Hit-And-Run Suspect Busted After Her Car Calls The Police, Spurs Controversial Legal Ramifications

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Everyone hates a backseat driver. You know, the person that’s looking over your shoulder, keeping an eye on your speed and pointing out everything “wrong” that you’re doing behind the wheel. Well, given how much technology that is being crammed into automobiles these days, it’s not human passengers that we have to worry about: it’s the HAL 9000 computers that are monitoring every important subsystem in your late model vehicle.

Take the case of Cathy Bernstein, for example. The 57-year-old woman made an absolutely boneheaded play by rear-ending another vehicle and then fleeing the scene. Bernstein, perhaps thinking that she had gotten away with her act of recklessness, went about her business until she received a call from police dispatch.

How did police dispatch find out that Bernstein was even involved in an accident? Well, her Ford vehicle was equipped with an Emergency Assistance feature that alerts emergency personnel when it detects that the vehicle has been involved in a serious accident. In addition to alerting first responders about a serious accident, an onboard GPS module can pinpoint the exact time and location of the accident.

Dispatchers placed a call to Bernstein to verify that she had been involved in an accident, yet she denied that an accident had taken place. “Your car called in saying you’d been involved in an accident,” explained the dispatcher to Bernstein. “It doesn’t do that for no reason. Did you leave the scene of an accident?”

Bernstein sheepishly replied, “No, I would never do that.” That a pretty brazen falsehood considering that her vehicle’s airbags deployed due to the severity of the crash.

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Needless to say, local law enforcement wasn’t convinced and decided to pay Bernstein a visit at her home, where they were able to examine the expansive front-end damage to her vehicle (she lied to the police, stating that she hit a tree instead of another vehicle). They also noticed silver paint on her bumper which matched the vehicle that she hit. After further questioning, she eventually confessed to the hit-and-run and was arrested by police.

Use of GPS technology in vehicles is already drawing criticism from privacy groups, as they feel that innocent citizens could have their personal information and driving habits wind up in the hands of law enforcement. In the case involving Cathy Bernstein, the good guys won, but some feel that automatically dialing law enforcement represents a violation of fourth amendment rights.

With that being said, the European Union isn’t concerned with such legal ramifications. Instead, it is going forward with its eCall emergency calling system. eCall, like Ford’s Emergency Assistance, has the capability of dialing emergency personnel in the event of serious accident. However, with eCall, the automatic dialing only occurs if the driver or passengers do not respond to voice commands following an accident. If no response is given, the system will automatically 112 — Europe’s emergency response number — alerting response units to your exact location. Any occupant of a car can also manually trigger eCall with the press of a button.

The EU writes: 

Information only leaves the car in the event of a severe accident and is not stored any longer than necessary. The Commission estimates that, once the system is fully implemented, eCall could save hundreds of lives every year and help injured people quicker.
All new cars sold in the EU must feature eCall by March 2018.

Tags:  911, ford, Police, ec