Imagine a world with few traffic citations, if any. No speeding cars. No illegal u-turns. No “California stops.” That’s what the future of autonomous cars could bring.

Sounds great right? It could be — unless you work in law enforcement.

Police - Writing TicketAccording to a story by NetworkWorld, speeding tickets alone rake in over $6.2 billion every year, which is an average of around $300,000 per U.S. police officer. And self-driving cars, like those currently being worked on by Google, could put that revenue stream into serious jeopardy.

Driving itself is only as dangerous as it is because of who is behind the wheel: humans. And we humans tend to miss signs, get distracted, or willfully disregard the rules of the road altogether. When our mistakes aren’t injuring ourselves or others, they’re funding the finance budgets for law enforcement agencies across the country.

Cars driven by computers don’t seem to have the above human flaws; at least, not yet. Google’s self-driving cars have logged over 700,000 miles on the road and have yet to receive a single citation. And The Atlantic reports that Google has no sort of agreement with the Mountain View Police Department (or others) to let errors made by the Google cars slide. Those vehicles are just as eligible to get a traffic ticket as you and I. But they’re not.

If every car on the road were a self-driving Google car, and each had a spotless driving record, you can bet that local police departments and state agencies would miss that $6.2 billion from speeding tickets. And that’s not counting the revenue from other infractions.

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It’s one of those tough decisions that technology is going to force on us sooner rather than later. Humans losing their jobs to machines is nothing new, but the potential ripple effect that better driving cars will have? That’s something we’ll have to study more closely. And once we do, we’ll have to decide if we need to develop new revenue streams to keep our police departments staffed, or if the absence of bad driving in the world means we can shrink our forces a bit.

Have some thoughts on this one? Leave them below.

[via Slashdot]

  • Let’s see, 6.2 billion divided by 300,000 equals roughly 20,000 cops. This doesn’t pass the sniff test, and indeed, Wikipedia cites BLS statistics that say the US has 780,000 cops. So, per-cop ticket revenue works out to about 8000 each. Still significant, but nowhere near as substantial as you have reported.

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