Cars are becoming ever more adept at avoiding crashes. Some vehicles today have collision avoidance systems that will warn drivers when their vehicles stray from their lanes or when they approach too closely to another vehicle.
Google is testing an autonomous vehicle that can drive around on city streets and highways, stopping at traffic signals, changing lanes, and making turns as if a human were at the controls.
While estimates vary on when this technology will be available for production models, the pressure to develop these systems in part rests in the need to reduce injuries and fatalities from car accidents. If the technology becomes perfected, it should substantially reduce or eliminate the vast majority of motor vehicles accidents.
Traffic offenses, like DUI and speeding, could become very rare, as vehicle’s computers safely guide vehicles home from a bar or restaurant, no matter what the occupant’s blood alcohol content. The food and beverage industry would probably see an increase in business, as having “one for the road” no longer would be seen as irresponsible.
However, there are other implications for the technology. Criminal defense attorneys know a great many arrests are tied to traffic stops. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires warrants to be based on probable cause.
In order for police to stop an individual, they have to have at least “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been committed. With automobiles, the average driver offers the police a wide variety of grounds.
Weaving in and out of your lane? A few miles per hour over the speed limit? Brake light not working? Changed lanes without a turn signal? Not wearing a seat belt? Any of these minor infractions allow a traffic stop.
Once the officer or trooper is speaking with the driver, they have the opportunity to observe other items, smell alcohol or marijuana, notice drug related paraphernalia in a back seat and many other facts that often move a simple traffic stop over to a DUI or felony drug possession charge.
If use of the Google Car becomes widespread, its likely police would see a drop in arrests, as they would no longer have those opportunities to look for something beyond a minor traffic ticket.
Source: Fortune.com, “If driverless cars save lives, where will we get organs?” Erin Griffith, August 15, 2014