Saturday, March 26, 2016

Traffic Enforcement

I had a really bad near miss the other day. I was trying to merge onto the freeway, but there was a guy overlapping my rear bumper by a foot or so. I had already hit my signal, and accelerated to the gap in front of him. He accelerated too. I accelerated a little more; so did he, maintaining almost the exact level of overlap. I slowed down, intending to merge behind him... and even that didn't seem to help.

So I started moving over slowly, slowly enough to get the message across: coming through! Get out of my way, asshole! The moron accelerated, laying on his horn, pulling up alongside me. I was almost out of road, so I slammed by brakes to dodge behind him and finally managed to get in. I swear, if I wasn't in a company vehicle and a company uniform, there's a good possibility I would have followed this individual to do a little "citizen enforcement". As it was, I was just left with a bad taste in my mouth, with regard to how sporadic enforcement is, and how much it focuses on arbitrary targets like numerical speeds instead of real driver misbehavior.

It got me thinking about a furutistic method of traffic enforcement I've been toying with on and off (usually after witnessing some particularly egregious example of what I call "offensive" (in contrast to "defensive") or "competitive" driving. Current enforcement seems to rely exclusively on cruisers (or sometimes motorcycles) and radar guns. Expensive, and thus offering insufficient coverage. But imagine yourself in the following scenario.

You get home from work. You had a rather close encounter on the road; some asshole tailgated the fuck out of you, and then sped around you, nearly clipping your bumper as he went back into the lane in front of you (gaining a whole car length; yay). Or maybe you were trying to merge, and he seemed to be deliberately denying you entry. Or maybe you're in China or Russia, and someone literally jumps out in front of your car in an effort to defraud you.

You turn on your computer, intending to check your email and social media. One program in particular is indicating you got a message: your official government communications program. "What now?" you think to yourself, as you click on the message. In the message there is a short body of text and a link to a video on the traffic enforcement server. It's a video of what happened earlier, from start to finish, with a message saying, "We saw what happened today. Don't worry; we're on it. The video should be sufficient, but if you want to testify against the other driver the court date is at place on day and time." Seeing this, you know that two others have also received this link and a report: the asshole that damn near ran you off the road, and the judge assigned to traffic cases.

Here's how the system works from the cop's perspective. He sits at a terminal in a climate controlled building. On his screen(s) there are a bunch of video feeds, each coming from a camera drone perched on top of a combination charging station and landing pad. They are high up enough that he has a birds eye view of the entire stretch of highway he's responsible for. If someone's driving catches his eye, if their errant behavior is consistent enough he thinks he can get a good video of it, he can switch to drone pilot mode and follow the car from the air. Once he thinks he's got footage good enough to hold up on court, he sends the video to the court, the offender, and any other drivers he thinks might be interested in the case.

I don't know if we're yet at the point where a bunch of drones would be cheaper than a cruiser (though I'd be very surprised if we're not close to that day), but it would certainly allow the individual officers to monitor traffic patterns more efficiently, enabling them to locate and prosecute those drivers who's habits make them a dangerous disruption to that flow. Further, the use of video allows them to document actual dangerous driving, rather than having to rely on the simplistic record keeping of the radar gun.

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