Here in my car

There was a lot of driving today to go and see the Penguin Parade at Phillips Island, about two hours south of Melbourne. This will hopefully explain all of the exposition on driving that I’ll make later.

On the way to the Penguin Parade, we stopped off at a little wildlife sanctuary to see some of the indigeneous Australian flora and fauna. Animals seen: kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, galahs (of the ‘bloody galah!’ variety) and koalas. Perhaps in revenge for my disturbing their sleep, the wombats took great satisfaction in slowly and methodically eating my shoelaces.

The Penguin Parade is something that occurs at sunset on a protected beach on Phillips Island. The ‘little penguins’ as they are called there (I don’t know if that’s a scientific term, but apparently they are the smallest in the world at less than a foot tall) swim to a small beach at sunset every day after a hard day’s fishing, and proceed to arrive there in nervous groups. These groups huddle together right on the shoreline and look for any danger, evidently oblivious to the several hundred humans all sitting about a dozen metres away behind a rope. If there’s no immediate danger, they make a run across the beach up to the bushes to find their burrows for the night.

It’s fun to watch the penguins make their way up the hill (hence ‘parading’) from the beach to their homes. They do it in a gradual and curious manner, as if they’re tourists trying to find a place in a foreign city but are ignorant of the exact way they should go. Often you’ll see a penguin dash forwards for a few seconds and then pause introspectively for a minute at an intersection of paths. Perhaps they’re embarrassed at their pathfinding skills and are just pretending that they really meant to stop, not that they’re lost.

On the drive back, two things were recalled into my head. The first was my idea for combatting the problem of dangerous drivers. Currently there is no way to adequately make dangerous drivers accountable for their actions (e.g. bad overtaking); there just aren’t enough police, and you wouldn’t be able to do it via surveillance cameras either because computers aren’t smart enough and there aren’t enough operators.

So, the solution is to use the drivers affected themselves. Imagine this scenario: you’re driving along a motorway and someone suddenly cuts you off; you narrowly avoid a serious accident. Immediately, you go and whack a button in the centre of your wheel. This sends a message to the various video cameras attached to your car to send the previous and next thirty seconds of cached footage across the Internet, wirelessly, to some relevant authority. This authority watches the footage, and if it decides that bad driving features in it, it punishes the offender (identified by registration plate).

You could encrypt and digitally sign the video recording to ensure authenticity, and the authorities would probably wait for a number of reports for a certain driver before taking action. Voila – you have a system that allows the entire populace to identify and bring to justice bad drivers, effectively making everyone a traffic policeman. Furthermore, there are no significant technical obstacles to making this work in the near future; high quality digital video cameras are plummeting in price and high-bandwidth wireless networks are rapidly being constructed across the country. You wouldn’t need a great deal of storage space for the video data since only thirty seconds are cached (not that storage is expensive) and there are real safety benefits for having DV cameras in cars (black boxes, for one).

There’s plenty of incentive for the government to set up the system; it would help reduce the number of car accidents by a huge amount. All that’s left is the incentive for drivers to install and use the system. Hopefully it wouldn’t cost too much to add it to a car, and in any case, the sheer satisfaction in feeling that you are helping to bring a bad driver down is probably worth it. Who knows, this thing could eliminate road rage in a stroke. Perhaps the government could send an email to you if your video helped identify a dangerous driver; maybe even a small bounty isn’t out of the question.

Sure, I can think of a couple of ways in which this system could be attacked or abused, but I don’t think they’re dealbreakers. I wonder if I should patent this idea… in any case, it’d provide a useful stopgap until the day we have driverless cars.

My other driving idea had to do with accurate GPS and mapping technology, and how this might affect road signage, but it’s not all that interesting or coherent now I think about it.

One Reply to “Here in my car”

  1. That assumes a One-Car, One-Person relationship. Most of the time, at least in my family, we had five drivers for two-three cars (depending on which were in for maintenance, etc) and that kind of video would make it difficult to identify which driver. Then there’s the whole rental car bit.

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