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Why automation works to reduce bias in public safety

The need for greater transparency and accountability in public safety was cast in sharp relief earlier this year as a result of widespread news coverage. And this underscores the challenges states and municipalities face as they work to deal with rising tensions between citizens and police officers.

As the focus on public safety operations has intensified, state and local transportation agencies are investigating ways in which incorporating technology and automation could help reduce the potential for bias across an array of state and local public safety operations. 

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has simultaneously altered our way of life and generated a situation in which some drivers are engaging in risky driving behaviors. Members of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) “report daily on speeding violations of 100 miles per hour and higher on highways and local roads throughout the country,” according to Jonathan Adkins, Executive Director for GHSA, in a formal public statement issued October 1. “It is absolutely critical that all levels of government and the private sector work together to address these trends or more families will tragically lose loved ones to traffic crashes that are entirely preventable,” he explained.

To that end, I recently participated in a closed session with GHSA leaders, where I was asked to present on automated traffic violation enforcement tools and techniques that could help increase safety and reduce bias. Here are a few of the highlights of what I shared with GHSA leaders and other members:

  • We learned from COVID lockdowns earlier this year that some drivers will drive recklessly when they believe there is little or no police enforcement. Numerous examples of this problem have emerged. A June report from GHSA focused on rising reckless driving risks pointed out that crashes and fatalities have more than doubled in Minnesota and Massachusetts compared to the same period one year ago, with many deaths attributed to speeding. Separately, U.S. News and World Report also reported on rising reckless driving risks in Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska and Utah, where police have clocked drivers going more than 100 miles per hour on highways.

  • As long as the virus continues to spread, there is a transmission risk during any face-to-face interactions between law enforcement and citizens. This is one reason why it’s important to minimize those interactions whenever possible. Reducing the potential for bias, as was explained in a prior blog, is another. Automated traffic enforcement is a key method public agencies can use to enforce traffic safety and reduce risks associated with such interactions.

  • Another separate COVID-inspired innovation involves online adjudication. Several municipalities are now using online adjudication in some courts for virtual traffic court hearings. These virtual hearings reduce the need for officers and the public to travel, saving labor hours and expenses while allowing them to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

GHSA has kicked off public safety awareness month this October. We applaud GHSA’s efforts and are proud to be a 2020 Highway Safety Champion. Conduent Transportation has been focused on public safety issues for over 25 years. We work closely with GHSA and others to leverage valuable insights we’ve gained over the years, and collaborate on viable solutions to help states increase public safety, as well as equity in their transportation operations, both in the U.S., and around the world.