Sunday, February 11, 2007

Video Roadwatch

Dave Pollard says, "Our community has a unique program called RoadWatch that provides a citizen report form for dangerous, careless and aggressive driving, which requires you to hand-deliver... We need something better. How would you design it?"

My response is below (his comment form is responding with an error 403 'Forbidden' so it might not appear there).


Participating cars have digital video cameras attached to them. What they see is what you see out the front window. They are always running.

There is a 'flag as inappropriate' button on your steering wheel. Just like on Google video. When you hit this the video 60 seconds before and after the button push is sent to authorities. Video from nearby vehicles is also retrieved, if possible, for correlation. Staff review the video and determine whether penalties should apply.

The penalty should be suspension of the vehicle license for a certain period of time. This way rich and poor suffer the same consequences; you don't get a license to drive badly just because you have money.

Each driver gets an aggregate reliability value, based on the number of reported instances and the number of genuine versus frivolous reports. Video from more reliable drivers is reported first; reliable drivers get a premium.

Participation in the video program is rewarded. You are paid for having your camera turned on, not for reporting incidents. Your camera is also used to monitor road conditions (for repairs, for snow plowing, for traffic reports).

You buy the video equipment yourself and have a mechanic or specialist install it. You then receive a discount on the price of gasoline; a couple of cents per litre. For cab drivers and delivery vehicles, the equipment pays for itself within a month.

A lot of the video is retrieved and analyzed automatically. Feature recognition programs, for example, detect and measure potholes (it helps that the videos are time-stamped and GPS-located, so you can get the same view of an entity multiple times). Automatic analysis also presents proposed snowplow and salting routes and schedules on an hourly basis; these are so reliable it becomes almost automatic to simply key in the approval.

Needless to say, people who have the video cameras installed themselves become better drivers. Nonetheless, in order to generate acceptance, laws are drafted into force ensuring that your own video can never be used to convict you of an offense.

If the video system is taken into court as an unreasonable surveillance, it can be defended on freedom of speech grounds. The system is nothing more than a mechanism to make it easier to report incidents. That is why the reporting of offenses always requires a human intervention.

That said, video analysis is used to train drivers to recognize incidents. Drivers can play simulations on their computer and practice spotting and flagging cases.

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