Rules of the Road: The Automobile and the Transformation of American Criminal Justice

Stanford Univ. Aug. 2023. 304p. ISBN 9781503636187. pap. $28. LAW
The automobile has transformed Americans’ daily lives, their environments, and even crime and criminal justice in the United States, explains Headworth (sociology, Purdue Univ.; Policing Welfare). The book notes that vehicles have expanded opportunities for criminal activity, auto theft, drunk driving, speeding, and vehicular homicide. The author convincingly demonstrates that “automobility”—a sociological term that relates to social arrangements attached to using cars—has emerged as a defining characteristic of the U.S. socioeconomic system. Headworth uses what he calls “the car-window view” to map major changes in criminal law and enforcement, and he focuses on the individual rights and systemic inequalities exposed by racially disproportionate vehicle stops by police and intrusive surveillance technologies (GPS tracking, traffic cameras, automated license-plate readers). Twelve chapters tour a varied landscape that includes driving privileges and responsibilities, shifting from beat cops to patrol cars and interstate highways that expand federalism.
VERDICT Drawing on a wide array of secondary literature, the book’s provocative discussion of the automobile’s pervasive and profound impacts on the United States will likely appeal to readers interested in any of the interconnected issues of crime and punishment, individual independence, equality of opportunity, mobility, public health and spaces, the environment, and social justice.
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