Autonomous Vehicles and the Law!
We are joined by Hadley, MA police Chief Michael Mason to discuss AV’s (autonomous vehicles) and other auto safety related issues. It’s a good one.
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note: this is a machine generated transcript and may not be completely accurate. This is provided for convience and should not be used for attribution.
Anthony: Everyone ready?
Michael Brooks: We’re good. I’m as ready as ever..
Anthony: Good. Well then we already started. So welcome listeners to another episode of the Center for Auto Safety Podcast. Uhoh Nah, of course. As soon as we start, our special guest holds up his finger and is hold on a second, I gotta go now. He’s come back. This week we wanna welcome the Chief of Police in Hadley, Massachusetts police Chief Michael Mason.
Police Chief Michael Mason: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I appreciate Yes, I’d love to have you. Thanks a lot. Yeah Fred Fred actually hamstrung me right outside of Northampton City Hall in front of about 70 other people when I was advocating for immigrant driver’s licenses and asked me to be on the show.
I appreciate it. Yeah, as as you said, I’m I’m the chief of police in Hadley. I have been in, had been lucky enough to be in Hadley. My entire career in law enforcement, actually nearly 25 years now. I actually started off as a part-time dispatcher there. And the last seven or eight years I’ve been chief I’m also currently the president of the Western Mass Chiefs of Police Association.
That’s a two year stint. Unfortunately, it’s a really long time. . And that’s one of the reasons why I was in Northampton that day and lucky enough to meet Fred. And so I have up until December to continue to serve as the as the president. And fortunately, one of the amazing duties that I do get in, in holding that post is being the figurehead for things like this.
And . I look at it as a positive because not only am I hoping to be here to learn a little bit from you folks about, AV technology and things like that, but hopefully I can, I don’t know give you a little bit of insight on how we might operate when when these things when everything really starts to ramp up and get out and make its way out onto the roadway.
And also, I’ll be able to bring this information. Anything that I can learn from you folks back to, to my organization. Because as the president of the Western Mass Chiefs, I work very closely with the executive board for the Mass Chiefs. And that is gonna serve to hopefully get this information out, across the entirety of law enforcement in our state, in our Commonwealth.
While I do have a, a bachelor’s degree in, in criminal justice and a master’s in criminal justice administration and focused on policy development as well as security studies I also have enough certifications that I can be an emergency management director and Hadley if I wanted to.
None of that qualifies me to speak on the subject that you folks. Are pretty much experts in. So as I mentioned I’m hoping to learn a little bit here. Just as much as I hope to give you the law enforcement side of things. . Oh, thank you.
Fred Perkins: And for our listeners, I wanna give ’em a little perspective on Hadley, Massachusetts.
Hadley is a small slice of reality sandwich between North Hampton, Massachusetts, home of Smith College, and one of the most wonderful cities in the country. And Amherst, Massachusetts, which is the home of University of Massachusetts, my alma mater. And a vision of the future on the. and and Hadley gets both the benefit and the problems of being en immersed between these two really intensely academic communities.
Police Chief Michael Mason: time. Yeah. Uh, That’s actually an excellent Fred, when I every year when I when I go through my budget process, one of the one of the things that I. I have to remind folks of and argue is that Hadley is extraordinarily unique. It is. It is an extraordinarily difficult town to to write a budget for and to try to plan public safety around because we have an an extremely small population.
It’s 5,500 people, somewhere around there, 5,500 actually Hadley reside. and the average annual, according to mass d o t, we’ve looked at a number of different studies. But the average annual daily vehicle count through our town can reach a hundred thousand vehicles in a day.
And so it’s really hard to explain that to folks and say, we’re not just, public safety for the 5,500 residents. We have an enormous commercial. and we’re a throughway basically, as you mentioned, Fred, between, people hop off Interstate 91 to go to Northampton, and if you want to go to UMass you’re going through Hadley one way or the other on one of those roads.
So I think it is fitting that I’m on this podcast today because we definitely deal with a lot of vehicle. .
Anthony: Great. I want to jump in right on an AV question, which might be impossible for you to answer. I don’t know. So we’ve talked a lot about automated vehicles on this show, and so my question is if let’s say I go through your town and I’m speeding, you pull me over, can I jump out of the driver’s seat, go into the passenger seat and just claim it was an automated vehicle that took over the vehicle and then you ticketed my car instead of.
Police Chief Michael Mason: No. No. I don’t think that’s gonna work. And
Anthony: if I
jumped in the backseat, would that help? No
Police Chief Michael Mason: it’s not gonna matter what seat you jump in, or even if you hop out and you run inside the five guys and get yourself a hamburger it’s really gonna come down to the actual operation of the vehicle.
Anthony: So that’s the real question then. So is it automated vehicle? And I know we’ve seen this more in San Francisco where these vehicles are taking essentially taxi passengers out and the vehicles for whatever reason, because they’re shouldn’t be on the road. Just stop in the middle of the street.
Now if I did that as a driver in your town and I just stopped the car and I was like, eh I’m done with this. Yeah, I imagine I would get a ticket, the, at
Police Chief Michael Mason: the least. Yeah. You, not only would you get a ticket, especially in our town with that, that much vehicle traffic, if we’re talking about something that’s not gonna move again, whether it be based upon your refusal or based upon some malfunction from an automated vehicle, we’re gonna have to tow it.
We’re gonna have to move it some way, one way or the other. and just to get it out of the roadway. So yeah, it presents a number of problems.
Anthony: So how do you have any idea of who gets the, so it’s an automated vehicle, say it’s a self-driving automated vehicle taxi service that doesn’t exist yet.
I’m just the passenger. This car decides to stop who gets the ticket or how do you handle
Police Chief Michael Mason: that situation? See that’s part of the problem and that’s one of the one of the things that I wanted to highlight with this. And while. While I find this technology to be extraordinarily interesting, really cool.
I get it. My wife has the lane departure thing on her car and the automatic stop and all that stuff. Really neat tech. Okay? So not downplaying that at all. But the problem is that historically, at least in Massachusetts, the laws need to catch up with the technology. The laws have. , the laws have to be ahead of the technology in order to handle these problems.
And experts in these fields, in both the tech and the law, in law enforcement need to be at the table to discuss this before these things hit the roadway. And historically, especially in Massachusetts, that has not happened. I always, I give an exam, I always use an. Long, long time ago when I was a patrol officer and a sergeant, my chief had me certified as a drug recognition expert.
And it’s an extraordinarily difficult field to get into in law enforcement. It’s it’s massive training. And essentially what it comes down to is we are trained to assess somebody. utilizing something other than alcohol when operating a vehicle and we’re actually trained to determine, categories of the type of drugs that they are using.
It’s part of the criminal charge that’s required. And I can remember one specific instance where I had a, we had a car crash and the individual who was the cause of the car crash. , one of the most impaired people that I can probably remember dealing with in all my years in law enforcement, could barely stand up slurring his words, just, it was scary that the person made it as far as they did.
And the point that, the reason I tell this story is because, , this was an easy one where we knew he wasn’t drinking because I had a portable breath test machine and he blew all zeros and he had pills in on his person, and he said, I took, he admitted I, I took too many of these. And so we charged the individual and brought it to court and the 90 24 law for the category and classification of the drug that he was holding a prescription medication that he took too much.
impaired himself to the point where he crashed his vehicle into another vehicle. Having a victim now of a crime was un chargeable because that drug had not yet been classified as something that in Massachusetts we can charge somebody with a crime for driving under the, I. . And so I use that example and I, it doesn’t, certainly doesn’t correlate exactly, but I use that example because the laws have to be ahead of what we’re gonna be dealing with out there in order for us to deal with it.
And so your question is pointed and poignant in that. , I can’t answer it. I don’t have the foggiest clue how we would handle that situation. You have a passenger in a vehicle, the vehicle somehow malfunctions and is speeding or it causes a crash or it just stops and doesn’t want to go anywhere.
What on earth are we supposed to do with that? There’s no law, there’s no chapter in section to cite a an electronic vehicle company. There’s nothing like that exists that I’m aware of, at least in Massachusetts. . Yeah, great question. a little scary, .
Anthony: Great answer. So are, I don’t think, are avs on the road in Massachusetts right now?
Police Chief Michael Mason: not that I’m aware of. No, not certainly not full avs. I, obviously there’s I, the last I understood that was that they, there were some, in testing phases around the state, but I am unaware of any fully automated vehicles that are in mass. And if there are, I, God bless the police department that they’re driving around their community and because I, I don’t know how you would how you would deal with something like that.
Anthony: Yeah. How would you pull that car over?
Police Chief Michael Mason: Good question
Anthony: you, how if there’s a situation like the other day I’m driving and there’s a, there’s a traffic stop and it’s, it’s a large police s u v that it just stopped there, didn’t have their lights on for whatever reason.
But I knew as a driver, oh, I have to go into the opposing lane of traffic and go around it. I don’t know if AVS could do that. And it could have been a situation that is a human officer outside saying, Nope, pull over to the side or something. And
Police Chief Michael Mason: Right. So you have, yeah. So you have the move over law.
That’s a perfect example. You have that move over law where you know, if an it’s an av is driving down the roadway, how will it know what a safe distance is if someone is, if some, if a regular car, let’s just say a regular car breaks down and pulls into the breakdown lane, you, if you’re driving on Route nine as an example, not right now because it’s under construction and it’s an absolute disaster, but normally it’s a four-lane roadway, okay?
And you have breakdown lanes on both sides. If there’s a car broken down in the breakdown lane, you have plenty of room to pass. In the right lane. The car’s in the breakdown lane. So essentially you now have, three lanes of traffics there. There’s no problem there, but there is a move over law in Massachusetts.
So what happens if right behind that broken down car is the cruiser that you were just talking about with its lights on and you are now required to move over? How will an AV. know that’s what, what’s supposed to happen there. Do you have the room? Sure. But you’re not supposed to be in that lane. Now with the cruiser in that lane, the emergency vehicle, fire truck, whatever it is in the ambulance, you now are supposed to move over.
I, honestly I don’t have an answer for that for that question as well. And to go back really quickly about whether or not they’re on the road yet in mass. . I’m gonna be asking around certainly after this podcast, because you bring up a good point that I haven’t heard anything from our Mass Chief’s delegation.
They are really involved in legislation in Massachusetts and things like that. So they see all the new things that are coming. To my knowledge, no one has brought up anything. AV technology out there, driverless vehicles in our state, in our commonwealth. Yet
Fred Perkins: have any of the officers expressed any concern about the Teslas and the history of running into.
Emergency vehicles were their lights flashing because it, it seems that some, somehow they’ve got an a reverse algorithm in there that rather than avoiding the flashing lights, they, maybe they’re a part moth, I’m not sure, but it tends to attract them. That’s and before we leave that, I wanna invite Michael to talk about the court case in California that’s come up that’s trying to test whether or not the human being is available and or is responsible for their crashing.
Police Chief Michael Mason: please go ahead. Yeah, I to answer your question and my officers specifically have haven’t brought up any concerns over that. We actually have a couple of places in town. Massive Tesla charging stations. So we see, quite a few Teslas and electronic electric vehicles in our community.
But we haven’t had we haven’t had, I haven’t heard any concerns from the officers specifically, but you bring up a another frightening point that if they’re somehow attracted to the flashing lights, that’s not a good thing. But not specific to our. . Yeah.
Fred Perkins: Just for your information. The National Traffic safety, national Transportation Safety Board.
I too, yeah. NT
Police Chief Michael Mason: ssb. We call it NHTSA n It’s just easier to say it that
Fred Perkins: way. It’s not NHTSA. This is the National Transportation Safety Board. NT S b Okay. Is actively investigating the tendency of Teslas to. Get involved with emergency vehicles and some other crashes. Michael, you got more details on that?
Michael Brooks: NHTSA has an open investigation into Tesla autopilot and incidents with emergency responders and I believe they said they are moving the other, just the other day. They said they are moving quickly to wrap that up and that it presents some novel legal issues, which is, a lot of this technology does specifically here, determining, can you call if vehicles are running into emergency vehicles, but also other things.
And we’ve seen motorcyclists and other things. , can you say that there, that, autopilot or full self-driving has one defect when it’s having all these different types of crashes? Yeah there’s a lot of novel legal things going on there, like you’re talking about trying to pull one of these vehicles over and how you exchange information and a lot of the crash things are issues that we’re only just starting to crack.
Like in San Francisco. I know there’ve been a couple of instances where, Police officers seem confused as to what to do. You don’t really have a human to engage with in the vehicle. You’re not really sure what the operating status of the vehicle is. You don’t know if it’s in park or drive or, I there was, I think, one, one circumstance in San Francisco where the vehicle was pulled over and the officer began to approach it and the vehicle then decided it wanted to pull.
off and go forward and find a safer spot to park, which, if you were a human driver, you might be in a lot of trouble in that situation, . But these autonomous vehicles seem to get away with it because there’s, there’s, it’s, I guess it’s hard to look at that behavior as, conscious violation of the law by a human in some respects.
But in. , that’s something we’re gonna have to find a way to get around, is find a way to enforce the law on machines. And I don’t, like you say, chief, it’s Massachusetts isn’t quite there yet. And I know that there, I know that Massachusetts and. Boston has its own kind of program for autonomous vehicles.
I know they have a program, but I don’t know that anyone is actively testing. And in fact, in your area in Hadley, I think the first vehicles y’all might see out there, some of the long-range semis and that type of av that’s probably gonna be on I 90 up there.
Police Chief Michael Mason: Yeah. Yeah, I would imagine when you say when you’re talking about novel legal I issues, are we talking about the actual criminal violations here?
Are we talking about like lawsuits that, that they have to hash out before we can even get to the next step? ,
Michael Brooks: I think there’s probably a mix of everything. I know, right? Fred brought up the California case with Tesla right now, there’s someone who’s been charged with, I believe, I think it’s voluntary manslaughter for basically turning on the full self-driving or autopilot.
I don’t believe they had full self-driving when this occurred, but the autopilot system and then killed two people. There’s a kind of a novel legal issue there, whether, someone can be charged for basically doing what the, the manufacturer advertise those vehicles as being capable of how much responsibility can you put on that person when they’re following the following what these vehicles are?
Marketed to do in many ways. And we also see that, I think we, I say this all the time, but there was a study that found that, about half the people who buy Teslas think that they can drive themselves, which is completely incorrect, and , they are the types that are relying on these cars in this way.
And then, it’s just inevitable that we’re gonna see more legal cases crop up where charging decisions are made difficult because of this interaction between the human and machine. And, everything from the basic I’m pulling over the vehicle to, who gets sued and who goes to jail.
All of that is going to be, we’re gonna need to. Everything in that spectrum and make sure that we’ve covered legally to provide for some certainty for the guys on the streets like
Police Chief Michael Mason: you. So Michael, you bring up a an excellent point. I There’s about a dozen things in there that worry me enough that really say, those things would need to be finalized and discovered and really flushed out before these things hit the roadway.
In any kind of significant fashion. That’s a lot of, that’s a lot to unpack right there. That’s just, that’s a lot of information, that’s a lot of scary things. You’re talking about people, could be criminally charged and liable. You’re talking about the companies themselves. When we get to, when they get to a full av there’s obviously, you said it to, you think, you said you, the guy that said it.
To auto autopilot or auto drive or whatever it is. What are the settings, so you’re talking about massive trainings that are gonna have to happen with law enforcement to know what to look for. I’ll give you an example. Massachusetts just maybe last year or so just updated their texting and driving lot.
Two, maybe last year or two years ago, texting and driving. Can’t text and drive. . People have a right to privacy to their cell phones. Okay? So you see somebody, if you’re driving behind somebody, you see somebody swerving inside and out of the lanes, okay, two o’clock in the morning, you can probably guess what the reason for that is.
But at noon there’s a high likelihood that they’re texting, okay? But you can pull ’em over for the marked lane violation. But once you get up to the car, ain’t nobody giving you their cell. You’re not gonna be looking at their cell phone to determine whether or not they were texting. They’re not handing that thing over.
Okay? They have a right to privacy to that. And so unless you see it happening you pull up next to somebody in traffic and you see ’em banging on the phone that’s a different story. Okay, so let’s say you, you have an AV driving down the road that is speeding. You pull the vehicle over, let’s say somehow you pull the vehicle over and it actually.
What are the cops looking for? What do they know? What to look for? How do you know what to see? Is there a setting that shows what the speed was? What it was set to by the the company or the operator or the person who, the passenger, I guess what we call ’em. In the vehicle.
And so you’re talking about massive amounts of training to learn, and then you’re gonna, and then there’s gonna be dozens of different makes and models out there that are gonna have different features. Yeah. How are you gonna, how are we gonna parse that out? One of the things that Fred brought up I think, I’m not sure if it was while we were talking, while we were chatting in the street, or maybe in one of the initial emails, was crash.
Crashes with battery fires and the electronics that are in there and the technology. My guess is, and I’m not speaking for a fire department, but my guess is you probably can’t show up and throw water on those things the way that you would with a, internal combustion engine fire or something like that.
And what about training for the fire department now to deal with those issue? , all of these things need to happen before something bad happens, before they get out on the road and they get pulled over before they get out on the road and they actually crash. That’s just my opinion. But I feel like people I feel like there’s a chance for people to get hurt or worse before the, if these things don’t get figured out before these things are on road and.
Fred Perkins: So one, one detail I want to just express to you, the Tesla has said that they’re providing recommendations to fire departments that in the event of a battery fire, they will need to dose the batteries with 3000 gallons of water. . Which is interesting because a typical firetruck only handles what, 300 gallons of water?
We, so what we’re talking about is having a reserve capability equivalent to 10 fire trucks. Yeah. For every Tesla fire that’s
Police Chief Michael Mason: out there. You know the area, right? Hadley a little bit. Yeah. Behind the behind the stop and shop area there’s a big cell tower out.
Just yesterday we have a a homeless encampment out there. A bunch of folks who, they don’t wanna, we, we’ve actually over this last cold snap, we got ’em vouchers to stay in a hotel and stuff like that. And they’re happy where they are. They just want to, they wanna live out there and, the property owners don’t really mind too much, but yesterday afternoon one of ’em had a campfire going and it got outta control.
The fire department showed up and I heard them on the radio within. three or four
Police Chief Michael Mason: hollering that they were outta water already. Their truck was outta water already. They don’t carry 3000 gallons of water. There’s no chance. And even with Amherst being as close as they were, like you said Fred, if they carry 500 gallons each, that’s only a thousand with two departments showing up, how many departments are we calling for a battery fire?
Fred Perkins: one of. positions of the car companies is that they’re getting this information out to first responders, and that’s a sufficient corporate responsibility,
Police Chief Michael Mason: right? So well tell that to the taxpayers, tell that to the taxpayers when the fire departments have to go in front of the towns at a capital capital planning meeting and ask for a million dollars to get a firetruck that has a 3000 gallon.
Water tank, which I don’t even know exists. Yeah.
Michael Brooks: Now and that may not be enough, right? We’ve seen some fires that take as many as over 20,000 gallons of water.
Fred Perkins: And by the way, they sometimes burst into flame spontaneously days after they’ve been towed to a a junkyard. So it’s, yeah, it’s a real hazard.
But, yeah. And that’s, so I’m guessing that’s a really important thing. I’m guessing you don’t have automobile companies showing up at your town capital budget meetings? No. To. . Yeah.
Police Chief Michael Mason: I .
Anthony: So going back to a little bit what you were saying with avs, so right now you’re officers, and I imagine you, you get trained on how to do a traffic stop.
Yep. And but you don’t have training for how to pull over a pickup truck versus a subcompact versus one from Honda versus one from .
Police Chief Michael Mason: No, we don’t break it up like that. We and we certainly practice, you during the academy and stuff like that, we’ll practice on different vehicles just because of height advantages and disadvantages and things like that.
Anthony: But like your interaction or more gonna follow more or less the same things is the Oh, absolutely. Sober and whatnot. Versus with an av, I think where you’re just hitting at. is if each manufacturer’s storing that data and gonna share it in a different way, now all of a sudden your trainings have gone like through the roof.
I couldn’t imagine what it would be like doing a traffic stop then be like, oh, I’ve pulled over this brand. I have to pull out the manual on my phone and figure out this is how to interact with it.
Police Chief Michael Mason: That just sounds, and so what’s inevitably gonna happen, Anthony is a. Law enforcement, it’s unfortunately, it’s a great place where apathy lands often.
When you’re used to dealing with the negative things in life over and over again showing up and talking to people basically on their worst day. You don’t get a chance to see a lot of happy people throughout the course of your day. . And so if we’re if officers are gonna be put into a position to have to learn so much that it becomes so cumbersome, you’re gonna get apathetic officers and you’re gonna get officers who are not gonna, they’re not gonna finish what they started.
They’ll pull the vehicle over, they’ll walk up, and as soon as they see it’s an av, we’re done. They’re gonna get, they’re gonna get sick and tired of it really quickly. And then, then whatever the problem is. If we s you know, there, there’s not gonna be any data, there won’t be any statistics out there to show that motor vehicle stops for avs have risen X amount of percent over the last few years.
What’s going on here? The data will disappear because they’ll just, they’ll see what they have, they’ll realize it’s not, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. So to. and just kick it loose and it’ll just go on down the road. And so that’s one of the important things about it, we have a records management system in our police department because of the fact that we deal with so much traffic.
So much of our activity is traffic based. We try to track it in a number of different ways, and I can tell you right now our RMS system is not capable is not. to do anything with AV technology, there’s no way to enter that information. We wouldn’t even know where to start. We would have, they would have to go back to coding and recode the r m s system so that we could enter something like that.
So that’s, that’s gonna be the unfortunate thing about it. It’s a great question because that’s the truth that, nobody wants to say that, but that’s what’s gonna happen. So
Anthony: there’d have to be some sort of standardized ways for these companies to make law enforcement’s job.
So we couldn’t get that burnout.
Police Chief Michael Mason: I would say not only law enforcement, going back to the fire department situation, the safety technology and all that’s gotta be standardized as well to make sure that they can be dealt with appropriately by all public safety.
Re you inspections, v motor vehicle inspections to
Police Chief Michael Mason: your sticker in Massachusetts. I don’t know if every state has an inspection, but I know in Massachusetts it. It’s certainly a pain in the butt to go get your vehicle inspected every single year, but there has, doesn’t, shouldn’t there be a standardized way to do that as well?
Is that gonna change also? There’s a whole number of number of things that I hope are being considered. Let’s just say that I hope, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna say that they’re not, because I don’t know, but I’m hoping that they’re being. .
Fred Perkins: We agree with you and one of the things we’ve talked about internally and actually across the industry is how can the self-driving vehicles, automated vehicles, whatever you want to call them, how can they be certified to be safe as they roll down the road during a annual inspection?
A lot of the safety critical features that they’ve got and the life critical features that they’ve. Are simply unavailable to somebody who’s doing a visual inspection. So there’s gotta be some way for the inspection person at the, at the gas station to get a readout of how these invisible safety critical features are being maintained and whether or not they’re all active as they should be.
Now, I know that in the. inspection, you’ve gotta read out of the oxygen sensor that says basically that the environmental systems in your car are working adequately. Seems that would be a good way to approach these systems, that, or the critical functions that are invisible to a human being. But is that’s something that needs to be mandated at the state level, doesn’t it?
And wouldn’t that require a legislative. ?
Police Chief Michael Mason: I, to my knowledge, yes. I know that a lot of different states have a lot of different restrictions when it comes to in the environmental features that you brought up. My guess is that there’s probably some differences in even the basic safety features across some states.
And I think all of that comes down to legislation. It’s based upon state by. . So how does a, how does an inter, how does a national or an international electric vehicle company or AV company handle that ?
Fred Perkins: How do you do? No, that’s good. You know what they’re, what they’ve done so far is to try to go in at the federal level and whitewash the whole approach by saying that they’re indemnified for any liability.
I’m happily that ha that has not gotten through. But Michael, you got a perspective on. .
Michael Brooks: They, there’s a lot of little issues here. I We’ve got, we need standardization for things like y’all are talking about, like firefighters, how police officers can pull over a vehicle, how these vehicles are gonna allow information to be exchanged and crashes, all that stuff.
. But what we are seeing from, we’ve seen an example this past week out in Seattle where Seattle, d o t, and we talked about this last week, I think has created a few additional rules that would require AV companies operating in Seattle to submit an action plan for emergency responders that goes over those kind of things.
And what the state of Washington did then was say, oh, whoa, Seattle you’re. Creating some laws here and we’re the legislature, we wanna do this. And they have put out a new law that is going to preempt everything Seattle’s done effectively. Which was pretty clearly something that was done by the autonomous vehicle manufacturer’s lobby who did not like the fact that Seattle was putting additional restrictions on them.
That effectively were being put in place to help police and first responders. As part of the plan. So that’s the whitewash Fred’s talking about. We see that, but at the same time, what we don’t see, we see manufacturers pushing back against state laws. They want to lobby and get state laws that allow them to put the cars on the roads, not necessarily safely.
They want to be in complete control there. And at the same time, we know that NHTSA is very slow to regulate, very slow to get , getting these type of regulations out that would apply broadly across all states is going to take at least a decade or more probably. Yeah. And so in that meantime, we’ve literally got a situation where manufacturers can do what they want.
Cities are being preempted, they’re trying to preempt states from doing certain things to enforce design performance and other types of things. So it. It’s, it’s scary that there’s not, a better oversight of this entire industry as it moves forward. They’re creating it as they go.
And, we’re not laws are going to fall behind and we’re gonna have negative consequences.
Police Chief Michael Mason: Yeah. That’s a great point. It’s a good word to use, is scary. I, it feels like it’s not of a strong word for it, but you make a good point. You have, you have these experts, you have the regulators, NHTSA and people like that, okay. So let’s just say that this requires legislation, requires state legislation, whatever it is. Why are these people not at the table? Why are the only folks at the table the AV C. That’s, and that’s the thing is that if you, you can’t, I’m j I’m, speaking from experience in a law enforcement field that has, over the years and in the recent history dealt with some some really quick legislation that was put into place that was sweeping both federally and and, within just our.
these things they have a there’s a reason that they have a kind of a playbook that they have to follow, right? There’s a reason that you’re supposed to have these hearings. There’s a reason that you’re supposed to be talking to these experts in the field, because what you, there, there’s always a practical application to this, right?
You’re don’t, you’re not writing laws for the fun of things. You’re writing laws because eventually, , they will have to be, somebody will have to apply them somehow, somewhere. And if they don’t work, what’s the point? If you want a good laugh, go look at the first three or four three or four iterations of the Massachusetts legalization of marijuana law.
That’s a good laugh if you want it, because when they first wrote it, you wanna talk about apathy. Officers were like, I don’t care. You wanna smoke weed, who cares? I can’t do anything anyways. And it changed so many times and in so many different ways, and it was unapply, so it was basically, okay, whatever.
And that’s what you’re gonna end up with in this situation, except for the fact that you have a 3000 pound bullet driving down the road. Now you’re not just talking about somebody smoking weed, who cares. So you’re right Michael, that the. It is scary and I think what has to happen is all of those experts need to come together and get to the ta to the table to create these regulations first, and there needs to be input by everyone so that when the regulations go into place, they can be practically applied and done so in a standardized.
But where does this
Fred Perkins: table exist? Because we’d be happy to sit there
Police Chief Michael Mason: too. . See? There you go, Fred . We’ve just started it.
Anthony: Yep. So who is the most dangerous drivers on the road? Is it drunk drivers, stone drivers, or teenage drivers?
Police Chief Michael Mason: texting and driving has text, statistically speaking, texting and driving has been on the rise for one of the more dangerous things that you can do on a roadway.
Drunken drugged driving. There have been so many studies done that, you going back to the, seventies and the eighties in California was the first state that I’m aware. That started the Drug Recognition expert program. That’s where this all began. Back in law enforcement and going back to the seventies and eighties, there had, they had been doing studies year by year after year.
And time again that show that upwards of 70, 70 to 80% of drivers, if they are impaired by a substance, they are likely impaired by more than one substance. And so you have drunk and drugged drivers out there
more often than you think. I can tell you that some of the most horrific car crashes that I have seen in my career have been in the middle of the night, unfortunately, by, caused by drunk and drug drivers . Teenage drivers.
They go, in my experience, it’s short spurts of scariness, right? They’ll do, they’ll put their foot on the pedal and see how fast they can go for, 500 yards on route nine or something like that. Not as likely to cause a crash, but texting and drunken drug drivers, in my opinion is are two of the, are the more dangerous things that you can do behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Anthony: My other question is I live in New York and I’ll drive through Massachusetts a couple times a year and do Massachusetts drivers, see my New York license plate and decide just to mess with me to put on the left turn and go they’ll just slow down in front of me or they’ll try and drive through the My trunk.
Police Chief Michael Mason: You you you’re aware of, if you drive through Massachusetts, you’re aware that some, that the Massachusetts drivers have some of the worst reputations for their driving capabilities across the country.
Anthony: I had no idea. , I’m surrounded by New Jersey on one side, which is just painful, but excuse.
Cause if you make a wrong turn off of an exit ramp, you’re stuck off that exit ramp for the next a hundred miles. Yeah. You’re not getting back. Yeah. Massachusetts, I think you’re just messing with. Or
Police Chief Michael Mason: there’s something don’t know what it is. I, you I notice, like I said, Massachusetts drivers, they’ve earned the poor reputat, they’ve earned it and they wear it like a badge of honor.
I swear, , you know that. I
Fred Perkins: can actually give you some perspective on that, Anthony, cuz I grew up in Massachusetts. It’s, and then they moved down to the Washington, DC area and both area. Yeah, you can easily get killed in an intersection. The difference is that in Massachusetts, when somebody tries to kill you in an intersection, it’s because they’re trying to get somewhere ahead of you.
In Washington, they’ll just do it cuz they want to kill you. .
Anthony: And look, having lived in DC for a number of years, DC has some strange things. Like I was on a street that was parallel to itself. I on D Street here and it’s D Street there, and they’re one of those in the same direction.
Police Chief Michael Mason: We have one of those, we have one of those in Hadley actually. We have we have two streets called West Street and they run parallel to each other. And it’s it’s home to the to the longest. I think it’s known as the lo it’s ranked as the longest public town common in New England or something like that.
But there’s two West streets. So imagine having a car crash on that and having to tell. Where exactly you are on West Street when there’s two of them ?
Anthony: Yeah. One of my brothers came to visit me once. He’s look, I’m in the corner of your street. I’m like, I know you’re not. And I’m like, oh, I gotta go a block away and find you.
I get it. Yep. So have you noticed during the pandemic, or has driving improve or gotten worse in the last few years? Are things in incidences or,
Police Chief Michael Mason: I’ll tell you I will say this during the pandemic I, obviously I and my officers worked through the pandemic. I can tell you that.
As, as frightening as at least the first part of the pandemic was when, we, when we didn’t know exactly what was going on and we were responding to calls and, wearing masks and space shields and everything. I’ll tell you, it was a joy to be on the roadways because nobody was on the roadways.
It was really nice to drive down Route nine and be able to get from one side to the other in under 40 minutes. . But no, I haven’t actually noticed anything significantly worse. Statistically speaking, we we do collect, annual data and try to run numbers and take a look at if we see any change, any significant changes.
Nothing really significant has changed except for the volume. The volume ha the volume of vehicles, especially in our area has. Our community and the communities around us. As Fred mentioned in the beginning, we have Northampton on one side, Amherst at the other, and Hadley in the middle with a big commercial district.
And we actually are smack dab in the center of what we call the five college area. So we have, UMass Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke, and. . So we have a huge influx of folks and what I can tell you is that the volume of vehicles seems to be increasing. But as far as good drivers, bad drivers, that getting better or worse, I think it’s about the same.
we still have a ton of car crashes, and
Michael Brooks: Massachusetts is actually statistically one of the safest places to drive in America. So yeah, year after year, they’re up near the.
Police Chief Michael Mason: So that’s frightening.
Michael Brooks: That surprised Anthony. I can see it .
Anthony: Yeah, it did. Cause I swear to God, they’re just trying to, run me off the road.
I, it’s really, it’s the turn signal thing. I see it constantly left turn signal. I’m going right and it’s ah. Why are you doing that to me? Yeah.
Police Chief Michael Mason: I don’t know. ,
Anthony: Alright. Do we have any
Michael Brooks: more, one thing, one thing that I wanted to get into too is wonder if you’ve seen this cuz we keep noticing this and the data seems to back it up, but there’s been a significant rise it appears in vehicle thefts across the country generally and also.
recently, specifically a lot of them due to this TikTok hack on Kias and Hyundais, which have been being stolen to the extent that insurance companies aren’t even willing to cover them anymore. . And we’ve talked about why that happened. That Hyundai Cho chose not to install immobilizes in these vehicles, which makes them easier to steal.
I’m interested in if you’ve seen increased rates of theft during this period, and also something we got into during the other podcast that I’m always interested in, if they can install, if we have a lot of technology in our hands now, and is there, is it time that we start looking at, kill switch type technology?
For vehicles that are stolen, not just to, recover the car find the perpetrators, get them stopped safely, but also to prevent them from committing other crimes which stolen cars are also used
Police Chief Michael Mason: for. So that’s two questions. So the first question is know, as far as the stolen vehicles, we have not seen any significant uptick in stolen vehicles.
We do have, as I mentioned, a huge. Commercial district. And so we have malls and strip malls and stores and superstores and stuff like that. So we get our fair share of stolen vehicles. What we have seen an uptick in is catalytic converter thefts. Yeah. Those are going through the roof, like they are just there is no fear.
They’ll slide under a vehicle in mid. and right in front of Petco at the mall, rip a catalytic, converter out and just be on their way. It’s, it is insane. But not actual vehicles, no uptick. We do get a lot, but not, not an increase. The second part of it, I love the idea.
Absolutely love the idea. And you brought up a bunch of good reasons why, and I’m not sure if you actually touched on it or not, but the one thing that pops into my head, vehicle pursuits. Okay. Vehicle pursuits in law enforcement are, they’re the bane of my existence. Okay. That, that might be a strong word, but I have changed my pursuit policy a number of different times to try to, you, in this profession not, you’re not getting, 35 year old, men and women and 40 year old men and women.
Who are who don’t have a a Superman complex and who, who don’t, you know, who are, have established families and things like that, applying to be police officers now. It never was like that. You’re getting 20 year old men and women who are outta college who you know are in that part of their lives and probably should be covered under, I think somebody brought up.
Dangerous drivers, they should be covered under that category of they’re young enough that they’re, that they’re not the safest drivers in the world. And so this is what you have in law enforcement agencies, at least in Massachusetts, probably across the country.
So I’ve had to change the policy a number of times to try to enhance and increase the safety of the officers on the road. And, who they may be. . And not a lot of the o opposite, you th this is what they signed up to do. They wanna catch bad guys, that’s what they, that’s what they want to do.
And I’ve had, looking back on my time as a young officer, I’ve had a number of pursuits and, my heart broke when my supervisor said to cut the pursuit off. I wanted to catch this guy. That’s my job. But I say all that to say. Boy, that kill switch technology, things like that.
Need to, we need to start thinking about those things because I don’t know of any departments around me yet, but I know that there are departments across our country who are telling their officers, you don’t chase, period. Not even for 50 feet. How long does it take before you know the. knows that and all they have to do is go.
So yeah. Is it safer to not chase? Sure. But what is the, what are the consequences to that? And so if there was something in the middle, something, some type of technology, like you said, Michael, we have the ability if there was some type of technology to add into that scenario.
to not have to chase, but still not have to say cyan to my my vehicle or, God forbid something worse. Somebody kidnap a kid or something like that. Yeah, I would love to see something. Yes, I would love to see some advances in that type of technology. .
Michael Brooks: And you’ll still have to chase ’em, but it’ll be outside of the car.
Police Chief Michael Mason: Yeah. That Hey, that’s fine. Then you’re talking, you’re just talking about sprained ankles at that point. Okay. We can deal with that. .
Anthony: gotta get the the foam systems they have at airport runways, like if a plane is landing and they’ll foam it, and so the planes run away just to install those on a bunch of cop cars.
Police Chief Michael Mason: That’s fine. I’m good with that too. Like you said, technology, it’s there. We just gotta be willing to do it. .
Anthony: So I think we were about ready to wrap up. So before we go, I have a question for a friend. What’s the statute of limitations on hot wiring a car as a teenager? , I think remember this
Fred Perkins: podcast, Anthony?
Come on. Come on. You gotta help me out here.
Anthony: I didn’t say it was you. And look, you said it was decades ago.
Police Chief Michael Mason: You just gave it up, Fred. You just gave it up. Yeah.
Fred Perkins: Hey, knowing how to do something doesn’t mean you actually.
Anthony: true. Yeah. I don’t believe that for a second. .
Police Chief Michael Mason: Yeah. Hey,
Fred Perkins: But Chief, I just wanted to say before we wrap up that it’s been great having you on here and you talked about coming to the table several times to, to work on some of these regulations that are needed.
We’d be happy to help if, be happy, have you come back on and I’ll tell you
Police Chief Michael Mason: what I. . Yeah, I’ll tell you what, like I said, this has been not only eyeopening for me you’ve given me a a lot to think about. I, I appreciate Michael throwing out some of the legal aspects there that I can start to Google and look up a little bit.
When this stuff does start to hit. I have all your email addresses. When it does start to, when we do start to see it, when the legislation does start to land, I’ll certainly keep you guys in mind. My hope is by then I won’t be the Western Mass Chiefs president anymore, and somebody else will be handling, be the mouthpiece.
But, we can only stand to to benefit by bringing more people to the table that know a little bit about the subject. I appreciate
Fred Perkins: that. Happy to help and I’m always looking for an opportunity to go down to the lowlands from my house up in Beckett. It was my understanding that you have a lot less snow and ice there, so that sounds pretty good.
From where I
Police Chief Michael Mason: sit right now, we do. Yep. Right now we do, but not always the case.
Anthony: All right. Hey, chief Mason, thank you so much for joining us. I think this was really informative for all of us.