Why don’t our cars text the police when we’re breaking the law?

Volodymyr Zhukovskyy killed seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire recently. He had a long history of driving erratically, presumably at least partly due to his passion for consuming alcohol, cocaine, and heroin (see USA Today and WCVB).

Driving is something that happens in public. We don’t expect or receive privacy when we’re on a public road in a vehicle that is 15′ long. Why wouldn’t the vehicle, now packed with electronics, simply text the police when the vehicle was speeding or weaving? This guy might have been off the road a few years earlier, thus sparing 7 lives, if the cars and trucks he’d been driving had ratted him out.

The police aren’t allowed to run video continuously everywhere and then arrest all of the criminals thus discovered, but at least in a lot of European countries they seem to do this in public (signs indicate that video recording is in use).

What’s more public than driving on a public road? Why do we have an expectation that our vehicle’s track over the road is private? Why do we spend a huge amount of tax dollars on traffic law enforcement when electronics in cars could do this for us at zero cost?

[The situation is different when people are indoors. For example, “‘Bungled from the beginning’: How Robert Kraft’s sex sting was marred by cops’ missteps” (South Florida Sun Sentinel, May 18, 2019):

In all previous prostitution stings at South Florida massage parlors — including a few with similar sneak-and-peek warrants for secret cameras — the cases resolved quietly and mostly out of the spotlight. Few if any people charged ever challenged the prosecutions. They paid fines and performed community service hours, to avoid embarrassment. … But Aronberg’s office walked back the claims, telling Kraft’s judge that there was no evidence of human trafficking. It was just misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution charges for the men, and felony charges of making money from prostitution for the women. … After judges approved the sneak-and-peek warrants, police used “tactical ruses” to clear out the businesses so they could install the cameras in the massage rooms and the lobby. The cops said they needed to investigate a suspicious package, creating a bomb scare. … But Hanser concluded the warrant still broke federal law, because police didn’t do enough to focus only on crimes and to minimize the cameras’ intrusiveness. At all of the spas with the secret cameras, police wound up recording people receiving lawful services, even though the focus was supposed to be only on men paying for sex acts. … All massage-parlor customers have a reasonable expectation of privacy under the U.S. Constitution, regardless of whether or not they went there for a lawful massage, the judge found.

(One never-answered question raised by the Robert Kraft case is why it was legal for him to pay a 40-year-younger woman in Los Angeles by the month (PEOPLE magazine on the “girlfriend” who lives in a house Kraft owns) but it was illegal for him to pay a woman in Florida by the hour.)]

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14 thoughts on “Why don’t our cars text the police when we’re breaking the law?

  1. That would require knowing the speed limit, the weather conditions, & the lane position, a hard process unless you’re an investor. There will always be one guy still driving a Honda Odyssey after the world moves to autonomous Teslas. A list of everyone going over the speed limit would be a pretty huge. They could show just the fastest driver in Calif*.

    • But is it hard? Google already knows the road conditions and the weather. It also knows where every road, and every address on every road, is located, to a pretty high degree of accuracy. And it would be easy to make it more accurate by mandating that new speed limit and other traffic signs collect and transmit even more real-time information. Lane position also shouldn’t be too daunting a problem given the data already collected by late-model cars. Even the cheap ones have “lane assist” now, and almost everything is drive by wire so they are logging all the control inputs. Tying them together doesn’t really sound all that hard. Certainly nothing that a company with Google’s resources couldn’t do.

  2. Seriously? Ratting you out for rolling stops and 5-over on the freeway is not exactly going to draw a crowd at the dealership. And if it gets mandated, que thriving aftermarket to spoof/disable it.

    • Sure, but if Tesla’s model takes over the auto business, there won’t be any dealerships. And being able to access and work with the data, or anything that generates, stores, processes and transmits the data could all be taken away. See my Roll Call reference below.

  3. For years Porsche lacked Android Auto, but recently it has become available. It seems the reason was that Porsche objected to the Google’s licensing terms. Google required Android Auto continually send data back to the mothership, including “a total OBD2 dump” of location, speed, throttle position, engine revs, and more. By comparison, Apple CarPlay sends back whether the car is moving while CarPlay is in use. Its not clear what compromise was reached between Porsche and Alphabet, but as a Porsche owner this make be uncomfortable.

  4. I had a thought that perhaps AVa should be required to report bad driving. Not sure it’s a good idea, usually pops back into my head when an idiot passes me on the shoulder.

    They certainly have sensors and cameras.

    • Volkswagen’s been working in Beijing predicting traffic jams with D-Wave and IBM Quantum computing, as I recall.

  5. Someone should ask this question to Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Right now, consumers (meaning you, Vehicle Owner Person) are fighting for the right to own the data generated by the car…they own. 25 Gigs of data an hour and we can be sure that a pipsqueak in comparison to what it will be. And get this: the manufacturers are fighting the attempt to allow people to own their own data by claiming it could lead to stalking and harassment!

    “If you’re driving a late model car or truck, chances are that the vehicle is mostly computers on wheels, collecting and wirelessly transmitting vast quantities of data to the car manufacturer not just on vehicle performance but personal information, too, such as your weight, the restaurants you visit, your music tastes and places you go…..could be worth as much as $750 billion by 2030.”

    Now, this isn’t law enforcement yet. But if the manufacturers are interested, and consumers are interested, and a U.S. Senator from Mississippi is interested, and a $750 billion dollar market is being projected for the data, it’s not a stretch to say that law enforcement and all the companies that IT services to law enforcement are interested too. The data is already there, and it’s already being transmitted back to the manufacturers, according to Roll Call in April.

    https://www.rollcall.com/news/policy/cars-data-privacy

  6. One related question – let’s take the next step, because the Roll Call article misses it completely:

    How about insurance companies? They want to know as much as they possibly can about any car involved in an accident, theft, vandalism or any other incident that results in a claim. We know there’s no federal law, so what are insurance companies doing state-by-state to gain access to all the pertinent data? It seems to me that they would want the same access to vehicle data as law enforcement agencies. So let’s add the insurance industry to the list of interested parties.

    Hypothetical: You have an accident with your 2023 Hyundai Moonbat, the LE officer writing up the accident report has access to the vehicle data, the insurance company has access to the vehicle data, but you, Moonbat Driver, have to be content with a summary sketch of what the car collected when you missed the signal at 5:38.29.3233 PM EST and smacked into the taco truck pulling out of the Shell station at the intersection of Bedford and Main in Armonk. It had been raining for 2 minutes and 43 seconds, but inexplicably, your windshield wipers were off. You were in a hurry and decided to pass the tourist driver ahead of you on the right, the transmission had just downshifted three gears as you floored it. All because you were sprinting to David Chen’s to grab your dim sum and four treasures with garlic sauce that you had ordered with your Visa ending in 3928. Dang off-ramp construction on I-684! Instead of the dim sum it was sour cream, barbacoa beef, and jalapeños everywhere! The insurance company will be texting you by 7:30 p.m. Your policy will be canceled if you don’t agree to a 300% premium hike within 12 hours after the police report is filed. They already have the video. This was the third taco truck you’ve blammoed in the past six months. Twice in Chappaqua, for Pete’s sake!

  7. You don’t need lots of technology to modify behavior. Ez-pass can figure out what was your average speed between point of entry and point of exit, if the average speed is more than 10% higher than the limit then give the car a speed ticket on top of the toll. It would be a very popular feature with drivers.

  8. > Why do we have an expectation that our vehicle’s track over the road is private?

    Someone could write a few books about that. It’s a big question.

  9. Ignition interlock devices take care of at least the alcohol induced violations and are simpler to do. You could also reduce the vehicle’s ability to communicate, block all cellphone/ text transmission except to emergency services and the police. Doing anything else would have sharply diminished marginal returns.

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