Although no one can really predict the future of policing, some can offer educated guesses on how self-driving vehicles can affect it. One thing’s for sure, it can cause a huge shift on policing tactics.

The Law on the Road

The majority of police implementation of the law focuses on traffic enforcement. This is partly because they want to ensure safety in driving. The roads can be hazardous, which is why most states want to make sure that everyone is licensed, trained and alert in driving their vehicles.

Even the Supreme Court has recognized the need by providing the police substantial power to impose traffic laws. These officers have the right to stop a driver on the side of the road if they violated traffic rules. Even though traffic enforcement mainly emphasizes traffic safety, authorities have also enforced other laws. Because of this, the Supreme Court also authorized the police to utilize traffic stops if they have a valid reason. This is because the Fourth Amendment doctrine doesn’t believe in subjective intent as a cause for deciding if a traffic stop is really legal.

As long as the officer has a lawful reason to stop the driver, other reasons for the stop are irrelevant. It doesn’t really matter if they primarily want to check the car for drugs, given that they stopped him for speeding instead. This is quite significant as nearly every driver regularly disobeys traffic codes. In fact, it can be difficult to drive without violating traffic laws, and if you don’t, other drivers will get mad at you for driving slow in traffic.

These pretextual stops provide the police plenty of authority to stop drivers not only for traffic reasons. The problem is, this power is usually used the wrong way, particularly in minority communities.

The Dawn of Autonomous Vehicles

With the emergence of autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars, these policing tactics would definitely have to change. The market already offers a few vehicles that are capable of driving themselves and the numbers will surely rise soon. Sure, the technology might be expensive now, but these usually become more reasonable as time passes.

Let’s take smartphones as an example. Mobile manufacturers introduced these ten years ago and only a few people could afford it back then. Fast forward to the year 2016, around 92 percent individuals aged 18 to 29 own smartphones.

It’s safe to assume that after a couple of decades, this will be the case for self-driving vehicles. Not only will they become a norm someday, but they are also extremely reliable on the road. They can ensure your safety because manufacturers can program these autonomous vehicles to maneuver perfectly by following traffic codes.

For instance, if the speed limit is 65, then your vehicle will drive at exactly 65. If everyone else uses self-driving cars, then each of them will drive at the required speed limit. This means that there is a possibility that speed limits itself will change in the future. Since the majority use autonomous vehicles, then speed limits can become higher because there will be less room for accidents, drunk driving and vehicular deaths.

Since traffic violations will reduce by that time, the police won’t have any reason for pretextual stops. They can still follow these self-driving cars all they want, but they won’t have the power to stop them unless the drivers commit rare violations. There will most definitely be an adjustment of execution from traffic enforcement.

Although it is difficult to forecast what’s to come, the future of policing will be different. There won’t be the usual traffic enforcement and pretextual stops that are common today, but these self-driving cars will have the capacity to reconstruct past car trips. This way, the authorities can still use this data if necessary as long as they have figured the privacy laws in the future.

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