Due to advancements such as air bags, driving is much safer than it was when I first got my driver’s license in the early 1970s. Even then, because of seat belts and crush zones, cars were much safer than they had been in the early automotive age. The first decades of the automobile resulted in chaotic and unsafe driving conditions. Not only were the vehicles themselves dangerous to passengers and pedestrians (three quarters of early motoring related fatalities were pedestrians, often children), in the early days it was a free for all, with the first proposed traffic laws being instituted only after about a decade after the first automobiles. Author Bill Loomis is working on a book on Detroit history and in an extensive article in the Detroit News he discusses just how unsafe driving was a century ago, as well as the role that the Motor City had in making driving safer and less chaotic. Some of those innovations continue to make drivers safe, while others continue to annoy us. (Read More…)
In a few weeks, at WOOT (the USENIX Workshop on Offensive Technologies — an academic conference where security researchers demonstrate broken stuff), a team from the University of Michigan will be presenting a lovely paper, Green Lights Forever: Analyzing the Security of Traffic Infrastructure. It’s a short and fun read. In summary, it’s common for traffic light controllers to speak to each other over a 5.8GHz wireless channel (much like WiFi, but a dedicated frequency) with no cryptography, default usernames and passwords, and well-known and exploitable bugs. Oh boy. And what can we do with that?
The 100 grams/km CO2 output figure is an important one for motorists in the UK. Cars that can hit this magic number are exempt from London’s daily $16 Congestion Charge, which is levied upon motorists attempting to enter London’s downtown core. But new rules may leave drivers liable for the daily fee, as lawmakers seek to change the exemption threshold to 75 grams/km.
Citing New York’s leadership in banning hand-held cell phone use in cars, NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart urged the Empire State to become the first to ban all use of personal electronic devices while driving. Though careful to call it a state issue, Hart did hint that state compliance with forthcoming NTSB recommendations could be tied to federal highway funds (he has separately called for a national ban).
And indeed, New York’s legislators seemed to see the issue of distraction as an issue for federal action (but then, why not make the feds pay for it?). At the same time, everyone understands that the problem is near-ubiquitous and any full ban on personal device use in cars would be near-impossible to enforce (short of Assemblyman McDonough’s suggestion that automakers equip cars with cell-phone signal blockers)… which raises huge questions about federal-level action. (Read More…)
Cops in Ohio may not rip a motorist out of his vehicle to “check on his welfare.” The state court of appeals handed down a decision earlier this month in a case involving a man parked on the side of the road in a quiet Columbus residential neighborhood who was “helped” out of his car with physical force.
Al E. Forrest sat in the driver’s seat of a 2003 Ford Explorer with another man in the passenger seat as two police officers came up on either side of the vehicle. According to Officer Kevin George’s testimony, he just wanted to see if the Explorer driver was okay. The officers had no suspicion of any criminal activity prior to approaching the Explorer. When George poked his head into the driver’s window, Forrest looked surprised to see a cop staring at him through the window. George said this was a sign of “nervousness.” When George saw money in Forrest’s left hand, he ordered the man out of the SUV. This was the beginning of the legal problem for the Columbus officer.
A pair of senior police officers in Brindisi, Italy were arrested Tuesday in a speed camera bribery scheme. The owner of a BMW X6 blew the whistle on officers Giuseppe Manca and Antonio Briganti after a speed camera accused him of driving 160km/h (99 MPH) on state route 16, where the limit is 110km/h (68 MPH).
The driver faced a fine of between 500 to 2000 euros (US $650 to $2615) plus license points. The officers offered to make the conviction disappear for payment of 250 euros (US $327) in cash. The officers were able to erase the conviction from the speed camera logs to prevent detection of their tactics.
The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on Tuesday rejected a class action lawsuit filed against the speed camera program in the nation’s capital. Motorists Henry Dixon and Cuong Thanh Phung argued the city violated their constitutional guarantee to equal protection of law by treating drivers pulled over for speeding more harshly than drivers mailed photo tickets for speeding.
The US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against Nixon and Phung, finding no violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (through the Fifth Amendment) because drivers apprehended for speeding by police officers are not similarly situated to motorists photographed and accused of speeding by a photo radar device. The district judge reasoned that the camera is unable to confirm that the owner was the driver, so the greater punishment should not be imposed. The three-judge appellate panel agreed with the lower court’s conclusion, but for a different reason. The speed camera law can stand under the “rational basis test” used to insulate government actions from constitutional challenge.