

        If ALL speedlimits were based on safety requirements ONLY, there's not be all that much speeding. As witnessed by the fact that virtually everyone speeds, and yet the carnage level on the roads is mostly based on the alcohol content of the drivers. Or the features on their phones....

        • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @06:32PM (#43407057)
          Expect someone to chime in that "there are no quotas" ..

          Of course there arent any official quotas.. but you can be damned sure if the officer gave 0 tickets out each month that he would be fired.. proving that there are in fact both acceptable and unacceptable levels of ticketing.. which are of course quotas.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by jbresciani ( 2860867 )

            regardless if quotas exist or not, a human still pulled you over, a mailed ticket is simply a cash grab (potential future deterrent), it has no effect in the now.

      • by cheater512 ( 783349 ) <nick@nickstallman.net> on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @07:41PM (#43407527) Homepage

        What exactly is wrong with that? If you accidentally speed as a once off then 3 days shouldn't be an issue.
        If you are speeding consistently then you really need to be taught what a law is and multiple speed tickets should hopefully accomplish that.

        You shouldn't use speeding tickets to determine what you're going. You should look at your bloody speedo.

    • Cruice control send up swith the same issue. If the algorithm exceeds target speed for even a few seconds - steep hill,or got rammed from behind by another driver - then you still end up with a ticket.

    • So demand 1.5 billion bench trials.

      Problem solved.

      But it will never happen. The government would go broke trying to buy postage to send you the tickets.

    • Hmm... the state could securitize those tickets into a municipal bond and solve all their budget problems!

  • What could possibly go wrong with a large computer system continuously monitoring every American roadway?

    • Re:1984 (Score:5, Informative)

      by Longjmp ( 632577 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @05:30PM (#43406419)
      Just visit the UK, your favorite 1984 country.
      Last time I visited (been a while though) they had automated cams on highways, capturing your license plate (with timestamp). At the next surveillance point, next cam recognizes your plate again.
      If distance / (time2 - time1) exceeds speed limit, voila, ticket.
      • Re:1984 (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @06:24PM (#43406987) Journal
        Yes but that system works spectacularly well - far better than radar traps - because you have to stick to the speed limit over long stretches of driving not at isolated points in the road. Also you do not have to worry about keeping your eye on the speedometer every second because if your speed creeps a little high you can easily compensate by driving a little slower. Finally the one effect I have noted on some really busy roads is that the flow of traffic is a lot smoother because now everyone is going just under the speed limit.
      • by swalve ( 1980968 )
        If they did it for every car, on all stretches of the particular road, AND implemented it loudly and openly, then god bless them. People will follow the laws, or they WILL get a ticket. The result? Speed limits will change to be more fair. It's pretty easy to implement in software- if the driver is within say 5% of the stated limit, nothing happens, because speedometers vary. If they are within 10%, they get a written warning. If they are within 20%, they get one fine, more than that they get the big
      • Those average speed cameras are usually only in construction zones on the motorway where the lanes have been narrowed and speed reduced to 50mph, and they have a fairly generous leeway as well. I've never been ticketed for driving 54mph (actual speed, speedo shows 59mph) on cruise through these areas for years, and you're constantly overtaken by people going at least 3-4mph faster... who knows if they get ticketed though. There are also fixed speed cameras, red light cameras and CCTV cameras all over the pl

    • Except mainframes died in the mean time that you've been in your stasis pod- these days you're talking about millions of potential computer cops in every vehicle.

  • by ichthus ( 72442 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @05:18PM (#43406251) Homepage
    What the hell are they going to do when we're all in autonomous vehicles that always obey the speed limit and their revenue stream dries up?

    (Actually, I don't even think we'll need speed limits once autonomous cars are commonplace -- at least, not on highways)
    • by EmperorArthur ( 1113223 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @05:43PM (#43406587)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Yd9Ij0INX0 [youtube.com]

      Google's cars actually speed. The engineers quickly found (or knew beforehand) that obeying the traffic laws as written was a good way to either cause an accident, or never get to your destination.

    • They don't need to plan that far ahead in government.
      But they know they will get a new way to get revenue.

      As electric cars become more common... gas tax revenues will drop... already you hear talk of tolls, gps tracking per mile...

      Sure, autonomous cars means less ticket revenue.. .suddenly driver registration fees or tolls go up. ...

    • ...autonomous vehicles that always obey the speed limit

      Ticketbot: G-800 series Googlenator, you have been cited for exceeding the speed limit.

      [scans through 6502 assembler for appropriate response...]

      G-800: Fahq you, ahsshole!

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      When it is all automated, then we will have process control that keeps cars at reasonable speeds and distance for the situation. What we are talking about here is the in between time, and suggestion in the article is about as stupid as it can get. It is like when computers were introduced to the office and everyone just thought of them as a fancy typewriter. Some innovative people made it so much more than that.

      What we are talking about here has little to do with punishment. It has to with development

  • This post ought to be tagged with what-could-possibly-go-wrong.
  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @05:19PM (#43406269)

    The Constitution makes it pretty clear that laws and punishment shouldn't be discretely related. Laws (and algorithms) are written by humans and humans aren't infallible. There's always an exception. Case in point, look at the way sexual predator lists are being abused by over-exuberant prosecutors.

  • by SendBot ( 29932 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @05:20PM (#43406273) Homepage Journal

    And it's trivially easy to implement. You know how newer cars will beep if the seatbelt isn't engaged, and other examples of trying to correct driver behavior?

    Society needs one of those to nag people who don't use turn signals. Make it so.

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      It think it's worse when they don't use the turn signal at the right time. A lot of drivers use the turn signal redundantly with the actual turn manoeuvre (when we can already see the car, you know, turning), rather than as an advance warning that a turn is about to happen.

      • by SendBot ( 29932 )

        agreed. It's especially annoying to see a car that looks like it's just coming to a stop in the flow of traffic, THEN they signal.

  • I will run red lights for 1 day and argue I should only get 1 ticket.

    • The flipside is the extreme opposite - there's a stretch of road just outside Paris (A86, for those playing at home) - that is a tunnel of about 10km long. It's got a speed camera placed every 1 - 2KM (hidden, with infra-red flashes). Even though it's the same stretch of road, with an incredibly short distance between each camera, if you're doing 10km/h over the limit, you will end up with 6 tickets (at 80EU each) - AND have the points withdrawn.

      That is to say, you can lose 500EU + your licence for the same

  • As a child, I remember a SeaQuest episode where they came back to Earth (I think), and were told by a robotic voice that they had been fined for exceeding the speed limit. I don't remember much of my childhood, but I remember being struck with terror by this. It left a lasting impression.
  • by concealment ( 2447304 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @05:23PM (#43406321) Homepage Journal

    Our technologies and laws allow us to do lots of things.

    We should perhaps ask instead, what kind of society we are making?

    If we're making a miserable place that focuses on details of law-breaking more than the big factor, which is how safe/smart of a driver someone is, we're penalizing good behavior and encouraging people to live in a nit-picky miserable world.

    We can make a horrible world, if we want; however, we might prefer not to.

    • Everyone wants laws to counter the things that bug them. In the end, there are people outraged by everything where as I am humored. I live a happy life, and am only disappointed when someone elses ridiculous outrage is turned into laws affecting me.

    • We can make a horrible world, if we want; however, we might prefer not to.

      We've already made a horrible world, at least as far as the law is concerned. It doesn't exist anymore as a way of codifying commonly-held morals, but rather as a way of giving people in power ways of removing others quickly and discreetly. Everyone is a criminal. Everyone. And all it takes to ruin someone's life is to hear the word "Guilty". It's not any small coincidence that housing, employment, public assistance -- everything is tied to not having a criminal record. Considering how ludicriously easy it

  • Would dictate that instead of trying to make a system which punishes, one should do a system which enforces. In other terms, automated highways where your cars are regulated and automated for the drive.

    To me, that would be a much more worthwhile goal to strive for.
  • by Randym ( 25779 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @05:25PM (#43406355)

    An automated system, however, could maintain a continuous flow of samples based on driving behavior and thus issue tickets accordingly.

    An unanticipated consequence of an "always-on" mass surveillance system. "Big Brother is always watching."

  • It's about time computers started issuing automated citations. I've still got no clue what to do with the seashells.

  • the difference is (Score:4, Insightful)

    by new death barbie ( 240326 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @05:37PM (#43406515)

    ... that an actual cop will PULL YOU OVER to issue a ticket. The speeding behavior stops, and the roads become safer, at least while your car is parked at the side of the road, and hopefully remain safer when you proceed, suitably chastised. The cop has a chance to ensure that you are not inebriated or otherwise unfit to drive before he allows you to proceed. If you choose to speed again and he catches you again, you get stopped and a second ticket is issued. Repeat as necessary.

    Issuing tickets based purely on observation fail to stop the illegal behavior and do little to make the roads safer, until much much later, when the ticket catches up with you in the mail (assuming a ticket is enough to change your behavior).

    • But, but then you couldn't be ticketed multiple times. Think of the lost revenue.

      The thing is current systems will give a separate ticket for each data point. The difference is, you only have one or two data points per drive.

    • That's the point of having speeding laws; it is not the point of having automated enforcement. The point of automated enforcement is to increase revenues.
  • Sure, automate the detection, but the enforcement, IMHO, must be manual, i.e., a ticket must be issued in person by an officer of the law. Furthermore, that cop should only be able to charge you with one instance of each law broken, i.e. one speeding charge, one reckless charge, etc. I think that would strike a decent balance.

    Of course, this won't actually happen since people are unwilling to pay reasonable taxes and police departments are forced to provide their own revenue somehow.

  • I've seen badly parked cars with hundreds of plastered-on tickets. Clearly people can behave mindlessly in exactly the same way. Besides, it is illegal to be *caught* speeding; the speeding itself is okay.
    • by spune ( 715782 )
      Where I live, after three unpaid tickets (which are recorded in a city database that traffic police check before issuing parking tickets), your car either gets a boot or gets towed.
  • need to be more precise, detailed and complete than those given to people. Who'd have thought it
  • You're getting sandwiched between two 18-wheelers. If you break, the car following will definitely run into you.
    If you press the pedal to the medal, computer will say no. Fair?

  • The truly frightening thing about this article is that the authors apparently felt it was the job of the programmers to determine what the reasonable algorithmic interpretation of the law's intent was, thus again demonstrating how completely out of touch with reality many academics seem to be.

    The legislative process is appallingly imperfect, to be sure, but at least it has the pretense of openness and consideration of constituent interests. That's where these decisions need to be made.

    Fortunately, sin
    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      Currently, it's the cops who decide which car to pull over, how is that better? Also, this was just research, a programmer would likely get the set of rules to implement from the police. At least it would create an objective, potentially transparent system that treats every driver the same. Getting a ticket would depend on driving behaviour instead of luck.

  • by nightfire-unique ( 253895 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @05:55PM (#43406707)

    I myself could be convinced that photo-radar, speed strips, red-light cameras and even "robots" are acceptable for use on public roads if money could be eliminated from the equation. It is simply not fair to expect legislators to set reasonable limits based on science and statistics when money is involved.

    On that note, I've always wondered why no one has proposed destruction of ticket revenue as a clean solution to the problem.

    If every last cent collected from fines was required to be destroyed, legislators would be freed from the burden of conflicted interest. They could focus clearly on policy objectives, without the question of profit clouding their judgment. Police would be freed up to do their jobs (which of course includes patrolling and traffic law enforcement, but based strictly on safety, not quotas).

    As another bonus, destruction of ticket revenue would benefit everyone not fined by ever-so-slightly deflating the currency.

    • Re:You know.. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by QuantumBeep ( 748940 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @06:37PM (#43407091)

      Less sweepingly, I propose that all traffic fines be pooled on a state level and distributed by population proportion - this will be easier to get passed, but will prevent shitty little townships from funding themselves entirely through farming their nearby interstate highway for tickets.

      The fact that enforcing traffic law is wildly profitable means that the system is naturally and automatically corrupt and attracts corrupt people to run it. When you uncouple the action from the reward, bad behaviour tends to stop.

  • Rage Against the Machine!!!
    just think if traffic monitoring robots started issuing tickets for every slightest infraction, i bet many angry people would start destroying them with a good whack with a hammer, or paintball guns on the cameras and sensors
  • In addition, the traffic laws themselves may have a tolerance built-in. For example, in Pennsylvania, the law mandates a 10-mph tolerance under most circumstances, and no court can accept a ticket for less than that over the limit.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2013 @06:29PM (#43407023)

    Automated law enforcement is almost universally a terrible idea. Its the kind of thing an eager-beaver engineer without much real world exposure would come up with. Either that, or a fascist.

    The world runs on slack. Not just laws, but pretty much every human interaction requires slack at some point. Slack is the lubricant that makes society work. Without slack the machinery of society will freeze up and burn out.

    On the other side of the spectrum, too much slack and the wheels just spin without getting any traction. We need the right amount of slack - fortunately there is usually lots of meta-slack in determining what is the right amount of slack.

  • It's easy if you state the problem correctly: how to reach the income level the local municipality expects from the speeding tickets, while minimizing the number of tickets (processing fees) and potential court challenges.

  • If we are all in autonomous vehicles, why do we need traffic laws?
  • One thing that seems to be missed is that in some (Most? All?) jurisdictions, the law dictates that he speed limit be set to something like 90% of the roads average traffic speed. Absolute enforcement would end up with these roads having their speeds creep down to 0.
    • It's NTSB(National Traffic Safety Board) rules that the speed limit should be set to the 90th percentile - IE if the speed limit is set correctly, 90% of motorists on the road would not be speeding. 90% of average speed would have most motorists speeding. On the other hand, most jurisdictions round down rather than up like the NTSB recommends...

      What safety studies have shown is that motorists will tend to select a more or less safe speed even if there are absolutely no speed limit signs, and some indicati

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein