Who enforces the enforcers?


James Deakin

So yet another lawmaker has filed a resolution calling on three House committees to jointly investigate the NCAP, or no-contact apprehension program. The DOTr and LTO have also called for a cease and desist, while the Supreme Court earlier granted a petition from four transport groups to suspend the program, which uses video surveillance and digital cameras to capture and penalize traffic violations. So why all the fuss?

Let me just start by saying, I fully support the idea of no-contact apprehension as a way to instill discipline back on our roads. I like the idea of having a system that eliminates the human layer and all the temptation that it brings to bribe or extort.

But sadly, as much as we need drastic measures to solve drastic problems, the reality here is, we are far from ready to be outsourcing something as sensitive as enforcement solely to AI or technology, and as it stands now, the current application of this NCAP is causing more problems than it solves. Far more.
I’ve lost count of the horror stories already; from people going to register their car and being presented with hundreds of thousands of pesos of fines from either a previous owner or a driver that can no longer be located, to glaring contradictions of being fined from turning from the wrong lane when the ‘correct’ lane has been closed off and barricaded so there’s no choice, to ambulance drivers that have shown videos of people refusing to give way because they fear they will be victimized by a NCAP that doesn’t understand context or nuance, this program needs to re visit the basics of automation before being implemented effectively.

I’ve brought this up with various LGUs already and the most common answer I get is: “The motorists need to understand that this is what they do in Singapore or Australia or almost every other first world country”
This of course implies that what is good enough for those countries, is good enough for us, but what they conveniently fail to address is that these first world solutions were built on first world infrastructure and systems that were already in place before those countries implemented it. And over on this side of the pond, we really have a bad habit of cherry picking our solutions by applying first world examples and placing them on top of third word foundations. It doesn’t work. It would be the equivalent of allowing autonomous cars to mix and mingle with human-driven jeepneys, tricycles and busses in Metro Manila roads tomorrow without creating the proper infrastructure first. Imagine that.

The road to complete automation is long and needs to be paved slowly. In the case of NCAP, first we need to overhaul the registration process for cars and licenses so that EVERY registered vehicle out there is updated with a current phone number that requires an OTP (like your bank or Gcash) so that an owner can receive an SMS or email IMMEDIATELY after the violation has occurred.

Once you have developed that, then, and only then, can we even begin to consider it. Assuming that is done, then we could start with a hybrid system to enforce binary infractions, like red light cameras or speed cameras. These are binary issues that don’t really require context and will serve as little bridges into the future of complete automation.

Once we perfect those, then we can introduce more sophisticated cameras that can be programmed to enforce other more complicated infractions like lane changes etc.

But it takes time and investment in infrastructure, education and communication. Trying to skip all those steps and go straight to the fully automated first world versions will only turn RoboCop into BoboCop.

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