Digitalization in Law Enforcement

This article explores the impact digitalization can have on law enforcement in Ireland. It focuses on the problem-to-solution process, using the inefficient vehicle verification processes to which Irish officers currently have access.

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Colorful police car with patterns
Illustration: © IoT For All

Whether for an emergency or just a routine traffic check, at some stage in our lives, we’ve had to deal with law enforcement.

After an unfortunate experience during a traffic check, I realized how we could simplify law enforcers’ duties with the use of underlying technology. Let’s explore this further. In Ireland (where this author is from), drivers are advised to ask ourselves three questions before entering a vehicle and preparing for a trip: Is the car insured? Is the car taxed? Is the car roadworthy?

Is the Car Insured?

Car insurance is about protecting other road users as opposed to the driver of the insured vehicle, and it’s not an optional extra. Insurance companies provide motor insurance, and unlike road tax, there’s no such thing as a “standard” rate. It is a legal requirement to have motor insurance if you want to drive your car in a public place, and you must produce a current certificate of insurance. Failure to have motor insurance when driving is a severe offense, and drivers will incur fines, penalty points, and even disqualification from driving.

Is the Car Taxed?

It is a legal requirement to have motor tax if you want to drive your vehicle in a public place. Motor tax is a charge imposed by the government on some motor vehicles, and local authorities collect this motor tax. Not only are you obligated by law to pay motor tax to drive your vehicle, but you must also display evidence that you have paid (that is, a current tax disc) on the windscreen of your car. Failure to display a valid tax disc on your vehicle is considered a motoring offense and will result in a fixed-charge fine issued by a traffic warden or a police officer.

Is the Car Roadworthy?

Compulsory car testing was introduced in Ireland as part of an EU directive that makes car testing mandatory. It is an offense to drive a car without displaying a National Car Testing (NCT) disc. Offenders will face Class C fines, as well as penalty points. The test is called the National Car Test and is carried out on behalf of the government by the National Car Testing Service Ltd (NCTS) to improve road safety and to enhance environmental protection. The test looks at brakes, exhaust emissions, wheels and tires, lights, steering and suspension, chassis and underbody, electrical systems, glass and mirrors, transmission, the interior, and the fuel system.

Understanding the Potential for Automation in Vehicle Verification

These three are significant points of verification for law enforcers during traffic stops. When my road tax had expired, I received an email notifying me of this and my obligation as a road user, and I went further and paid for the fee online. How does road tax work? Well, when the payment is received, the Motor Tax Office will print a paper disk that must be displayed on the windscreen of the tested vehicle. Since the payments are collected online and the disc is physically sent to the owner’s address, this can cause a delay between paying the fee and receiving the disc.

During a routine traffic check, the law enforcer visually reviewed the three discs, and the outdated tax disc caught his eye. At this point, I was prompted for an explanation. I went further to explain that I had paid for the tax but had not yet received the disc, and my answer had to be verified by GARDA headquarters.

From Problem to Comprehensive IoT Solution

Why did I need to be stopped and asked questions, when the 3-point check could be done instantly by some kind device or mobile application? Why must I explain myself when a centralized database could hold all the information on my car and display it for the enforcer to see immediately?

This issue gave me the initial push to start working on an “insurance tax validator,” or ITV for short. ITV will allow law enforcers to install an application on their mobile devices that will verify the integrity of the driver and the vehicle. The environment will connect to a centralized database that will store the vehicle’s registration, NCT, road tax, and insurance; these are individually updated by the corresponding organization. The environment will include a permissioned blockchain that will have immutable data based on the cars scanned by each enforcer, which will be valuable for future analysis.

By implementing IoT through an NFC label, it will act as a bridge between the cloud environment and the enforcer’s mobile device. It thus allows the enforcer to view real-time data based on any vehicle scanned. The label will contain a digitally unique key that will allow communication between hardware and software. An NFC-enabled sticker will be given to vehicle users to place on their windscreen. It will provide enforcers with the opportunity to scan vehicles on the go and have immediate access to car history. While significantly reducing paper usage, this will ultimately give drivers more visibility by clearing windscreen real estate.

Kicking off the IoT Project

By documenting the use of these technologies, I will be able to explore the usability, feasibility, and scalability in a practical aspect of my application.

It sounds great, right? We have the technology available, so why not use it to make people’s jobs just a little bit easier and to improve traffic control efficiency for both drivers and enforcers in Ireland?

By starting a series of blog posts that will contain documentation of my journey, I plan to show my successes, my findings, and my challenges during the implementation phase.

If you have any suggestions for technologies I might need for the implementation of this project, please do not hesitate to drop a comment below.