Present State of Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicle (AV) manufacturers are rolling out new offerings in 2019 hoping to make driverless cars account for 10% of all vehicles by 2026. While Silicon Valley attempts to deal with the fact that 94% of traffic accidents are caused by human error, criminals could be preparing to take advantage of a potentially confusing transition period that is rife with legal loopholes and blind spots.

25 companies are pushing ahead to test and manufacture AVs in hopes of reducing 90% of traffic accidents by 2025. Once a critical number of AVs are on the road, it could be possible to eliminate traffic violations, reduce congestion and alleviate commuting stress. Additional upsides for drivers will be lower insurance premiums, less mechanical maintenance, and smarter parking.

The rapid adoption of this new breed of vehicle could also usher in unprecedented vehicular crime that governments and law enforcement agencies are simply not prepared for. Slow legislation concerning liability, causality, and responsibility could increase the attraction of criminal elements during this watershed event.

Potential Dangers of Autonomous Vehicles

In recent years, we have seen other innovations like bitcoin introduce new channels for criminals to finance activities, and drones used to distribute illicit goods. There is no reason to think this trend will not continue with AV’s, law enforcement should anticipate at least an initial season of exploitation to occur.

Equally vulnerable to misuse are the autonomous courier robots that are quietly acquiring serious funding. Benign services like pizza delivery or last-mile parcel services could also become avenues for illicit markets to arise if preemptive measures are not taken. Speed and variety of same-day delivery agents will compound the challenges for real-time oversight.

During the recent opioid crisis, US postal services have become inundated with fentanyl smuggling packages, so the danger of overly convenient robotic couriers calls for proper monitoring and security from the beginning.

Here are 4 ways bad actors could repurpose AV’s for criminal intent:

1. Drug trafficking

As vehicles are utilized during drug operations, law enforcement has multiple opportunities to catch suspected traffickers. Stopping suspicious drivers who perform minor traffic violations is a common method police use to jump start investigations. The advent of unmanned vehicles resulting in zero traffic infractions will eliminate pretextual stops, that up to this point, have proved effective in uncovering illicit activity.

At border crossings, unmanned AV’s could possibly be treated like cargo shipments – if contraband is detected, the car’s travel log could locate a starting point and drop off locations. As cars are not as disposable as “burner phones”, digital evidence may linger long after a crime has been committed.

2. Terrorist Attacks

Even though terrorist usage of vehicles is not new, the unmanned AV gives an extra layer of anonymity to vehicular attacks that complicate detection and frustrate post-mortem investigations.

Taking control of multiple driverless vehicles in a coordinated attack gives rise to the need for police officers to be able to override and deactivate vehicle systems on all AV’s.

3. Hackers Causing Injury

Connected AV’s present hackers with a new playing field of potential mayhem. As programming is central to the heart of AV operations, hackers can possibly go beyond real-time intrusion to preprogram attacks to be carried out at a future point in time or triggered by destination. However, the threat of third-party interference is being countered by self-diagnosis features that hope to thwart remote malicious attacks.

4. Robo-getaway drivers

As the drop-off and pick-up of criminals could be programmed, driverless car chases could allow bad actors to attack pursuing police squads. Additionally, criminals could reduce their group sizes allowing them to accomplish more with less.

In conclusion

Unmanned vehicles and robots that act efficiently and intelligently raise the bar of what the crime world can accomplish. Law enforcement must play a proactive role to ensure security by not only keeping up with tech-savvy criminals but also utilizing state-of-the-art innovation to stay one step ahead of the criminal element. When powerful devices and software are continuously distributed to the wider public, preemptive strategies will be needed to combat the innovative ways criminals use the new technologies.

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