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Privacy and Autonomous Vehicles

J. Bradley Klepper
Attorney at Law

As you know, the TRUCKER has numerous great writers and great articles that are both timely and insightful. In fact, since there are so many great writers and great articles I have always assumed that nobody really reads my articles. Ok, a few people may read them. I assume these folks fall into two categories: (1) insomniacs; and (2) and those who have a lost a bet.

Seriously, nobody wants to listen to a lawyer talk……much less read what they write. I get it. I really do.

Of course, one of the benefits of believing that nobody reads what you write is that you have the freedom to write about whatever you want. So for those of you keeping score at home today we are going to talk about…..wait for it……..autonomous vehicles (“AVs”). Again.

I know I have talked about AVs before. A lot. But this is something that fascinates me. We are speeding down the highway toward autonomous vehicles but we have not really addressed some of the overriding issues.

Issues such as regulation of the standards used in AVs, liability ramifications, insurance or the impact of AVs on traffic enforcement. Well, you can add another issue to the list of things that need to be addressed. Privacy.

I was recently reading an article on about automated trucking and the potential disruption of trucking jobs. In the article, the writer interviewed a gentlemen by the name of Chuck Price. Mr. Price is the Chief Product Officer at TuSimple, a privately held, global autonomous business worth more than a billion dollars.

While discussing the technology of the vehicle during a “ride along”, Mr. Price noted that the cameras are able to “see” out 1000 meters. This is over half a mile! Of course, the journalist writing the article asked “[h]ow far are you from being able to pick up the specific cars that are passing us? Oh, that’s Joe from New Jersey with six points on his license.”

Mr. Price stated “[w]e can read license plates. So if there was an accessible database for something like that we could.”

Mr. Price also acknowledged that while this information would be valuable to companies it could create certain privacy issues.

I agree with Mr. Price. However, the fact that the use of this information has already been deemed valuable gives me pause.

I also understand that in certain scenarios this information could serve the greater good. For example, in the current situation it could help “trace” people with Covid-19 to prevent further spread.

In addition, if such a database existed a carrier could identify bad drivers, based on their license plate, and instruct the truck to give that vehicle more room or take additional steps to operate safely while around this vehicle. This could potentially save lives.

However, for this to happen it would require a 3rd party to access your driving record without your consent or knowledge. Moreover, could this information be used to monitor your movement without your permission? Sure you phone will likely track your position if you allow it too. However this technology could potentially take that decision out of your hands.

Could the police or any other enforcement agency gain access to this information to monitor your movements. Not really sure. Have not really thought about it. Which, I believe, is the problem. Nobody has really thought about it.

Well…..some folks have. The Human Driving Association (“HDA”), which currently has 10,000 members, has published a 12 point manifesto which mentions, among other things, that the organization is “Pro-Privacy.” In short, this means that HDA believes that all connected services should be voluntary regardless of the level of automation and that all AVs should be capable of operating independent of any communications network. In other words, nobody should be able to monitor your movements. This would include the “license plate” tracking discussed above.

Do the benefits noted herein outweigh the privacy concerns? That is a tough call. However, we need to start thinking about these issues. AVs are coming. Sooner rather than later. Now is the time to think about how we will address the multitude of issues this technology presents.

Brad Klepper, Esq. is President of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm entirely dedicated to legal defense of the nation's commercial drivers. Interstate Trucker represents truck drivers throughout the forty-eight (48) states on both moving and non-moving violations. Brad is also Executive Vice President & General Counsel of Drivers Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at greatly discounted rates. Brad spent almost a decade with the largest law firm in Oklahoma where his practice included extensive experience in transactional law, business defense litigation, and intellectual property. In addition, Brad is a licensed architect and serves as General Counsel to the Oklahoma Board of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers. Brad has dedicated much of his time to DataQs challenges, which are challenges posed to the FMCSA for CSA incidents, to examine data and reports filed by law enforcement.

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