J’accuse! The Future of Traffic Enforcement?: NMA E-Newsletter #401

Nexar, a fast-growing U.S.-Israeli startup, is marketing a smartphone-turned-dashcam app that records the habits of nearby drivers. If any get out of line – a few mph over the posted speed limit, making a sudden lane change, or any other maneuver the app deems as questionable – it records the license plate of the offending vehicle and uploads it to the Nexar database. If one of those flagged vehicles approaches the car of another Nexar user, a dangerous-driver-in-the-vicinity warning goes off.

So the next logical step for the for-profit Nexar is what, providing information to law enforcement, selling it to insurance companies and other bidders who can leverage the information for their own benefit? “Orwellian” is an adjective too often overused, but considering that the Nexar app has the potential of turning every car on the road into a mobile snitch, it is appropriately applied here.

A veteran NMA member weighs in:

This one will take some thought regarding the implications. Once again I’m blindsided by the potential of technology. I’m used to thinking of automated plate readers that cost thousands of dollars.  No more. 

This can be summed up as an automated “scarlet-letter” license plate, that tells the world, “I’m a dangerous screwup, and you are expected to grant me less-than-usual courtesy and rights, if not actually abuse me,” except without any process of law.  Who pays if you are libeled by an algorithm and a cell-phone app?  Obviously this is aimed at insurers.  Instead of an accelerometer in your car, it may be a motion-reading algorithm in any other car. 

One of my co-workers points out that this will have a huge rate of false alerts, like bad radar detectors or the early seat-belt buzzers. Similar observations: 

  • Some of the screw-ups caught by the app may be by the driver using Nexar. You could be ratting yourself out if you use this. All of your miles traveled will be recorded, along with momentary exposure to other cars. 
  • Some of the reported behavior may be legal, such as motorcycle lane splitting in California. 
  • Some bad behavior will be by pedestrians who don’t have license plates.  Others are by semis, whose trailer plates don’t identify them. 

How long before all cars are mandated to carry what amounts to an aftermarket event recorder, uploading everything to the cloud?  You no longer physically control the data once that happens, as you do now.   

In a few months, every truck will be required to carry an automated log.  This will utterly change the behavior of truckers relative to rest stops, and change the balance between corporate truck lines and owner operators.  Every truck MUST be parked when the mandatory rest stop is due to begin, or a violation will be logged.  No more fudging the logbook while looking for a parking place.  Truck schedules will slow to provide the necessary cushion. 

What next?

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