Why Car Chases Will Still Happen Even Once We Have Self-Driving Cars

Dr. Lance Eliot, AI Insider

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[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column: https://forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/]

Most people have a New Year’s resolution involving going on a diet or exercising more.

Apparently, here in Los Angeles, making a resolution to lead a frantic car chase and be relentlessly pursued by the police is popular too.

At the start of this year, just a few short days after New Year’s Day celebrations including the famous and breathtaking Tournament of Roses Parade, a seemingly crazed driver led the cops on a two-hour wanton driving romp throughout the Southern California area.


You might not be aware that there is a well-known method often used by the authorities to try and curtail a chasing car, a method known as the PIT maneuver.

Most Californians have heard of the PIT maneuver since we are considered the capital of car chases in the United States.

We seem to have more car chases than any other state.

Last year, we had a reported 800 or so official car chases.

To count as a true car chase, there must be a police car or highway patrol car that undertakes the chase.

The letters of “PIT” are said to mean Pursuit Intervention Technique, or some say it means Pursuit Immobilization Technique, or maybe it means Precision Intervention Tactic, or some believe it is Push It Tough.

This tricky maneuver involves a police car coming up alongside the fleeing car and then bumping into it, doing so to cause the target car to spin-out. It is hoped that the spin-out will then allow the police cars to surround and block the fleeing car from further movement.

There are some locals that say the only reason they care about the car chases is to make sure they don’t inadvertently get embroiled into one that perchance occurs when they are also on the road.

According to various statistics about police-pursued car chases, the average nationwide chase only goes for about 3 miles.

I’d wager that here in SoCal we tend toward longer car chases.

Part of the reason entails our fine weather and the sprawling roadway infrastructure.

You might be somewhat surprised or perplexed to know that sometimes a car driver that has nothing to do with the chase will intervene when it gets near them, trying to aid the police by blocking the fleeing car.

The police say don’t do that.

Leave the car chase to them and avoid getting involved in the car chase.


There is an ongoing debate about whether the police should even pursue a fleeing car at all.

Maybe it is safer to let the crazed driver get away.

Why risk everyone else during the car chase?

Doesn’t the act of chasing the suspect lead to the driver being outrageously reckless and making dangerous driving maneuvers?

If you let the driver go, they presumably would resume normal everyday driving practices and thus the risks to others on-the-road is lessened.

The counter-argument involves the idea that you are letting get away a potentially violent criminal that might be willing to break the laws in other even worse ways.

It is a delicate balance.


There is more to car chases than meets the eye.

If the police are able to guess where the fleeing car is headed, there is a chance of setting up a roadblock to try and halt the car.

Another alternative to a roadblock involves laying down a spike strip, which is a means of potentially ripping up the tires of the car as it runs over the metal spikes, which then will hopefully disable the car from driving much further.

There are other inventive approaches such as one that casts a kind of metal mesh net over the fleeing car.

A crucial part of the equation involves trying to ascertain the risks to humans.

There is the risk of injury or death to innocents that have nothing to do with the car chase, other than perhaps being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There is the risk of injury or death to the police involved in the car chase.

We need to also include the risk of injury or death to the driver of the fleeing car and its occupants, if any.

You cannot assume that the occupants in the fleeing car are necessarily criminals. They might be carjacked or kidnapped.

Plus, as much as you might detest the driver of the fleeing car, you cannot just summarily decide that the driver should be killed to stop the car chase. I say this because I’ve had some tourists that ask why not just have the police car pull alongside the fleeing car and have a police officer shoot their gun at point blank range and kill the driver. Wouldn’t that end the car chase?

I suppose it would end the car chase.

Of course, the fleeing car is for sure going to do something even wilder once the suspect is dead and still behind the wheel, but putting that aside, I don’t think we can ask the police to render such outright killings. We do have a due process of law here.


What does this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars. One aspect to consider involves the potential of a car chase that in one means or another might involve an AI self-driving car and thus the AI ought to be ready for this to occur.

Here’s the usual steps involved in the AI driving task:

  • Sensor data collection and interpretation
  • Sensor fusion
  • Virtual world model updating
  • AI action planning
  • Car controls command issuance

Another key aspect of AI self-driving cars is that they will be driving on our roadways in the midst of human driven cars too.

There are some pundits of AI self-driving cars that continually refer to a Utopian world in which there are only AI self-driving cars on public roads. Currently there are about 250+ million conventional cars in the United States alone, and those cars are not going to magically disappear or become true Level 5 AI self-driving cars overnight.

Returning to the topic of police pursuits and car chases, let’s consider how an AI self-driving car might get involved.


Before I offer some real-world aspects, I’d like to tackle the Utopian crowd that says we’ll never have car chases once we have AI self-driving cars.

In their view, it is pointless to talk about car chases since they won’t ever happen.

Why bother to consider something that you know won’t occur?

Well, this presupposes that we have only AI self-driving cars on our roadways.

As I’ve already mentioned herein, the day in which we have only AI self-driving cars and no legacy cars is a long way off in the future. We don’t even know for sure that such a day will arrive. Perhaps society might not relent to having only AI self-driving cars on our roadways and insist that legacy cars can still exist.

So, I will concede that if we someday had only AI self-driving cars, true ones, and if you are saying that as a society we would have the auto makers and tech firms ensure that there was some kind of “virtual spike strip” that would prevent an AI self-driving car from engaging in a car chase, I suppose we would not have car chases.

This though also has some weak points in that you could indeed have a car chase that gets started, but for which it would then presumably be easier to curtail.

There is a chance of a carjacking, or some refer to it as a robojacking when involving an AI self-driving car. There is also the chance of a security breach that allows for someone to overtake the built-in controls of the AI and make it engage in a car chase. There is the chance too of a bug in the AI system that would allow it to undertake a car chase.

My point being that the Utopian world still has to consider that there are various “edge” cases in which a car chase might still take place.

I think that covers the make-believe Utopian world and so now let’s focus on the real-world.


We’ll start with the notion that an AI self-driving car might become an innocent that gets inadvertently enmeshed into a car chase.

Suppose we have a legacy car being driven by a human that is being pursued by human driven police cars. I had mentioned earlier that the police cars usually turn on their sirens and flashing lights, in hopes of warning other drivers to stay clear of the car chase.

Imagine that the AI self-driving car is driving along on some city street, quietly making its way to some destination, and all of a sudden it happens to come in contact with a police car chase that is underway.

What will the AI do?

You might say that the AI should have already heard the siren or seen the flashing lights of the police cars.

Yes, I agree that a well-designed and developed AI self-driving car should be able to detect the police car aspects. The visual sensors of the AI self-driving car will hopefully have detected the flashing lights and the sensor fusion will report to the virtual world model that there is a potential police car in an emergency mode. The AI Action Planner should then consider what to do, presumably pulling the self-driving car to the side of the road, or maybe rerouting the self-driving car away from the police car.

In terms of actually hearing the police siren, I’ve been advocating that AI self-driving cars need to have an audio listening capability, which most do not yet have.


Another means for the AI self-driving car to potentially become aware of the car chase would be via V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communications.

The police cars might be electronically broadcasting a message via V2V to warn other nearby cars to stay away or be wary of the approaching car chase.

In that case, the AI of the self-driving car might receive the V2V, and without yet seeing the police cars or hearing them, be forewarned about taking protective action. I suppose that it might not even be the police cars alone that are broadcasting the V2V warning and it might be other AI self-driving cars doing so too.

This also brings up the conundrum that just because an AI self-driving car receives a V2V does not ergo mean that it is valid and something to immediately act upon. Dealing with V2V is going to be trickier than that (unless you live in the all-rosy Utopian world).

Another question is whether the car being chased might exploit the AI self-driving cars by sending out a V2V that gets those AI systems to actually put their self-driving cars into the path of say the police and thus block the police on behalf of the car being chased.

Could that happen?

Once again, the answer is yes, and it further highlights that just because a message is received it does not mean that the AI should at face-value believe it or act on it without first trying to validate or verify the matter.

Besides V2V, a warning about a car chase could occur potentially via V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) electronic communication.


Here’s another twist for you — what about the PIT maneuvers?

I’ve mentioned that the police can try to spin-out a car by using the PIT maneuver.

Should all AI self-driving cars know how to do a PIT maneuver?

If so, perhaps the police or other authorities could commandeer an AI self-driving car and have it do the PIT maneuver on a human driven car that is being chased.

This is not overly far-fetched.

Suppose the police have an AI self-driving car and opt to make sure there are no humans riding inside of it.

They then direct the AI self-driving car to go ahead and execute a PIT maneuver on a fleeing car being driven by a human. This means that no police officer needs to actually do the PIT maneuver and spares the human police officer from possibly getting injured while trying to do the maneuver.

Notice that I asked the question by posing whether “all” AI self-driving cars should know how to do a PIT maneuver. You might argue that only some AI self-driving cars should have such a capability. Note that it is essentially a software-only aspect in that you do not necessarily need any special gadgetry on the car to do the PIT maneuver. It certainly helps if the car doing the PIT maneuver has good bumpers and some other stuff on it, but it is not a necessity.

Some would say that perhaps the PIT maneuver software routine would be something only provided on certain kinds of AI self-driving cars, or maybe downloaded only when needed, using an OTA (Over-The-Air) update to load the routine into the on-board AI system.


I’ve now covered some of the rudiments about a car chase involving a human driven fleeing car and it being chased by human driven police cars and considered how an AI self-driving car might get enmeshed into the matter.

There is the chance of a human driven police car that gives chase toward an AI self-driving car.

As I’ve suggested earlier, the Utopian world says this should never need to be the case.

There should never apparently be a possibility of an AI self-driving car that needs to be chased.

Suppose I instruct my AI self-driving car to rush me to the pier.

I’ll for the moment make the assumption that the AI is going to drive the car only at the proper speed limit and it will not try to drive radically or go above the speed limit.

The police find out that there’s a hostage in the self-driving car and so the police opt to follow.

We are now having a car chase.

If you think that all car chases involve going only at high speeds, you’d be wrong.

There are many car chases that we see here in Los Angeles that are low-speed or slow speed pursuits. Believe it or not, there have been times that the driver obeyed all traffic rules and stopped at the stop signs and never went faster than the posted speed limit, nonetheless it was a police pursuit.


There are various other twists and turns in the circumstance of an AI self-driving car that might be leading a car chase.

For example, perhaps the auto makers and tech firms will include a capability of the AI to realize that it is actually leading a car chase.

This is somewhat tricky and involves detecting other traffic, but in any case, it is something that a human driver would be able to determine and therefore I claim that the AI ought to be able to do the same (since presumably for a true AI self-driving car the AI can drive in whatever manner a human could).

The other variant of the car chasing would involve the police car itself being an AI self-driving car. Will we be asking police to drive cars themselves, when we presumably have a world of AI self-driving cars, or will we instead have the police be occupants or passengers in an AI self-driving police car?


Car chases.

We watch them in rapt attention.

What will happen?

Will the driver get away?

Will the police capture the culprit?

And so on.

We are going to continue having car chases, until we reach the magical Utopian world that some postulate will occur. There are going to be AI self-driving cars on our roadways that might get inadvertently dragged into a car chase that involves a human driver chase car and human driven police cars, and the AI needs to know how to detect it, avoid it if possible, or escape it if needed.

I’ve also claimed that we’ll potentially have car chases that are led by an AI self-driving car. This seems utterly counter-intuitive to most people and they shake their head in disbelief that it could ever happen. I hope that I’ve made a convincing case that it could happen. We need to be wary of it occurring and try to embody into the AI of the self-driving cars a capability to detect it and try to deal with it, if it comes to play.

We ultimately will likely have AI self-driving police cars, along with other emergency vehicles being driven by AI. I’m claiming that those AI self-driving police cars should be versed in undertaking a car chase, since they might be needed to do so when chasing a human driving a legacy car, or perhaps even when chasing an AI self-driving car.

For the foreseeable future, we are still going to have car chases. Whether you react to this assertion with fascination or horror, either way I’d say that we need to boost the AI of self-driving cars to have specific capabilities dealing with car chases. Putting our heads in the sand and pretending that the AI will never need to cope with a car chase is not a viable approach to the matter.

Hey, I just heard about an exciting car chase happening down the street, so excuse me while I go and take a look.

Can’t miss a really good car chase.

For free podcast of this story, visit: http://ai-selfdriving-cars.libsyn.com/website

The podcasts are also available on Spotify, iTunes, iHeartRadio, etc.

More info about AI self-driving cars, see: www.ai-selfdriving-cars.guru

To follow Lance Eliot on Twitter: https://twitter.com/@LanceEliot

For his Forbes.com blog, see: https://forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/

For his AI Trends blog, see: www.aitrends.com/ai-insider/

For his Medium blog, see: https://medium.com/@lance.eliot

For Dr. Eliot’s books, see: https://www.amazon.com/author/lanceeliot

Copyright © 2019 Dr. Lance B. Eliot

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Dr. Lance B. Eliot is a renowned global expert on AI, Stanford Fellow at Stanford University, was a professor at USC, headed an AI Lab, top exec at a major VC.

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