Chalk one up for car automation. A Ford car fitted with an accident-detection system called in to inform police that it had been involved in a crash. The twist? That crash was a hit and run, and the Ford’s driver was fleeing the scene when the cops answered the automatic call.
The suspect, Cathy Bernstein, answered the police callback and denied she’d been in a crash. When pushed by the officer on the line, she came up with the world’s least convincing story, a string of words that barely count as sentences. You can listen to the call at WPBF, which first reported the story. And you really should–it’s pretty funny. Eventually Bernstein claims that someone pulled out in front of her.
“Your car wouldn’t call us if someone pulled out in front of you unless there’d been an accident,” said the police caller.
The cops didn’t buy it, and Bernstein was arrested. But the story gets even better. The hit and run that her car called in actually occurred while she was fleeing from another accident.
That’s the thing with machines. Tell them to do something and they do it, as long as they’re working properly. One day, when all cars are self-driving, hit-and-runs will be a thing of the past. At the very least, a rare human driver fleeing an accident will have been comprehensively recorded by all the camera-loaded autonomous vehicles on the road–a boon to law enforcement and a blow to privacy.
This incident brings up the question of illegal activity in cars. Armed robbers escaping a gas-station holdup; drug dealers picking up drugs; johns curb-crawling for prostitutes; how many people will program those journeys into their self-driving cars? Cheap, easily-disposed-of “burner” phones help criminals avoid tracking via their cellphones, but car’s aren’t cheap enough to do that. When everybody is using self-driving cars, will future police be automatically suspicious of anyone driving their own car?
Today, we can laugh at Cathy Bernstein being busted by her car for a possible pair of hit-and-run crimes, and in cases like these the advantage of autonomous tracking and monitoring systems is clear. But if and when our every journey is tracked by the companies that run our autonomous cars, things may be a little less amusing. Do you really want Google to know your every move in the real world, as well as the online one?