Author: Christopher Sherry, Captain, California Highway Patrol
Emergency alerts have been sent and are ringing loudly on people’s electronic devices. Programming on radio and television has been interrupted to report the abduction of a four-year-old girl from a downtown park. The suspect’s description, vehicle’s description, and license plate have been reported, and this information will be broadcast on the news, Internet, and changeable message signs along the freeway. Law enforcement will actively look for this vehicle while waiting for members of the public to call in tips and sightings.
This is a classic example of law enforcement utilizing current technological resources to apprehend a suspect and save a child. However, its effectiveness is hit-and-miss, relying on the chance of an officer or member of the public to see the car and call it in. Could technology be leveraged to do more to apprehend the suspect and save the girl sooner? A faster, more proficient exchange of information to and from the public and the police would be a game-changer. A technology that facilitates this conversation while incorporating infrastructure and personal devices would multiply information sharing. That technology is called vehicle-to-everything (V2X).
V2X—The Roadway of the Future
There are strong signals that all vehicles in the future will utilize vehicle-to-everything or V2X technology. This will dramatically change the ways highways are patrolled and managed. V2X incorporates specific types of communications, such as V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle), V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure), V2P (vehicle-to-pedestrian), V2G (vehicle-to-grid), and V2D (vehicle-to-device). Essentially, in a V2X future, vehicles will communicate location, needs, and informational alerts to everything in their environment and collect similar information from everything around them utilizing short-range wireless signals. Technology companies are busy at work implementing the newest V2X communication platform, 5G, which may be in place by 2021.1 Global mobile data traffic is expected to grow eight times by the end of 2023, leading to a need for a more efficient technology.2 5G will give V2X technology more reliability, longer range, and faster data transfers.3
V2X technology is rapidly developing. In the United States, connected infrastructure efforts range from a single traffic light intersection in Ohio to an entire community—with 10,000 vehicles–in Arizona.4 In some parts of the United States, autonomous vehicles have been involved in collisions and the investigating law enforcement agencies have not been prepared for the potential issues of these new situations.5 Some issues include outdated policies and procedures, outdated investigative forms, limited access to vehicle data, and threats to officer safety. Law enforcement professionals should be looking to the V2X future with both optimism and some trepidation.
With the advent of V2X, numerous unanswered questions come. Can the police leverage V2X technology to ensure safer highways? Is there a mechanism to retrieve V2X information or data? Could V2X data assist law enforcement in preventing collisions or crimes? These questions are unanswered because law enforcement is largely left out of the narrative. In a 2017 interview with Car and Driver Magazine, Jim Hedlund, Associate Administrator for Traffic Safety Programs, Governors Highway Safety Association said, “The disturbing thing for me is that they [law enforcement] have been, by and large, left out of the discussion so far.”6 For a profession that prides itself on being prepared, law enforcement has a lot of work ahead to remain relevant and prepared in a swiftly changing world.
Benefits of V2X for Law Enforcement and the Community
Advancements in V2X will have direct implications on the future of policing. There are four direct benefits to both law enforcement and the public if officers effectively leverage V2X: faster alerts and notifications, increased highway safety, more efficient investigations, and better service on roadways.
Alerts and Notifications
Alerts to vehicles and their occupants could assist in numerous situations, such as stopping dangerously operated vehicles, warning drivers of police pursuits and emergency responses, recovering stolen vehicles, and locating children and perpetrators during an Amber Alert.
Typically, officers are notified of collisions or emergency incidents via a dispatcher who received phone calls from the public. In many emergency situations, swift notification and response is crucial and directly receiving V2X information would be more efficient than the current model of notification. For instance, if a vehicle is dangerously exceeding the speed limit, V2X would allow law enforcement to learn the location of the vehicle and intercept it. Officers on patrol could also be immediately notified of vehicles that were having mechanical issues or involved in collisions. This information would be sent from the affected vehicle to infrastructure and then relayed to the patrol vehicle.
Another benefit of V2X technology involves traffic management. Officers in the field or traffic management centers could utilize V2X to provide real-time alerts from infrastructure signals to notify drivers of hazards and congestion. In emergencies, they could redirect traffic to alternate routes. When emergency vehicles are running with lights and siren, messages to vehicles or drivers on specific streets could be sent to alert the drivers to avoid approaching emergency vehicles or a high-speed pursuit in the area.
In California, in 2016 alone, 186,857 vehicles were stolen, with an estimated value totaling $1.3 billion.7 With V2X, the police would be able to recover many of these stolen vehicles and possibly arrest auto thieves when the stolen vehicles transmit location information to officers on patrol. Drivers or passengers who deploy vehicle “panic alarms” or request law enforcement interdiction would also receive an expedited response, possibly including an ability for the police to monitor interior microphones while en route to the incident.
From the inception of the Amber Alert in 2002 through 2018, California law enforcement officers have recovered 357 children from 291 Amber Alert activations, resulting in a 97 percent recovery rate. Suspects were apprehended in 59 percent of the incidents.8 If officers were provided real-time location updates on suspect vehicles, imagine the additional number of arrested suspects and safely recovered children. Even if a vehicle’s make, model, and color were the only information available, infrastructure utilizing artificial intelligence could scan for those types of vehicles and alert law enforcement. This would also pertain to Silver Alerts (alerts for missing elderly persons or a person who is developmentally disabled or cognitively impaired); Blue Alerts (alerts following a violent attack upon a law enforcement officer); and Yellow Alerts (alerts following a major injury or fatal hit-and-run collision).
Each year, more than 1.2 million people worldwide die in traffic collisions, most of which are caused by human error. As V2X technology evolves, many foresee a decrease in traffic-related fatalities. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates that V2X would save more than 1,000 lives per year and reduce nonfatal injuries by 2.3 million.9
V2X technology has the potential to save many lives by allowing cars to “talk” with one another, as well as with traffic infrastructure, to avoid collisions. However, there must be law enforcement participation and coordination with V2X companies and government entities to make certain V2X technology is used appropriately, ensuring there will be increased traffic safety.
Law enforcement officers conducting criminal investigations can also benefit from utilizing V2X technology. For instance, it would be very helpful for investigators to have access to the travel history of a murder suspect’s vehicle or know the exact speed and mechanical condition of a vehicle involved in a fatal collision. Officers would have increased awareness and surveillance capabilities with connected vehicles. This increased connectivity could allow officers to instantly locate every vehicle of a certain make and model or remotely shut down the escape vehicle of a suspected criminal.10 The investigative benefits are many, including utilizing V2X data to stop and apprehend suspects utilizing vehicles in terrorism activities, human trafficking, and drug smuggling.
In the future, law enforcement officers will still be required to make traffic stops on vehicles for equipment and safety violations, even in a setting where the use of autonomous cars will mean sharp reductions in hazardous violations. Vehicles could alert law enforcement to adults and children who are not properly restrained. V2X technology could also alert officers about unsafe vehicle conditions, so they could render services or coordinate aid. The family whose vehicle has a tire blowout at night on a rural road would be appreciative when their vehicle notifies a patrol officer who quickly responds to their location.
One concern with law enforcement having access to V2X data and information is what they will do with the information. In 2017, Guardian magazine convened a panel of experts to debate who should have access to driverless car data, the insights these data can provide, and what regulation is needed. One of the panelists, British lawyer Chris Jackson, stated that there are four types of vehicle data that would be collected by vehicles: “Non-sensitive data (such as congestion information); personal data (location or biometrics —if used); special category data (collision data, for example) and commercially sensitive data (manufacturer data relating to its own intellectual property).”11 These capabilities extend the current data provided to the police and others from the systems already present in most cars.
Most car manufacturers currently install event data recorders (EDRs), also known as “black boxes” in new vehicles. These devices capture information—such as the speed of a vehicle and the use of a safety belt—in the event of a collision to help understand how the vehicle’s systems performed. In December 2015, the federal Driver Privacy Act of 2015 was enacted. It places limitations on data retrieval from EDRs and provides that information collected belongs to the owner or lessee of the vehicle.12 Seventeen states have enacted statutes relating to event data recorders and privacy.13 For example, in California, Vehicle Code section 9951(c) mandates that data collected from a motor vehicle EDR may be downloaded only under these four situations: (1) with owner’s consent; (2) with a court order; (3) while performing vehicle safety research; or (4) while diagnosing, servicing, or repairing the vehicle. V2X data are not specifically mentioned, although it would be easy to presume similar measures would be taken to ensure the privacy of V2X data in the future.
While the life-saving potential of V2X is obvious and its adoption seems inevitable, the implementation of the technology raises not only the aforementioned privacy issues, but also concerns that it could become a traffic “Robocop.”14 Law enforcement must always consider the viewpoint of the people they are dedicated to serve, which often requires the complex challenge of balancing privacy and safety. For instance, there might be situations when personal safety can be ensured only by accessing data from a vehicle; however, law enforcement agencies must be transparent regarding how they access and what they will do with personal information.15 This might mean sharing nonconfidential departmental policies and utilizing public affairs to promote law enforcement’s use of V2X and the technology’s associated data.
In December 2017, a group of law enforcement managers and community members in California gathered to discuss the following futures issue: If law enforcement agencies utilize vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology, how will that transform safety, service, and security on highways by 2025? The panel discussed emerging trends and events, research outcomes and findings, and implications for law enforcement agencies and their communities. The panel unanimously agreed that law enforcement not only needs to utilize V2X technology in the future, it must prepare for that future now. Some recommendations follow:
- Cultivate research and development. Law enforcement agencies should invest in internal research and development units and dedicate the proper time and resources to formulating their role in V2X technology and implementation.
- Create Synergy. Individual departments should discuss the related emerging trends and events with their respective county chiefs of police or sheriff associations. Synergy and a united front will better prepare the law enforcement profession for the future.
- Facilitate discussions. Law enforcement agencies should facilitate discussions with their local elected officials at the city, county, and state levels. Ongoing discussions about legislation that designates law enforcement’s role in V2X technology are paramount.
- Create partnerships. Law enforcement agencies should consider partnerships with private companies like Waymo and Uber to explore how emerging technologies could enhance how law enforcement does its job.
- Leverage relationships and get informed. Law enforcement agencies should consider leveraging their relationships with law enforcement associations like the International Association of Police Chiefs (IACP) and state chiefs’ associations to advocate for legislation that involves law enforcement in the development of V2X technology. There are numerous associations dedicated to transportation and preparing for the future. Their websites, journals, and resources can be very helpful to gain technical knowledge about V2X and its impact on transportation, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (WASHTO), and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA).
V2X is expected to grow significantly over the next 20 years as more and more new vehicles utilize technology to connect to one another and to the driving environment. The positive benefits of law enforcement agencies utilizing V2X technology to impact safety, service, and security on our highways are numerous. Because law enforcement is not currently a major player in V2X development, one can predict a future where they are behind the curve and playing catch up to get back in to the traffic safety game. That scenario is preventable. It is evident that law enforcement not only needs to utilize V2X technology in the future, but that the profession must also prepare for that future now and have a seat at the table regarding V2X development, implementation, and utilization. This will ensure law enforcement’s future preparedness, relevance, and effectiveness. V2X is a highway that law enforcement cannot wait to travel on. ????