Archive | March, 2018

Will the NHTSA and “Self-Driving Car” Proponents Ultimately Endorse “Death Penalty for Jaywalkers?”

31 Mar

Jaywalking is of course very common.  In many locations it is the most common way to cross the street.  It is therefore inevitable that many “self-driving car” accidents will involve jaywalking pedestrians.  However, there will be no logical reason to assume these accidents were caused by the jaywalking itself.  In fact, if computer code developers had not already conceded (on their own)  that “self-driving cars” need to safely navigate these common jaywalk encounters, there would have been many more fatalities by now.  Therefore, in the case of injuries and deaths to jaywalkers, hindsight investigation into the software performance of these automated systems should still be required.

In addition, many of these accidents will occur under scenarios in which a human driver would  have avoided the collision.  This, by definition, means that somewhere out there lies “responsibility”.  And this is all the more reason why investigation into the causes of all future accidents – even those involving jaywalkers – is a must.

After considering the above, as well as a recent comment by an official in Arizona that the first pedestrian death involving a “self-driving car” was not the fault of the car because the pedestrian was crossing outside of the crosswalk ………….. the following concern arises:

“Will immunity be grantedeither directly through legislation, or implicitly by the NHTSA’s failure to initiate follow up investigations – to car manufacturers and operators in cases where ‘self-driving cars’ strike jaywalking pedestrians?”

My fear is that the root causes of these accidents – more analogous to the mysteries surrounding airplane crashes than anything else – will not be properly investigated as there will not be the manpower to do so (with so many of these cars out there).  Just think of how long it takes the NTSB to investigate and come to a conclusion concerning just one plane crash!  And local police and fire departments will be so far out of their league in trying to make sense out of these logic related mistakes it barely warrants mentioning.  And so, it is inevitable that the NHTSA will be forced to put accidents into categories with differing priorities.  As people are killed and the lawsuits roll in, it may be in both the car manufacturer’s and the NHTSA’s interest to latch onto this bogus “Not the car’s fault because the pedestrian was jaywalking” excuse.

Many absurd statements surrounding “driver-less cars” currently go unchallenged by our officials and the press.  I just heard a “self-driving car” representative say – in relation to this story about the first pedestrian death – that his company’s cars have travelled over five million miles (“without killing anyone” I guess was his point).  He seemed to think this was a big deal.  However, this is the equivalent of only ten “lifetime’s worth” of driving (assuming someone drove an average of 10,000 miles a year and stopped driving at age 67).  So his statement would be like me standing in a room surrounded by ten retired people and saying “Wow, isn’t it amazing that no one in this room ever killed someone with their car”!

In the case of the “not the car’s fault because the pedestrian was jaywalking” excuse, however, letting this go unchallenged will have much greater immediate consequences.

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Pedestrian Deaths Rising – The 3 Major Controllable (Yet Still Unaddressed!) Factors ……. Can You Hear Me Now?

2 Mar

I just heard another report saying that Pedestrian Deaths have increased disproportionately since 2010.  So – considering that cell phones had already been distracting us for years by that time – could there possibly be other factors more closely corresponding to the period in question? …. Hhhhmmm? …….. A recent incident, in which a young girl was hit by a car – no brakes applied – directly in front of my apartment and (according to the driver) under one of the exact scenarios I have been warning about (“just after dark, children now expecting cars will stop for them, driver could not see her in the glare of opposing headlights”), seems to suggest so!  (New readers here should try to get up to speed by reading my earlier essay “‘Stop and Stay Stopped’ Crosswalk Law Has Created Many New Dangers” about this law enacted (at least in New Jersey) in mid 2010.  Experienced visitors, and those on the go, can check out the (painfully condensed) summary below which is my attempt to quickly describe the three sweatiest suspects in this unfortunate increase in deaths (and presumably injuries as well).

#1) The “Stop and Stay Stopped” Crosswalk Law (closely tied to the time period of increased pedestrian fatalities) compounds the “driver distraction” issue; misinterprets the only safe purpose of a crosswalk (which would be to corral pedestrians to the safest crossing locations where unambiguous stop lights and stop signs exist); dangerously changes the assumptions of safety on the part of pedestrians; creates logistical impossibilities for drivers as they – unlike with stop signs and lights – now need to continually monitor (and interpret) the intentions of jittery pedestrians along the entire right side of the road and simultaneously do the same for the left, all while keeping their third eye “on the road ahead” as taught in driving class; and has created numerous other problems meticulously described in the essay referred to above.  Readers should note that this essay focusses on those new dangers occurring after implementation of this law.  No doubt “Stop and Stay Stopped” sounded great on paper, but it is clear (from my professional experience) that it was never actually tested, or was wholly inadequately tested prior to implementation.  This is an emergency situation!  Resolution of this problem will require political and professional “fortitude” on the part of designers and politicians (who may have to admit they were wrong) in order to save lives. …….. I have noticed what appears to be a bit of “deflection” by officials when they are asked about the rise in pedestrian deaths (which at times are occurring in direct contradiction to concurrent drops in other types of traffic fatalities).  This failure to look honestly at what is actually going on out there is very concerning.

#2) Ill-conceived and Untested Road Safety “Improvement” Projects For these I can provide photos.  Examples include “curb bump-outs” such as the one in front of our middle school which suddenly eliminates the shoulder, turns children at curb’s edge into “human traffic cones” as they now stand within inches of oncoming traffic, and causes a crash risk for bicyclists.  These cyclists, in fact, are more often seen making the sudden forced dart into the direct lane of much faster moving car traffic as they attempt to make it to the far edge of the bump-out without being hit.  On one occasion I saw my handicapped neighbor teetering on the curb of one of these bump-outs, twisted around and trying to decide when to make a run for it!  ……. There are also “middle of the road islands” with beams, fountains, statues, and vegetation that completely block a driver’s view of those pedestrians crossing at the poorly considered far end crosswalk!  Our local example even included black ice in the middle of the crosswalk – just off the end of the island – caused by the new inability of salt trucks to reach this spot.  In fact, I was nearly killed there as I tried to stay upright while taking photos.  Unsuspecting pedestrians would be at even greater risk were they to (50% of the time) fall forward into the fast moving, narrow lane of traffic that could not see them up to that point.  ……. And (a danger to drivers) there are poorly conceived “left corner view obstructions” such as planters, county park walls, and other beautification projects that require stopped drivers to inch their way forward, nearly in line with an intersection’s oncoming traffic, just to see what is coming.  This puts them at grave risk of being the victim of a driver’s side broadsiding!  These “left corner view” obstructions may also lead to a driver being unnecessarily involved, as a third party, in someone else’s crash (as I also witnessed a couple blocks from home)   ……….. Plus many more asinine and untested road projects.

#3) There is no mechanism set-up by which citizens can easily report “Road Design/Law Dangers” such that this information will be automatically routed to the correct jurisdictions for remedy, and the lessons learned documented and made viewable for all other road designers and legislators around the country so as to avoid future proliferation of these mistakes.  This unchecked spreading of bad road design, and bad “safety” laws seems to be occurring now as states and localities rush to “fix” safety issues.  Currently – if citizens reporting dangers are lucky enough to finally get their many hours of labor into the correct hands – they find they are speaking to the people who have the most to fear (professionally) if knowledge of their “design mistake” is more widely disseminated!  In addition, I have found after questioning that police and fire crews are reluctant to get involved in the reporting of bad road design to their more politically connected higher ups.  So valuable “real world” feedback is being missed here as well.  This systemic failure to obtain citizen feedback is not only shockingly ironic in terms of these new “safety” projects (“beta tested” at the public’s risk), but also in terms of the present push to test “autonomous vehicles” at the public’s risk.  Does not the lack of a citizen feedback mechanism totally defeat the purpose of a “beta test”?  Beta testing works by recruiting a massive number of additional “testers”.  Will the only feedback obtained from the public be their participation as non-communicative “death statistics”?!  Case in point – I was nearly run over in a parking lot recently as a driver backed up while relying only on his “rear camera” view as displayed on the panel in front of him.  This camera does not provide views to the sides.  Who do I report this major “real world” result to before people are killed or horribly injured?  (Note: Perhaps “rear camera” views should only display on screens located behind the driver, thus requiring that they are actually turned around?  ……. Just a thought).  Anyways – I have an idea for a low cost citizen’s “Road Design/Law Danger” reporting system that would not require individual states to drastically change the way they do things, or for them to pass new laws.  Officials should contact me if interested.