Driving can be stressful. Time pressures and traffic, aggressive drivers and speed traps. And America drives, a lot. The average American commutes twenty-six minutes to work each day, which is close to a twenty percent increase since the data started being tracked back in the 1980’s. This alone may not sound like an astonishing figure, but it translates to almost thirty billion hours that Americans spend commuting per year. Vehicles travel over three trillion miles across America and the figures are trending upward. Traffic is a scourge that few Americans can avoid, a great equalizer amongst citizens in America’s car-centric culture.
Whether driving to work, school, or taking a road trip, few things can be more frustrating than seeing other, inconsiderate, drivers not following the rules of the road. As a staunch supporter of highway etiquette this is particularly vexing. Beyond the more basic rules to follow while trapped in traffic with your fellow Americans, such as signaling before turning and avoiding tailgating, one should also never ride the shoulder to get ahead of traffic, or feign exiting, only to cut back into the line of traffic at the last minute. Departments of transportation from state to state are on the lookout for ways to make our roadways safer and ease the stress caused by traffic. This served as a motivation for the advent of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane. Originally a separate lane to speed up commuter bus traffic, it later expanded to include cars with multiple passengers.
The purposes for the HOV lane range from the lofty goal of saving the planet by reducing emissions, to the more mundane goal of alleviating traffic jams. The idea is very simple: the more people sharing cars results in fewer cars on the road. The rules are also simple, generally one must have at least two, sometimes three, individuals in the car to qualify for entry into the HOV lane. Children count, dogs do not. The problem with the HOV lane is that when traffic piles up an open lane becomes too tantalizing for some drivers and they are all too willing to cheat the system. Some going as far as piling dummies, cardboard cutouts, or scarecrows in their passenger seats to elude detection from law enforcement. Fines can range from $100 in North Carolina to $480 in California. To help combat HOV lane abuse,
Xerox has stepped up with a new system to efficiently identify traffic transgressors.
There is nothing new about using technology to catch drivers breaking the law. Red light cameras are a common occurrence on many city corners. It’s a bad day when you roll the dice on running a yellow light, only to see a flash in your rear view mirror. Your stomach drops as you register that your picture has been taken and a citation will be in the mail and on its way to your house before you know it.
But Xerox has developed new tech, which uses a system of cameras to photograph HOV lane users and then an algorithm to analyze the images. All of this is designed to determine if the car is in fact carrying the requisite number of occupants. In its pilot program, the system found twelve percent of HOV lane drivers were cheating and caught 241 violators in a single day in California. It identifies violators with ninety-five percent accuracy, so municipalities would still be required to review pictures of potential violators before mailing out the citations. But it is still far more efficient than relying on police officers staking out the lanes, which only net about thirty-six percent of violators.
This system not only deters cheaters and raises funds through citations, but also restores faith to those of us that follow the rules. Xerox’s new tech has not been permanently implemented anywhere yet, though it has been tested in eight separate locations. It looks like the HOV lane violators’ days should be numbered. Conscientious drivers of America unite!