By on November 2, 2015

 

In 1966, nascent federal automotive safety regulators recalled 982,823 vehicles. For the week of Oct. 25-31, automakers announced recalls of 2,727,205 vehicles. In 2014, the so-called “year of the recall,” more than 72 million cars were recalled by automakers in 902 separate recalls. On average, there are 2.5 times more cars on the road today than there were in 1966.

By most measurable statistics, vehicle recalls are more frequent and more costly to automakers and, according to safety data from NHTSA, fatal crashes happen proportionately less since their peak in 1972 — in short, recall repairs work and serve a purpose. Ralph Nader’s 1965 book, “Unsafe At Any Speed,” which accused automakers of intentionally delaying now-standard safety equipment, such as airbags, seatbelts and passive safety features, was met with fierce criticism from automakers. By 1972, several of Nader’s key points, including the federal oversight committee that would become NHTSA, had become commonplace. Automotive safety was already moving in the right direction, but Nader punched the throttle. 

Like Nader’s call for mandatory safety equipment and tests in the ’60s and ’70s revolutionized automaking, a new call to revolutionize and modernize is needed. However, instead of focusing on defective and unsafe cars, there needs to be new focus for this future safety revolution: defective and unsafe drivers.

Recent trends ought to concern everyone: Electronic hacking, defective airbags and myriad safety issues dominate reasons to recall millions of vehicles, yet those defective vehicles only account for roughly 2 out of 100 crashes.

According to safety data compiled by the NHTSA between 2005 and 2007, 94 percent of vehicle crashes could be attributed to at-fault drivers. Of those driver-error crashes, 41 percent could be attributed to recognition errors (including distracted driving), 33 percent to decision errors (driving too fast, etc.) and 11 percent were performance errors (overcorrecting, etc.).

And even out of the 2 percent of crashes that could be attributed to faulty vehicles, 57 percent of those crashes could be attributed to tires and brakes, critical components that are the responsibility of vehicle owners to maintain.

Much like Nader called on governments to force the auto industry to consider the safety of its passengers when designing their cars, a new force should call on government to force the auto industry to remove increasingly distracted drivers from vital functions of their cars.

In just over a decade, cars have transformed from 2-ton steel missiles into rolling Internet-enabled devices that are still 2-ton-or-greater steel missiles. As automakers roll out more connected apps, features and distractions into their cars, it’s clear the pace for a safe separation between drivers and others on the road has not kept up. It was only this year that the NHTSA announced a voluntary agreement among 10 major automakers — Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo — to install mandatory Automatic Emergency Braking in their cars by some future date. Those manufacturers sell just over half of the new cars that find homes in America.

According to studies and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, AEB systems could reduce insurance injury claims by up to 35 percent — yet the agreement between the automakers is merely voluntary.

Similar deals for autonomous driving features, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-road communication, and active crash avoidance systems seem decades away, despite the existence for years of technology for those systems. Google’s autonomous driving technology appears to be heading “to market” rather than heading to “the masses.”

A study this year by J.D. Power suggested that young car buyers are willing to spend, on average, $3,073 for safety features such as blind-spot detection, night vision, crash avoidance systems and visibility upgrades — and so far regulators have yet to take the hint to make those systems mandatory for new cars. Instead, car buyers are treated with a laundry list of options to upgrade sound systems, horsepower or appearance — typically with higher profit margins to the automaker — rather than safety features they’ve indicated they’re willing to pay for already.

“If an automobile buyer elects to accept a damageability risk in exchange for an appearance gain or some other benefit that is important to him, that would seem to us to be his decision and not a matter of public policy,” John J. Nevin, Ford vice president, said in 1968.

That antiquated logic hasn’t changed — even today. In 2012, the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers quietly opposed a measure to mandate event data recorders because it was “genetically opposed to mandates” despite their near-universal use already.

It’s clear that automakers are responsible for catastrophic defects in their cars that could be deadly. Few —if any — jail sentences have been handed out to auto industry executives convicted of wrongdoing despite significant regulatory oversight, but thousands of individuals are punished for vehicle-related crimes without meaningful change to the way we interact with our cars. The number of fatal crashes may be going down, but like Nader testified to Congress in 1968: “Do you give credit to the burglar because he doesn’t burglarize 99 percent of the time?”

We don’t, and we shouldn’t.

Likewise, even though fatal crashes are proportionately declining, year-over-year, the least-reliable components of cars — drivers — are still the least regulated.

To be safe at any speed, it’s clear that automakers should be held to a higher standard to reduce human interaction or increase driver attention. That only comes from competent and comprehensive oversight. Market forces weren’t fast enough in the ’60s and they’re not fast enough now.

We need someone to save us from the nadir of ourselves.

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185 Comments on “We Need Another Ralph Nader To Save Us From Ourselves...”


  • avatar
    WhiskeyRiver

    My singular beef with Ralph Nader and his activism is that he’s never driven a car. Doesn’t have a drivers license.

    Seems like you could be a little more connected to things you bitch about. It’s a little bit like a blind guy judging a beauty contest.

    EDIT: I just read a Hemmings article from last year that says he finally obtained a drivers license in the 80’s. I remember all the hoopla around his congressional testimony on the Corvair in 1966 where he admitted to never haven driven a car and didn’t have a drivers license. So he might have driven something by now.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      A quick Googling confirms that Nader does, in fact, hold a driver’s license, and has driven on occasion.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      So now I have to eat tainted food to discuss it? There is no need to drive a car to explain how fundamental physics and engineering combined with business practices made these cars dangerous. The corvair wasn’t a death trap but his book points that out, in fact they were just far more dangerous because they omitted simple things like sway bars that would prevent certain torsion issues and thus create an unwieldy car.

      • 0 avatar

        +1 @ Xeranar

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        Another +1. And going a little bit farther: I’ve had foodborne illness on more than one occasion (nothing serious), but I don’t think that makes me an expert on food safety.

      • 0 avatar
        Duaney

        Of course the Corvair was proven to be completely safe by the NHTSA, even the first model with no sway bar. In fact, because of superior handling the Corvair grew into quite a sports car, and the superior handling is in fact an extra plus towards safety. One of the comments a test driver made after driving the first Corvair was, “every other vehicle on the road drives like a dump truck, compared to the new Corvair”. The Corvair has another safety feature that most other vehicles don’t have, and that is a large crush zone in the front, in head-on collisions the Corvair excels in protecting the passengers. Ralph Nader’s attack of the Corvair was baseless.

        • 0 avatar
          Xeranar

          Revisionist history likes to make these kinds of claims. The corvair had a serious weight problem in the rear which created unmanageable conditions for average drivers.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            Hence why vehicles tend to be engineered to be understeer as opposed to oversteer.

          • 0 avatar
            56BelAire

            I owned 3 Corvairs; 1962 Spyder Convert, 1963 Coupe, and a 1965 4dr sedan. Loved them all, loved the handling, fun to drive and great in the snow. Were never unmanageable for this average driver.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m still bitter that he killed the VW Thing.

      http://www.automobilemag.com/features/collectible_classic/0701_1973_volkswagen_thing/

    • 0 avatar
      twotone

      I hold this idiot responsible for letting King George (the younger) steal the 2000 “election.” We need one less (not one more) Ralph Nader.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      WhiskeyRiver – A blind person or I can judge a beauty contest with a blindfold on as long as we both can use Braille ;)

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Here’s my experience shopping around for upgraded safety packages recently on a couple cars:

    On the CX-5, the ONLY way to get the upgraded safety package is to buy a “fully-loaded” vehicle. (Top trimline, nav, lighting, the whole works.) You cannot buy the safety systems on any trimline but the Grand Touring, and you cannot buy them without ALSO adding the separate package that includes the LED lighting and navigation. (The one with nav uses the same headunit as the one without, so that’s not it.)

    On the VW Golf Sportwagen, you can get the safety package by buying the middle trimline, and you don’t have to buy the lighting package (or nav, which is in the top trimline) but good luck actually FINDING a Sportwagen equipped this way. Most of the middle trim (SE) cars actually on lots have no option packages at all.

    Other than the need for screens to display the data associated with these systems, there is no reason to make them so hard to purchase.

    • 0 avatar

      Honda is addressing that with the Civic. You can get the Honda Sensing package of almost all trims.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Same on Accords. You can get an LX so-equipped (and they even have a few in stock from what I’ve seen in my neck of the woods).

        As I stated on vtec.net today, however, I’ve yet to see a single 2016 Accord in the Toledo, OH area “in the wild.” (Not even dealer-plated demos or loaners.)

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      New technology appears first as an expensive option on high end vehicles. It takes time before its cost drops to the point that it can become a standard feature. The best example of this is anti-lock brakes. Stability systems are another.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        I can understand them only being STANDARD on higher trims (like what luxury brands do), but there’s no reason to make them completely unavailable on lower trims at any price unless for whatever reason the lower trim simply doesn’t have infrastructure necessary to support it. But that’s simply not the case; the safety features are only available as options on the higher trims, and that’s that.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Given the recent 3s recall for bursting into flames and Mazdas well known record with rust, I dont associate Mazda with safety.

  • avatar
    VCplayer

    I don’t think we need to panic when vehicle safety is better than it has ever been. All of those recalls are actually a sign of that: those don’t happen if there isn’t so much concern for safety.

    We might want things like airbags not to have defects, but automobiles and their manufacture is immensely complex: there are always going to be problems that crop up.

    AEB is probably a good standard feature, but I don’t mind a slower rollout. There will be problems with it that haven’t been seen yet, and it’s better that we adapt the technology more slowly.

    • 0 avatar

      Cars are safer than ever before, but there are still ~40k deaths a year, and probably several times that figure in damaged brains. I once tried to get a figure on the frequency of head injury from the Feds, called different agencies, a researchre who was recommended as a source (she wouldn’t give me anything).

      I think it’s disgusting that the regulators allow infotainment and texting in cars. They should be prohibited unless/until it is shown scientifically that any distraction is absolutely minimal.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Ditto, I love how theres a ban on texting and driving, but huge distracting screens and infotainment are perfectly fine.

      • 0 avatar
        Duaney

        Most of the deaths are due to the drivers, not the vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        1) You can’t STOP texting in cars. Seriously. You can’t. Not with “regulations”. Even policemen giving out fat tickets can’t. So let’s just move out from that fantasy world, okay?

        Also on that, shall we ban stereos?

        (Likewise, unless you’re also gonna ban talking to passengers, you’re not “serious about safety”.

        Which is good, because *nobody* is that serious about safety, and people simply won’t stand for it. That’s the real limit of safety in cars – what people will stand for. See above re. banning stereos.

        Think that’ll work? It won’t.)

        2) Of those deaths, how about we just stop counting the ones caused by DUI and estimate the number of “late night just happened to ram into a bridge support at really high speed” suicides, before we start using the number to talk about info/nav systems and the like?

        3) http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/general-statistics/fatalityfacts/state-by-state-overview

        Note that the raw rate if just over 1 per 100 million Vehicle Miles, for a total of something like 3 *trillion* vehicle miles traveled to account for that raw 40k number.

        Note also that for all the call to “ban infotainment and texting”, damn near half the people who die in wrecks weren’t wearing a seatbelt – and those are mandated by law in every state, aren’t they?

        If you can’t get people to wear a seatbelt, do you think you can get them to not text?

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Though Honda seems to have sorted their AEB stuff out (despite needing a TSB in the TLX to revise the software to cut down on falses), I’d rather wait a bit if I could, since every one of those false alarms, depending on the circumstances, could mean at least a hard jolt into a seatbelt when a squirrel runs out in front of the car!

      (I’m sure if you hit that belt hard enough, you could see other stuff appear — like your cookies!)

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    I can’t even muster up a comment to pick apart all the disjointed ideas and assumptions.

    Maybe it just doesn’t convey it’s thesis correctly?

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      Reads like parts from a dozen unrelated thoughts. If its thesis is more driver training for the proles, then 99% of the verbiage is unnecessary. The topic has been endlessly debated here in the past and this disjointed ramble about something or other and Ralph Nader is the kind of frippery I’ve unfortunately come to expect from this author.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      tl;dr

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Simplify rather than add complications and nanny systems that may fail and only serve to reduce driving competency.

    The easiest solution: outlaw automatic transmissions. Make all drivers take their test using a standard. Only sell manual transmission vehicles.

    Thus all drivers will have a modicum of co-ordination, an increase understanding of physics and how their vehicle operates and spend more time paying attention to driving.

    • 0 avatar

      I was gonna post about the automatic transmission being the problem. At least of the problems, that’s the one I hate the most!

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      >Outlaw automatic transmissions

      TTAC’s Best & Brightest, folks. “If you’re not an enthusiast, you don’t deserve to drive.”

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Except for the fact that there is no evidence to support the argument that manuals reduce crash rates and one study that finds the opposite to be true in older drivers, that’s a valid point.

      (Moral of the story: Go learn about a topic prior to forming a strong opinion about it. Drivers don’t crash because they leave the gear choices to a device.)

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @Pch101: Tom Vanderbilt author of the New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), has stated on his website that although he knows of no empirical peer related studies, based on his subjective experience and the work of John Groeger author of Understanding Driving, that “I tend to instinctively side with the manual shifters — on the idea that a more engaged driver is a better driver.”

        Now surely you have some empirical evidence to support your statement, as obviously you would not simply post it based on your strong opinion and no knowledge of the subject.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Your first mistake is to presume that an engaged driver is a better driver.

          • 0 avatar
            dantes_inferno

            @Pch101: Your first mistake is to presume that an engaged driver is a better driver.

            So from your statement, are you providing the counterpoint of a distracted driver being a better driver?

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          I’ll provide this from an earlier post of mine:

          One study (Selander et. al. (2011), Does Automatic Transmission Improve Driving Behavior in Older Drivers?) found that older people drove better with automatics than they did with manuals, whereas younger people were about the same (although the younger people were a bit quicker with a manual when making left turns.)

          Another study (Shinar et. al. (2002), Effects of uncertainty, transmission type, driver age and gender on brake reaction and movement time) found no differences in reaction time and braking time between those driving manual and automatic transmissions

          There was a pilot study (Cox et. al. (2006), Manual Transmission Enhances Attention and Driving Performance of ADHD Adolescent Males) that reported that young males with attention deficit disorder were more focused with a stick. But unlike the other two studies, which had larger sample sizes and were based upon observations of people in driving simulator or car, the results of this were self-reported and involved only ten people. So the study justifies having a larger, better study, but isn’t that useful by itself.

          In any case, there isn’t much evidence to support the position that “engagement” prevents crashes. If anything, “engagement” would lead to more crashes if it increased aggressiveness.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            Pch101 – interesting that you mentioned increased aggressiveness. Years ago I had read a report done in one of the Scandinavian countries. They taught driving and avoidance techniques to young adults and found that it made them more likely to over-drive conditions and did not reduce crash rates.

            How does one teach people to pay attention and how does one teach people to accurately assess risk?

            The next question is how much money are governments and the public willing to spend to address the problem?

            I suspect that the reason autonomous vehicles or vehicles with autonomous crash avoidance will come to dominate is because no one will take the long hard look at their skills or more specifically their lack of skills.

            Current driver’s education and testing is woefully inadequate. Ongoing demonstration of competency is completely absent other than the Darwinesque method of removing yourself and others from the driving pool by mutual or self destruction.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            @pch101, Thanks for providing some data to support those claims, however a control group of 31 does not seem to represent a significant sample size either:

            Does Automatic Transmission Improve Driving Behavior in Older Drivers?
            Method: In total, 31 older drivers (mean age 75.2 years) and 32 younger drivers – used as a control group (mean age 39.2 years) – were assessed twice on the same fixed route; once in a car with manual transmission and once in a car with automatic transmission. The cars were otherwise identical. The driving behavior was assessed with the Ryd On-Road Assessment driving protocol. Time to completion of left turns (right-hand side driving) and the impact of a distraction task were measured.

            However the findings of the Ontario Provincial Police were that ‘distracted’ driving deaths are more numerous than deaths caused by impaired drivers and have for at least 7 years.

            http://www.citynews.ca/2015/03/11/distracted-driving-fatalities-to-surpass-drunk-driving-deaths-for-7th-year-opp/

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      I laughed, I cried…I realized you were moderately serious and I laughed again. Driving a manual adds a level of distraction in reality not coordination. You’re requiring a part of your brain to be involved in manual transmission coordination. You may get better launches but the evidence is in: Automatics and especially the race-designed DSG types are as fast or only slightly slower because you’re not wasting time and brain power to address them.

      • 0 avatar

        At least if you learned to shift gears when young, shifting a manual is pretty automatic. (No pun intended!)

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        Xeraner, liked your point above, totally disagree here. With driving a manual in nearly every car I’ve owned for 25 years, I can attest to my thought process to rowing-it-myself to be now muscle memory requiring very little thought process of my Amygdala. What it does do is limit verily my ability to juggle a coffee cup without a cup holder, shaving with my Norelco when I’m late for work, texting my girlfriend back for the fifteenth time of when I’m due home, and/or eating the latest Big Mouf Yuck burger from Carl’s Jr. Nearly impossible to do anything except pay attention to traffic and my input until safely in top gear.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      At Dave:
      Then you’ll have a legion of drivers stalling out on the freeway, then you’ll have another guy going 80mph+ whos too busy downshifting to use the brake.

      Traffic would be worse, as most shifters would be too tired to constantly upshift-downshift to keep with the flow (I see this frequently in the city).

      On the upside it’d mean more broken clutches thusly less drivers on the road,
      at the same time we wont exactly be making more car “enthusiasts”, it’ll become a self-absorbed circle-jerk cult all about bragging how dated technology makes someone superior.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        “[A] self-absorbed circle-jerk cult all about bragging how dated technology makes someone superior.”

        Agreed. It’s like bicycling, or vaping, or veganism. This is why I don’t call myself a manual enthusiast, even though do enjoy driving manuals–the insufferable community that surrounds it gives the the regular Joes a bad name. It’s automotive hipsterism.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Boy post something even slightly tongue in cheek and watch the zealots come out in force.

          Personally I am all for passive safety technology.

          And in Ontario texting or using a cellphone that is not hands free is now illegal.

          @ ryoku, I still stand by the idea that learning and knowing how to drive a manual makes one a better driver. For example just compare the driving skills in North America to those in Europe. Far too many N.A. drivers cannot handle driving in Europe (even on the right (wrong) side of the road, yet I have yet to meet a European driver who has had any trouble driving in N.A. except to complain about the number of bad drivers they encounter here.

          @Xeranar, how does shifting faster in urban traffic = better?

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          I view it more as “hardcore gaming”, you’re might be great at what you do, but regular folk wont have a clue to what you’re on about.

          At Arthur:
          I agree that it can should one be open to learning, I think Europes more congested roads help, theres less highways to cruise on and “zone out”. Sticks might be a factor, but I’m sure theres others.

        • 0 avatar
          dantes_inferno

          > It’s automotive hipsterism.

          Ah, hipsters. Those vaping, vapid, vacant, self-important carbon-based life forms…

    • 0 avatar
      ptschett

      A bold proposal, but… does it go far enough?
      After all, from a certain point of view a manual car is almost indistinguishable from an automatic. They’re both large steel & glass boxes that function to isolate the operator from the surroundings, and the statically-balanced 4-wheel stance can grant cornering abilities well in excess of most operators’ personal preferences. Yes, the manual car requires slightly more operator involvement with the transmission, but outside of heavy traffic most of the operator’s time is spent in a cruise state where the experience is virtually identical.

      Fortunately, there is a different kind of vehicle that truly can enlighten vehicle operators to the world around themselves, and enable better development of their coordination and their vehicular physics understanding. This vehicle, the motorcycle, doesn’t coddle the operator with a safety cage, and requires the operator to be far more vigilant of the concepts of the traction circle. Corner handling paradoxically requires more skill and technique at lower speeds. Motorcycles can be had for a fraction of the price of a car, 3-4 motorcycles can fit into the space a single car would occupy in a parking spot or on the road, and the light weight of a motorcycle renders them incapable of doing the kind of property damage that an automobile can do.

      (The above is almost entirely facetious; but, after having owned a motorcycle, I don’t find manual cars all that compelling. Some cars should have a manual, some are probably better manual than not, but some are a toss-up, and some modern automatics are good enough vs. the manual alternative that I’d rather have the automatic. For example: ZF 8HP70 vs. Tremec TR6060 in the Challenger. One of the reasons I traded my manual 2010 Challenger R/T for an automatic 2015 R/T was that the gearbox and clutch had become more annoying than they were endearing.)

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      I’d go further still. Eliminate virtually all power controls.

      We drive around in 300hp 3500lb battering rams with 10″ tires while eating McDonald’s and texting because power controls do all of the work. If the driver must do the work, laziness and false machismo will disappear quickly. Government “safety” regulations that mandate rolling, zero-visibility bunkers would be repealed quite quickly. No one is going to commute to an inadequate cubicle in a hyper-masculine pickup. People wouldn’t switch lanes like wannabe F1 drivers because steering racks on sedans and such would be much slower.

      I bet obesity rates would go down because eating while driving is more difficult and driving is exercise. Jobs would be created because the 70 year-old plutocrat needs a 20-something bodybuilder to drive him around in his S-Class.

      See. Eliminating power controls is the path to Utopia!

  • avatar

    Every so often we get one of these “The Sky Is Falling” articles about the massive safety disaster that driving has become.

    But they fail to mention that the fatality rate is the lowest in history, over 75% safer per mile traveled than 50 years ago. Someone who is in a car for 15,000 miles a year will be in a fatal crash about once in every 6,000 years.

    “The Sky Is Falling” articles are nonsense. Can we continue to improve? Sure, but the idiotic articles claiming a disaster do not help.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      How much of the fatality rate improvement over the 50 year period is due to better site care on the part of the police and EMTs?

    • 0 avatar

      This is not a “The Sky Is Falling” post, but a realignment of thinking. So much ink is spilled over Volkswagen’s dirty diesels and GM’s ignition switches that you sometimes need a reminder of what’s really killing people on today’s roads.

      Also, just because those roads are “over 75% safer per mile traveled than 50 years ago,” as you say, does that mean we should stop pushing for zero fatalities?

      When did the American public go from striving for excellence to “this is good enough”?

      • 0 avatar

        Zero fatalities can be achieved in only one way – zero driving.

        Modern private automobiles and modern good roads have transformed our society in so many good ways. Our freedom to travel when and where we want for work or for pleasure has a remarkably low price today.

        As I said before: Can we continue to improve? Sure, but the idiotic articles claiming a disaster do not help.

        James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          Yes, we know about your membership.

        • 0 avatar
          Maxb49

          “I agree (especially when the signature is longer than the post), but posting (almost) the same message on two different replies makes you look malicious.”

          I don’t have anything malicious against James C. Walker, but we have 6 people in this office reading TTAC. If this signature crap becomes a regular part of the discussion, we’re leaving for good.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            Barring the observation that you’ve made about half a dozen posts now against Mr. Walker; AFAICT, it’s only been used by two members (the first of which only uses his name), and Mr. Walker is new (I think). It’s not gonna be a regular part of discussion. But if it does, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

          • 0 avatar
            Maxb49

            Looks like Mr. Walker reconsidered using such a distracting and upsetting signature. Now his posts are more readable.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “When did the American public go from striving for excellence to ‘this is good enough’?”

        He who defends everything defends nothing. The effort to achieve zero fatalities could make things worse, as such an agenda would encourage programs that overreach and are unlikely to work.

        (That isn’t an endorsement of the NMA, which includes some fairly loony positions on its own agenda. It was once a good group, but it has since indulged in its own share of overreaching.)

        • 0 avatar

          I would be interested in how you think we “overreach”.

          James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            The idea of zero fatalities is not rational but we have not reached a point of diminishing returns yet, at least in my opinion. That said I fail to see why event data recorders would be considered safety equipment. They are a direct invasion of privacy and only work to implicate you, or possibly another driver.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        American society as a whoe has gone from “One day I’m going to be an Astronaut!” to “One day, I’m going to be popular on youtube!”.

      • 0 avatar
        beastpilot

        Has someone actually studied the cost/benefit of various technologies? I did some quick math on the upcoming reverse camera mandate, and it will cost an average of $18M per life saved. That’s way out of line. If society is going to spend money to save lives, we can easily save lives at $1M per life in lots of places. It’s not an issue of America once striving for excellence and now being ok with good enough. We know how to make cars even safer than they are today, just at a high cost. Why are we OK with that?

        Private, small aviation is a good example of this. We’ve decided that “good enough” doesn’t exist, and that cost is not a factor, so every year we add rules, regulations, and requirements, which strangle the industry. A small, private aircraft now costs as much as a house, and the statistics don’t bear out that it’s any safer. People sure fly them less though.

        • 0 avatar
          KixStart

          Add in “bikes not squashed” and “fenders not bent.” It’s not just lives; better rear visibility is useful in many ways.

          The alternative is cars with decent greenhouse. I’m pretty sure automakers would rather install backup cameras.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          beastpilot – yes, back up cameras and the cost have been studied. 18 million per life is a bit off by maybe 17.99 million.

    • 0 avatar
      Maxb49

      “James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association”
      Is that supposed to be some kind of credential? Jeezus, it’s in every one of your posts. Does it qualify you to give an opinion on oil change chains?

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      jcwconsult – so this is a case of people killing people not guns er cars killing people?

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Automatic braking? How about banning cellphones and Internet connectivity in cars? Neither is as necessary as many seem to believe. It’s time to force some people to beat their addictions. And how about demanding proficiency on the part of our drivers? We’ve never even tried that in over 100 years of motoring in the U.S.

    • 0 avatar
      VCplayer

      We need to do things that are 1) practical, and 2) people are actually going to do.

      People are going to use phones in cars. Making it illegal won’t greatly change that. Installing jammers in the cars is just going to make shade tree mechanics that know how to disable it a lot of money. (Also, this would be a total nightmare for the FCC and anyone who has to manage wireless infrastructure).

      People are also going to make bad decisions while driving. That hasn’t changed since automobiles were invented. Automatic braking is something that we can actually do and doesn’t depend on human nature changing itself.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Your ideas may feel good, but they don’t work. You might want to give a bit of credit to those who study this stuff for a living and have already figured that out.

    • 0 avatar
      Duaney

      I’d like to see a device that disables the vehicle if alcohol is detected.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      Banning internet and cellphone would require the government to produce statistics indicated a real epidemic in distractive driving. The current paradigm of falling fatalities and falling fatalities per mile is not going to get the job done.

      Is the government ever going to get to autonomous driving if they ban creature comforts for passengers?

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Reading this is like being a pinball; you think you’ve arrived at the gist and then a flipper whacks you somewhere else o_O

    Is he saying that we need federal mandates to force more autonomy in cars so stupids are maximally taken out of the control loop?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “instead of focusing on defective and unsafe cars, there needs to be new focus for this future safety revolution: defective and unsafe drivers.”

    The focus is kept on passive safety (stuff that works irrespective of the driver) because it works. The emphasis is not on active safety (equipment that is intended to produce better drivers) because it does not.

    There is decades of research and real-world outcomes that have led to this. I realize that this goes against the gut feelings of the average driver in general and enthusiasts in particular, but the data and research on the subject are pretty clear.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I’m sorry to say it but I couldn’t disagree more with the main thrust of this article.

    Without posting an essay response I’ll jump to the end and disagree with your claim that autonomous braking should be mandated. The companies that agreed to this probably have AB systems nearing completion or already in other markets. The others probably don’t. Forcing them to develop one in a hurry and outside of their normal procurement schedule will indeed result in faulty systems. Those faulty systems will do more to threaten widespread adoption of similar technologies than any amount of feet dragging. Remember the first mandated abs systems and the dangers they carried? The public’s ability to communicate has dramatically improved since then and today that story could have a different ending.

    I’d apply the same argument against mandating self driving technology. Safety improvements are, as of now, basically hypothetical, and the results we do have are not coming from a truly wide variety of environments with a healthy mix of driven and auto cars. A mandate rapidly introduces that technology into exactly those less known situations.

    In short I agree that cars can be safer, but I’d argue a more conservative course. Be more patient and we’ll get the results that we’re clearly heading for with less headache.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I’d like to have another Ralph Nader – as long as he doesn’t run for President.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    . . .I find the irony palpable in the fact that TTAC aggressively roots against the coming age of driver-less cars even though driver-less cars are going to be the biggest safety enhancement since seat belts and airbags. When we take the driver away we’ll all live safer lives.

    Now excuse me while I put on my flame retardant suit and the hate pours in…

    • 0 avatar

      “When we take the driver away”

      You’re all about taking things away.

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        And you’re what? Some secret hero of the people and freedom? Spare me your pathetic excuses you call an argument.

        If most accidents are driver-caused then why should you drive? If your argument is anything other than ‘because I can’ you’re not pretty narrow grounds. I know this dovetails into gun rights (which ironically I am on the same side with you) but more so because guns cause so few actual deaths per use and serve a different function.

        In the case of the car most people would prefer not to drive or if offered the same convenience/cost would take a taxi service. So while I LOVE driving, it’s a pleasure, but it’s also a danger. This is really where I support moving towards autonomous driving vehicles and if you really love racing we can afford to build more raceways for those who want to do it competitively. In fact, demand would assuredly rise as people became more and more interested since they couldn’t do it on a daily basis.

        But if you want to discuss how I’m an authoritarian for advocating for advances in technology while you’re a the freedom bringing troglodyte i’m game. Just remember that when the next fender bender happens that involves you (since statistically it’s a matter of time not if) and how that could have been avoided.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “Since” seat belts and airbags? They’re going to be bigger. They’re going to be the most effective safety enhancement in the history of motorized vehicles.

  • avatar

    With whatever credit must go to Ralph Nader and government regulations, the simple truth is that every technology that makes cars and driving safer has been developed by the auto industry and its suppliers. Laminated safety glass was developed by Triplex over a century ago. Nils Bohlin invented the three point harness at Volvo, which gave away the patent in the early 1950s. Bela Berenyi at Mercedes-Benz invented passenger safety cells and crumple zones around the same time. Ford first offered seat belts in the 1950s (with a low take rate). Eaton developed the first practical and commercial airbags in the 1970s.

    I realize that there’s a chicken/egg issue when it comes to regulations that mandate improvements, but the fact remains that the improvements were made by the private sector.

    I think it’s an interesting question as to whether we’re better served by giving the DOT and NHTSA more money for enforcement and compliance with regulations or by funding research into safety tech in a manner similar to how we operate national labs like Livermore.

    Regulations or not, safety has been at the very least a selling feature since the early days of the auto industry. How much was real, based on engineering tests, and how much was advertising BS is a legitimate question, but despite the oft heard claim that auto executives have said “you can’t sell safety” (the only actual quote I’ve found is something Lee Iacocca said and he didn’t exactly say that), they’ve been trying to sell safety since just about the early days of the industry. I can show you promotional films from the 1930s showing Chevys rolling over and then driving away. So consumers were concerned enough for companies to promote their cars as safe. It wasn’t until Berenyi and Bohlin’s inventions, however, that things got into real science and engineering (most of the Tucker’s safety features were more hype than safety). Had the industry been as uniformly callous as Nader claimed, the industry wouldn’t have devoted resources to the issue.

    As for automated emergency braking, it could prevent some accidents and is fine when integrated into an intelligent cruise control system, but I’ve reviewed a couple of cars that have had warning systems but not AEB and if the brakes were activated a couple of times when the warning of an impending accident came up, I would have been rear ended.

    One problem with autonomous driving systems is that you can’t get sufficient real-world data on how they work without testing them in significant numbers in the real world.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “every technology that makes cars and driving safer has been developed by the auto industry and its suppliers.”

      Yes, after being required by regulators. Efforts to sell such technology without it being mandated have, in most cases, resulted in failure except in the luxury market.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Regulations did not invent the safety systems but left strictly to the marketplace they would never have achieved the market penetration thAt they have. The carmakers fought everything tooth and nail. You should give credit to Lee Iacocca. He saw the marketing possibilities when regulators mandated passive restraints and led to the airbag war.

      • 0 avatar

        No, when Nils Bohlin and Bela Berenyi invented three point harnesses and crush zones, safety regulations were decades in the future.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      Did you seriously just use the ‘well the market/industry invented it! Regulators didn’t?’

      THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT. Regulators rarely have laboratories to invent things, they make mandates based on research and white papers to promote certain levels of research and then choose amongst the options. This is such an obnoxious argument to make since seat belts were invented 20 years before they became standard features. Airbags were reliably used for decades prior to them becoming standard then nearly wrapping the entire cabin.

      Your vaunted safety glass was invented by accident, same as teflon. Neither had a market intent, they merely existed and were exploited by the market then regulators (or vice versa).

      As for where to put more money, why not both? There is ample spending room for more government funded laboratories especially if she shift some from our expansive military efforts. Stop giving red state welfare so we can educate and protect our population…

      • 0 avatar

        Right, we’re better off because of the foresight of government regulators. All those inventions were just lucky accidents, exploited by ruthless capitalists.

        Actually, it was about 30 years of serious R&D, with at least two alternative solutions, between the fact that covering glass with plastic reduced shattering was discovered, to something close to what we use today as laminated safety glass was put in production.

        Many modern inventions were the result of serendipity, no doubt, much as you wish to minimize the contributions of inventors and entrepreneurs because they exist outside of the state. The genius isn’t in accidentally coming up with the goop at the bottom of the test tube, as Carruthers did with Nylon or Plunkett with Teflon, it’s recognizing potential applications.

        • 0 avatar
          Xeranar

          Ok, now you’re just strawmanning. Stop wasting my time, nobody is taking you seriously when you write this kind of trite.

          Most capitalists work on safety inventions to save lives and then to get them to be sold to make money. Some of it is honest altruism, some is not. But it usually takes regulators to make them implement across the board otherwise safety = luxury as we’ve seen historically.

          Lamination of glass was found in 1903, it patented in 1911, refinements (in that it was sandwiched) came later, but adoption does not equal ‘serious R&D’ which isn’t much of an argument anyways.

          But when you’re done beating that strawman to death we can talk again. Otherwise I’m going to let you roll in the hay by yourself.

        • 0 avatar
          shaker

          “I realize that there’s a chicken/egg issue when it comes to regulations that mandate improvements, but the fact remains that the improvements were made by the private sector.”

          Lots of dead chickens and cracked eggs before mandates…

          I just wanted to insert that bit of snark.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    I’m betting my grandkids never learn how to drive as the car will drive itslef. they may never own a car as the will call up an autonomous pod and go to their destination.

    There are a number of great and sad things about that. Great in that diver error can be removed and elderly or impaired individuals can get around. Sad in that the joy of driving is lost. This does not even get into the issue of a system like that being hacked.

    I for one would pay more for more HP and a manual transmission and I won’t pay more for active safety systems like BSW, Lane departure, etc.

    I say double the speed limits, make driving scary so you have to pay attention and get proper track driving to pass your driver’s test and every drive can be an adventure.

  • avatar
    tedward

    Xeranar
    that comment argues against a strawman. I don’t see ttac authors or even commenters taking a stand against self driving cars. I do see a lot of pushback on utopian thinking about the technology. This article being a prime example of impatient utopianism and the comments basically being summed up as, “slow your roll.”

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      I don’t know what you’re reading but their numerous write ups are all aimed at getting a flustered base to traffic their website and be anti-self-driving cars. They’re coy about their writing, prior to the last editorial shake-up they were pretty anti-union (subtle, but clear).

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    My opinion, if you want to make drivers better, jack every speed limit up 20mph, except the most residential of roads. As long as drivers are sitting there twiddling their thumbs at speed limits from the Nixon administration in incredibly capable cars, they’ll look for more stimulus. ENGAGE them in driving, and watch the attention to the task return.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      Only if I get to ENGAGE the ones who scare me with my Model 12.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Few cars are “incredibly capable.” That requires good mechanical condition. Most cars older than two or three years are not in good mechanical condition.

      People also wouldn’t engage just with higher speed limits — they’d just plow into pedestrians in crosswalks faster (dramatically increasing the severity of those accidents) while reading on their phones.

      • 0 avatar

        Do remember that you can raise a posted limit by as much as 15 mph or lower one by as much as 20 mph – and you change the actual 85th percentile speed by a maximum of 3 mph, but usually by only 1 or 2 mph and many times there is no change. Posted limits have almost no effect on the actual travel speeds unless there is enforcement close to 24/7.

        See our website for the research. And note that the 1941 National Safety Council Report on Speed said to post the limits between the 80th and 90th percentile speeds for the best results. The science doesn’t change.

        James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

        • 0 avatar
          S2k Chris

          You can absolutely affect speed differential. The 85th percentile is the speed at or below which 85% of drivers drive. There is still a sizeable number of people who will not speed under any circumstance. So if you set the speed limit to what most people drive at, and bring UP the speed at which those “speed limit is Gospel” people drive, you reduce speed differential and thus danger.

          Quite honestly, when you consider how safe the roads are (1.1ish deaths per 100m miles driven?) we really are very close to “perfect safety.” The two biggest contributing factors now are seatbelt usage and (real) DUI (not that .08 crap, .12 and above).

        • 0 avatar
          Maxb49

          You didn’t really do that research, did you Mr. Life Member?

          • 0 avatar

            The max of + or – 3 mph in 85th percentile speeds research was done by Martin Parker in 1992, using results of 100 test sites where limits were raised by up to 15 mph or lowered by up to 20 mph. It is the most exhaustive study ever done on this issue. I have met Mr. Parker several times and jointly presented to him once with the Michigan State Police on the effects of a new law in MI on speed limits passed in 2006.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    We don’t need another Ralph Nader.

    We need robot cars.

    40,000 fatalities a year, and I’m going to guess that 39,800 of those are caused either by driver error or by pedestrian/bicyclist error for which a robot car (with its faster reaction times and better understanding of its own capabilities) could compensate.

    I know we all like to bemoan robot cars because we like to drive, but the possible public health and safety benefits easily make the loss worth it.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Another Nader would be no help. His expose drove government to pressure the auto makers, but now government is part of the problem, directly through regulations, and indirectly through mismanagement of the economy, making it more difficult for all capital intensive, relatively low margin manufacturing (not just autos) to keep costs down.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      citations for your argument? I’m not sure where this is coming from since Tesla has found the money to enter the marketplace.

      The problem with manufacturing in general is outside of the tech industry it’s all low margin and it’s all stable. Once a market stabilizes there is no entrance unless a new manufacturer has something extremely radical and innovative. Simply put: The auto industry is crowded by default and so unless new competitors aim at niche markets or radically change the market there is no place for them. Government or not, the regulations don’t stop entrance so much as cater to the existing entrance.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    May I posit two thoughts to the above.

    One, that I believe you are correct in the assumption that cars themselves are now ‘safer’ but the drivers are not. I would much rather regulate the amount of education a new driver would have to achieve over increased regulation of the car companies. It’s been brought up before and needs blantant and prolonged repeating. It’s far too easy to get a driver’s license in America and with used cars now being sold at reasonable prices that have 250+ HP standard in them, I believe if we plan on continuing human driving of automobiles, the education must have greater stress.

    Two, and this is strictly conjecture and personal observation, traffic circles would greatly reduce traffic accidents and congestion of American roads. I live on a tiny training post in the middle of Bavaria and live in Regensburg, 40 minutes away by Bundesstraße and Autobahn; total of about 45 miles. In that drive I face a grand total of five stoplights (within Regensburg) and two stopsigns; the rest being traffic circles that flows traffic, albeit slowly at times, continuously without stopping. This also greatly reduces opportunities for T-boning at a four way and has an added benefit of boosting MPG as you spend less time idling and more in top gear.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Driver education doesn’t work. Traffic safety experts place the emphasis on passive safety because they are well aware that active safety doesn’t work.

      Gut feelings on the subject run to the contrary, I know, but that does not mean that the gut feelings are correct. There is a certain irony that it is next to impossible to educate people about the ineffectiveness of education, but it is what it is.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Well, high school one-size-fits-all, keep it simple, don’t say/do anything that gets parents riled up driver educations is nearly worthless. One feature of driving schools for people who were “sentenced” to them or are trying to get/keep a license, is that so many report finding out about rules of the road they’d never heard before.

        A lot of people learned to drive in vacant parking lots with dad screaming in one ear, and the rules of the road were nothing more than the quickie tests given at the DMV/RMV. A more thorough exposure to rules of the road would help, along with teaching defensive driving techniques.

        If you can’t teach them to drive correctly/safely, at least teach them how to avoid/minimize accidents. I think you can teach that, especially if you emphasize not only saving lives, but avoiding car repairs and insurance premium increases.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Again, the irony is that it is impossible to educate the proponents of driver education about its lack of efficacy because the proponents refuse to accept the facts.

          Driver education doesn’t work because of the can’t-make-the-horse-drink principle. People driver however they want to, and telling them or showing them how to do otherwise won’t help because they don’t want to change.

          • 0 avatar
            VolandoBajo

            Yeah, drivers ed doesn’t work. Or so you say.

            If this is true, then when a bad driver accumulates a certain number of points on their license, instead of mandating a driver improvement course, we should blacklist them from ever attending any drivers ed for life. That way they can’t get worse.

            And since driver’s ed makes worse drivers, let’s start a congressional investigation to find out why insurance companies are rewarding drivers for taking driver’s ed.

            Clearly, by your reasoning, they must be trying to drive up accident rates, and thereby collect higher insurance fees, without regard for life.

            Maybe we need a new Nader to expose the sham of driver’s ed. When we find him, where should we send him, pch101.

            Are you actively working to educate the public about the dangers of drivers ed, with the mass of data you have collected, in order to do your part?

            Clearly you see yourself as being way ahead of the general public on this one. Why are sitting by idly, just jawboning with the B&B when you know so much and have so much data that others ignore.

            It should be a slam dunk for you. Indeed, you could even become that new Nader of driver safety, exposing the driver ed programs.

            Unsafe With Any Training, a new book by pch101.

            Can’t wait to read it.

      • 0 avatar
        Fordson

        You keep saying this…but the fact remains that we have a screening mechanism (licensing) that allows anyone who is not legally prevented from getting a license (i.e., revoked or suspended), to have a license. Virtually 100% of people who are legally eligible to obtain a license, and want a license, have a license. It’s a screening mechanism that doesn’t screen.

        Driver education, training and strict licensing criteria doesn’t work? C’mon, man…it hasn’t even been TRIED yet.

        Look at how attitudes have changed…try indulging in water-cooler talk at the office about how plowed you were when you drove home from the bar the other night…and catch the looks on peoples’ faces. It’s just not acceptable any more.

        Can’t we at least try to turn the inattentive and incompetent (but I’ll still drive) drivers into the social pariahs that the DUI crowd have become, before we declare that none of that will work? There is a social contract explicit and implicit here…don’t the good, attentive and conscientious drivers (and pedestrians, and cyclists…) DESERVE that consideration from the licensing and sanctioning entities?

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          I keep saying it because it’s a fact.

          Again, I will point out the irony that those who keep claiming that education works are impossible to educate on this topic. Gut feeling and belief beat out research and data every time.

          The topic has been studied for decades and it is no mystery that it doesn’t work, why it doesn’t work and the refusal for the average person to acknowledge that it doesn’t work. You can lead the horse to the research, but you can’t make him think.

          • 0 avatar
            Xeranar

            This is bordering on a Dunning-Kreuger moment and I’m loathe to use that because DK gets so overused and wrongly…

            But the point that PCH is making is that no amount of person in a car telling you what to do has effects on what you do when you’re by yourself. This is supported by basic analysis, pretty much HS driving school, independent driving school, or remedial driving school has little impact on road accidents.

            The only seemingly important variable is time behind the wheel, with more equally better driving as habitual driving skills develop. But again…I won’t stop you two from going another ten rounds.

            https://www.aaafoundation.org/sites/default/files/LSEDElitReview.pdf

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            So if all modern cars were replaced with Reliant Robins or Nash Metropolitans, on bias ply tires, 30.h.p and no passive safety systems, would drivers automatically become safer because they would feel and hear the road rather than be isolated from it?

          • 0 avatar
            dolorean

            I won’t argue that rote education in your ear from an instructor or one’s father will cure all ills. However, with proper training, ignorance can no longer be an excuse. And if you make it licensing worth enough, people will be loathe to jeopardize losing the privilege.

            I would also emphasize teaching the automotive basics such as where oil goes (in the 710 cap) and how do you check it, when and how should you check your tires and why does this matter, why you should never leave your car running while filling up “because it’s so cold/hot outside”, etc.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            There are folks who have dedicated their professional lives to researching driver education, and they have explained repeatedly and in detail why it doesn’t work.

            It would be better to go look at what they’re saying instead of presuming that you, a layman with only gut feelings and no training, somehow know better.

            And again, that is illustrative of why driver education doesn’t work. Even if its failings were explained in detail to you, you still would reject it because you don’t want to believe it. It is virtually impossible to get a person to embrace ideas that he or she is inclined to reject.

          • 0 avatar
            Fordson

            “It is virtually impossible to get a person to embrace ideas that he or she is inclined to reject.”

            Certainly isn’t working with you.

            I’m gonna be Mr. Dummy and ask you to post some links.

            If what you’re saying is true, there would have been no way to get people to cut down on DUI, and no way to get them to use seat belts. You act as though teaching and instruction are only imparted on an individual level…ignoring the fact that we set societal expectations on a completely different basis.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            Driving is a skill that not only requires some education but also requires skill and the ability to perform rather complex tasks rather quickly.
            Education doesn’t give you the skill.

            Case in point: In my line of work I have to insert/start intravenous catheters (IV’s).
            When I first started working I had to take a course in how to perform the technique and also had to show that I could do it. One could take the course a thousand times and it would only make a person marginally better at the skill.
            Currently, on a part-time basis I train new paramedics and the thing I hate the most is teaching and supervising IV starts.
            Why?
            Education is a small snippet of the skill. I can’t teach you all that I know because I can’t teach you all of the subtleties involved in the limited time a course offers.
            Driving isn’t all that different.

          • 0 avatar
            Fordson

            Education doesn’t give you a skill…it does teach you what’s important for you to learn in order to master a discipline.

            If people have to become more skilled in order to get a license, then they will practice those skills needed to get the license. Or they won’t get one. Will some people too unskilled to get a license still drive? Yes. Will all of them too unskilled to get a license still drive? No. Many of those skilled enough now but not enough to satisfy a tougher regime will be off of our roads. Isn’t that good? Isn’t the byproduct (less congestion) good?

  • avatar
    z9

    In Germany it costs a small fortune (3000 euros I believe) to get a driver’s license because the required training is so intense. I don’t know if Germans are uniformly better drivers than Americans but the limited experiences I’ve had suggest they are better but in an athletic sense — they are more focused, react more precisely, understand the dynamics of speed more thoroughly, and so on. Somehow they take the whole enterprise of driving more seriously. To a German, a car is not a dining room with a steering wheel.

    I wonder about the statistics of professional race car drivers getting in highway crashes versus the general population?

    I am sensitive to the argument that such a high price for driver training would create an economic hardship for too many Americans. Driving a car is, in this country, very much tied up with being an able-bodied citizen able to get to work or to deliver pizzas. To change that we’d need a different transportation infrastructure more resembling the one in Germany. In other words, the fact that people have excellent mass transportation options in Germany is not unrelated to the high cost of learning to drive. In this country, we’ve decided not to invest in mass transportation. Instead we’ve decided to let anyone drive. This costs “only” 40,000 lives a year.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      We also “decided” that Germany should be about half the size of Texas. It is simply impractical to assume that a mass transport model for Germany is scalable to a place with the size and density of the US.

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        Eh, flat low-rise midwest cities were built for cars but with some effort could be converted to street cars and other systems. It’s not impossible, just expensive.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          It would require the political will to make such a change and the politician who tried to impose it and the costs involved would probably find themselves vilified in the press.

    • 0 avatar
      Master Baiter

      “…Driving a car is, in this country, very much tied up with being an able-bodied citizen able to get to work…”

      I would argue in the age of Uber, this is becoming less true.
      .
      .

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        Unless you are very wealthy, Uber is an occasional-use tool, not a 2x a day commuting tool.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          That depends where you are. Uber can be way cheaper than owning a car (and faster, too, given the issues of parking) if you’re living in a big city. Probably more expensive than public transit in most cases, but there are plenty of people with money to pay. A non-trivial number of people in my office commutes by a combination of Uber and Car2Go.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        Uber isn’t an option everywhere. And I don’t mean you have to wait 20 minutes or pay for a long-distance trip. There just aren’t any cars for hire. Forget rural America, this was a situation I ran into last year in Canton, Ohio.

    • 0 avatar
      VCplayer

      Our society depends on people being able to drive in probably 99.9% of the country geographically. Not allowing people to drive or limiting it the rich and well-educated would put a lot of people at a massive social and economic disadvantage.

      Public transit is great where it exists and is effective. I probably wouldn’t own a car if I lived in NYC or DC, or if I did I wouldn’t drive it very often. The vast majority of American cities though are impractical for rail systems and lack more than bare-bones bus systems. And some people, like me, have jobs that require a car.

      40,000 deaths a year is horrible, let’s not pretend otherwise. Taking cars away from tens of millions of poor and disadvantaged Americans is probably a greater evil though.

      Edit: grammar.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        40,000? It’s down to 32,700 as of 2013, the lastest data available. That’s 1.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. When I got my license it was over 50,000 and 5.5 deaths/100MVM.

        We’re the third most populous country with 322 million people, so even an amazingly low rate is a large number. When the government started keeping track in the 1920s, the rate was something like 24 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles. That would translate to about 700,000 deaths today.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          It’s a lower rate than it was, but it’s still staggeringly high compared to most other causes of death, and really galling because most of those deaths are completely preventable.

          If we had 40,000 (or 35,000) people getting murdered every year crime would be the front-and-center, No. 1 issue in our politics. If we had 40,000 people dying in terrorist attacks, we would implement anti-terrorist measures that would make Guantanamo and the Patriot Act look like tributes to the Fourth Amendment. If 40,000 people were drowning in swimming pools, they’d be banned and stigmatized. It’s a problem that deserves to be taken more seriously than it is.

          • 0 avatar
            shaker

            “If we had 40,000…”

            This is a disclaimer that we unwittingly sign when we get a license; and that the roads we drive will be full of drivers who (by percentage) will be distracted, temporarily incompetent, or driving an unsafe vehicle (including ourselves, unless we’re perfect).

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            Aren’t disclaimers for *choosing* to accept a known risk, often solely for entertainment? How much choice is there regarding driving a car in the US?

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Want safer roads?

    1. Make it much more difficult to get a driver’s license.
    2. Enforce proper lane usage.
    3. Remove old, decrepit vehicles from the road.
    4. Get cargo off the roads and move to rail or some other infrastructure.

    .
    .

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Just because a vehicle is “old” does not mean it is unsafe. You want safer old cars on the road? Mandate a real safety inspection. My old cars are probably in better shape than most people’s six year old cars. You

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        Woo! Old car people knife fights!

        Here goes reality: Your well-maintained 20 year old car doesn’t have much more than traction control in a rudimentary sense. It’s also suffering from basic metal fatigue and probably lacks crumple zones. My 2008 Scion is light years ahead of your car in tech. A mandatory retirement of vehicles after 15 years is going to be nearly impossible to enforce unless we push classic/antique titles and put strict mileage checks on them annually (no more than 5k/2.5k for an example).

        So while you may care for it and it may be in good condition it isn’t going to do half the things my car does in a crash and you’re far more likely to die than I am.

        Though 4 is actually the unspoken most important change we can make. If we ended long haul trucking in all forms we would probably cut accidents by atleast a third.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          “So while you may care for it and it may be in good condition it isn’t going to do half the things my car does in a crash and you’re far more likely to die than I am.”

          Not if it’s an old 3/4-ton truck. Then you’re the dead one. But that’s okay. As long as he wasn’t drinking, it was an honest mistake. Nobody could have foreseen such results from combining a massive vehicle with negligent driving habits.

          • 0 avatar
            Xeranar

            If we’re going to increase weight and size class arbitrarily, go for it. I would point out if I was hit by a dump truck and he was hit in say…a 1995 Toyota Camry (roughly same size and weight class) I would probably still survive a head-on with the dump.

            As for ride height: It should be set at a legal limit. Exceeding that should be a fine. Thus if you want to use a jacked up jeep for rock crawling, go ahead, but keep it off large highways and avoid most major roads.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            The Scion is considerably safer than the ’95 Camry, but that doesn’t make either car unsafe. At least, not until the brodozer comes along and drives over them!

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          xeranar -Yes, in terms of built in passive safety features, you are correct. In fact, the insurance cost on my new car is really not much higher than on my station car despite the vastly higher price for the new one. So, I get that. However, Master Baiter’s comment states “old, decrepit vehicles”, implying that the vehicles are unsafe due to maintenance and care, not design. Then again, as rpn points out, a ratty rusty truck that is jacked up will override all the crush zones in a modern car. Maybe more effort needs to be made in ride height differential.

        • 0 avatar
          VolandoBajo

          If I had an extra one to spare, I would gladly run a demolition derby with your 08 Scion and my 97 BOF Panther, head on. Then we would see about crumple zones and better construction.

          Newer does not automatically mean better, and I am not less safe in my car w/o ESC or ABS, as long as I drive it correctly. That is, assuming pch101 doesn’t outlaw the use of knowledge from driver training programs, in order to miraculously improve safety, according to all those studies he won’t link to, because he has already decided we are too stupid to understand them.

          We will just have to take his word that they are there.

          Almost like the Middle Ages, a/k/a the Dark Ages, where the Church didn’t want the ordinary people reading the Bible, because they weren’t educated enough to understand it. Just trust us, we will tell you what is in it. That’s how pch101 wants us to believe his oft-cited but never-referenced studies.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      “Remove old, decrepit vehicles from the road.”

      I cant argue with this, if you have a car with a rusty exhaust, old brakes, failing suspension, it doesnt matter if YOU make it home safely. Your 1984 Honda Prelude can still drop debris on the road that can cause real damage.

      With lane usage, I swear people cant hold a lane for more than 5 seconds at a time. Either they’re weaving through traffic or jumping across lanes for their exist. Impatience and GPS’s are the cause imo.

      I like the train idea, where I live its typical to find 18 wheelers mixed in with residential traffic just around town. Its a nuisance.

      At Husky:
      Who so defensive? I agree with your post though, around here safety inspections will check a cars lights at most. Most dont bother with rusty exhausts or nasty accident repairs.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      I had a serious reply, but then I saw your user name and could no longer remember it!

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    Perhaps we could start by moving to a traffic enforcement model that prioritizes safety versus the for profit model we have now. DUI=Jail Time versus the current system where a bunch of folks make a lot of money. The same for other stupidity that directly causes people to die. Driving is a massive responsibility and it should be treated as such.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      I’d rather they just back off the regulations and treat all forms of negligence the same; according to the effects rather than the cause. Remove at-fault drivers from the roads with mandatory suspensions proportional to the amount of damage done.

  • avatar

    For Maxb49: I don’t think we are a shill for anyone. From our website:

    The NMA has empowered drivers since 1982. We fight for the driving freedoms of motorists. We lobby for traffic regulations and enforcement actions based on safety considerations, not a line item on the income side of a city, county, or state budget.

    Among the principles we advocate:

    Traffic safety through sound engineering and real driver training

    Traffic laws fairly written and reasonably enforced

    Freedom from arbitrary traffic stops and unwarranted searches/seizures

    Freedom from invasive surveillance

    Full due process for motorists

    Reasonable highway user fees for maintaining and improving highways, not for financing non-highway projects

    • 0 avatar
      Maxb49

      Due process for motorists? Name the cases your organization successfully litigated on behalf of “drivers” (which are not a cognizable class of people). Name the politicians you successfully lobbied, by name. Name the number of laws passed on behalf of “drivers” at the state and federal level. This organization, is a smokescreen.

      Ralph Nader accomplished more for “drivers” – frankly, American citizens – than the National Motorists Organization ever will

      • 0 avatar

        For Maxb49:
        – Partnered with the Rutherford Institute on an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court that resulted in a ruling that police could not attach a GPS tracking device to a vehicle without a warrant.
        – Successfully blocked red light and speed cameras coming to Michigan, along with the Police Officers Association of Michigan, the Campaign for Liberty, a representative of the judges, the Mackinac Center, Abate, and anti-camera editorials in both Detroit papers.
        – Got a poison amendment removed from a Michigan law banning the use of ticket quotas (amendment would have exempted traffic officers)
        – Helped hundred of members and others to get unfair tickets dismissed with research and advice
        – Were the lead organization that got the National Maximum Speed Limit law repealed in December 1995
        – Helped NJ politicians get the red light camera program ended statewide in December 2014
        – Worked with CA groups to get many red light camera programs ended, now up to 76 cities that ended or banned cameras
        – Worked with groups in MO to get some types of red light camera programs declared unconstitutional
        – Testified in DC against ticket cameras being federally instituted
        – Worked with investigative reporters in many states to expose abuses of automated ticketing – among other things that led to longer yellow intervals in Florida with sharp drops in ticket rates
        – Too many other examples to list, going back to 1982

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Your stance on red light cameras ignores the reality non-motorized users face in big cities, which is that traffic signals are routinely ignored as a result of distraction, entitlement, or both. *Properly administered* camera programs can have very beneficial effects on safety.

      Of course it’s bad if cities shorten yellows or otherwise monkey around with the program to raise revenue. So focus on that rather than on eliminating the cameras altogether.

      • 0 avatar

        Properly administered camera programs that did not ticket mostly safe drivers would lose far too much money to ever be used. I know of only one red light camera program that tries hard not to ticket safe drivers, uses a 0.5 second grace, does not ticket right on red turns, loses money consistently, and gets regularly re-authorized by officials. It is Palm Beach County, Florida and I think it is currently suspended due to a legal challenge (along with several others).

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Here is our local program:

          http://www.seattle.gov/police/programs/redlight.htm

          This program has not been (credibly) accused of using the types of shortcuts that cause problems. It is being credited with a reduction in severity of accidents (although the number of accidents is flat). This is probably because a minor rear-end collision is far less severe than a car/pedestrian collision or a collision between cars in an intersection both moving at full speed. Anecdotally, it makes crossing the intersections with cameras on foot far less scary. Drivers seem much more likely to observe red signals.

          If you don’t want cameras, how would you address the epidemic of red-light running in cities? It seems like most of your program assumes that pedestrians don’t exist.

          • 0 avatar

            I had emails with Seattle engineers a few years ago. They timed yellow lights for the posted speed limit, even when they knew the actual approach speeds were well above the under-posted limits. That is unacceptable engineering that often raises rear end crash rates. When yellows are timed for the ACTUAL perception/reaction times and approach speeds of at least 85% of the drivers, there is no epidemic of red light running. The next thing to do after timing yellows correctly is to be sure the all-red phase is long enough. Florida went to 2 second minimum and that helps. And if you found a way to survey the rear end crash drivers to ask if it was OK with them to raise their crash rates because you mitigated the severity of other crashes – I think you would find they do not consider it to be an acceptable trade off. It is normal, by the way, for violation rates to drop by about half in a year and then stabilize. Camera companies make their projections on long run profitability on the second and later year forecasts of violation rates. Most of the terrible t-bone crashes we would all like to eliminate happen when drivers enter intersections at least 2 and more usually 5 to 9 seconds into the red – many of them are DUI, impaired, heavily distracted, etc. and never saw the red light. Tickets in the main weeks later don’t prevent those. Most tickets go to drivers for violations in the first second of red and those drivers clear the intersections during the all red phase (if properly set) and before the cross traffic can arrive. The two groups have almost no overlap.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            “They timed yellow lights for the posted speed limit, even when they knew the actual approach speeds were well above the under-posted limits.”

            Two points:

            1) I live here, and have lived here for about 30 years over the course of my life. I can go down that list of intersections and find maybe four where approach speeds *ever* significantly exceed posted limits. Most of them are in highly congested areas where drivers are nowhere close to the (relatively high for a central city) 30-mph limit. The rest are congested during rush hours when there is the greatest amount of both pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

            2) Again, essentially all of the listed intersections (with one exception, 35th at Thistle) are in busy central areas with lots of pedestrian traffic. The idea that central city surface streets should be engineered for a speed of more than 30 mph is absurd. If there’s an engineering fault, it’s not with the light cycle, but with any elements of the street design that encourage drivers to exceed safe speeds in pedestrian-heavy areas.

            “And if you found a way to survey the rear end crash drivers to ask if it was OK with them to raise their crash rates because you mitigated the severity of other crashes.”

            Again, I don’t think you’ve ever looked at life from any perspective other than the windshield. I think if you asked the pedestrians whether they’d rather be dead in order to avoid a minor rear-end fender bender, I think you would find they do not consider it to be an acceptable trade off.

            Also, even from your windshield-only perspective, do you realize you’re arguing for having the same number of accidents, but greater severity? It just doesn’t make sense.

            “When yellows are timed for the ACTUAL perception/reaction times and approach speeds of at least 85% of the drivers, there is no epidemic of red light running.”

            This is simply false. The red light runners that pose the greatest risk on city streets are not missing the light by a fraction of a second because they didn’t react in time or because the yellow was 3.6 instead of 4.0 seconds. They are driving through two or three full seconds, sometimes more, after the red. This is not an occasional thing. I have to duck out of the way of one of these people several times a week. In DC, where the drivers are even more entitled, it was a more-than-daily thing, even though I was only walking on the street for about half an hour a day. Red light cameras basically stop these guys and that’s why I favor them in a city environment.

            Go walk around central DC, like hundreds of thousands of rush hour commuters have to, at rush hour each day for a week. It will open your eyes.

          • 0 avatar

            For dal20402 in 11/3 12:27 am
            1) Many RLC and speed camera tickets are given during the hours when traffic is free flowing under good conditions – the criteria for setting posted limits and timing lights.

            2) I agree that 30 limits in downtown business districts are reasonable and should have few violators. If speeds are higher, the beef is with the engineers, not the drivers. Engineers COULD make changes to reduce the actual travel speeds.

            I have NO problem with severe penalties for violating correctly timed reds – especially the dangerous 2 or 3+ sec ones. My problem is the split second violations for money to safe drivers to create enough revenue to pay the basic costs of the cameras. That is no different than robbery in my view.

            I have relatives in Takoma Park, MD who both work in DC. I don’t find DC to be a problem for pedestrians – but it is a severe problem of about $100 million a year with predatory speed and red light cameras using deliberately mis-engineered limits and lights to make their hanging bandits more profitable.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            You have relatives in a suburb 25 minutes by car from central DC.

            I lived *in* central DC for almost five years, and walked to work 15-20 minutes each way every single day.

            DC (and other large East Coast cities) are a problem for pedestrians, and the biggest problem is rampant and extreme red-light running.

          • 0 avatar

            I visit DC quite regularly and both my relatives who work downtown are blind. We just don’t find it much of a problem. Busy, yes of course. Unsafe, not really.

        • 0 avatar
          VolandoBajo

          @jcwconsult This sounds like some pretty rational and useful stuff to me. I think I might check out your organization.

          FWIW, I did a lot of consulting work a few years back, involving the MUTCD, which I expect you know, but for other readers is the ABA’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

          As a result, I am equipped to recognize the fairly common example of improperly placed signage, signage that confuses drivers and can lead to bogus tickets. In one South Jersey jurisdiction with a quick light change cycle, overhanging branches, and a very rearward placed sign saying NO TURN ON RED, in a state where most right turns on red are legal, results in traffic tickets all the time. A light changes quickly, a driver stops. He looks, no visible sign. A driver behind is impatient and can’t see the sign behind him either. He honks, the front driver thinks he must be blocking the other driver. He turns, bingo, out comes the tax collector, ooops, the traffic cop.

          The day I was in court for it, there were several people who had all been caught at that one main intersection in a tiny township, in one two week period.

          So I will be looking for your website.

          Are you by any chance the same James Walker who worked on the Dow-Jones foreign exchange system design review back in the late eighties or early nineties? If so, we know each other…I was the guy who explained to you why they were going to have costly trading fails if they used UDP.

          RSVP.

          If so, reply to this post and I will arrange for us to get in touch. I have Jack’s direct email, and can ask him if he is alright with putting us in touch with each other, which he could do if you register on his site and tell him it is OK. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind helping us get back in touch.

          • 0 avatar

            Hi VolandoBajo, I never worked for Dow-Jones. If you know about the MUTCD, then you will like the NMA. We want all traffic laws and enforcement procedures based on sound engineering and safety – NOT on gotcha tickets to mostly safe drivers for revenue. Check out the website, it is full of the research from academics and investigative reporters on these sorts of issues.

          • 0 avatar
            VolandoBajo

            @jwconsult Actually, the Jim Walker I knew didn’t work directly for them, he was a consultant at a company I subcontracted to.

            But I will definitely check out the website when I get a bit of time this week.

            Thanks for what you do. Anyone attempting to put a bit more rationality into traffic laws, traffic enforcement or automotive policies is to be commended.

          • 0 avatar

            We have been at it for 33 years now, VolandoBajo and we are winning – but the pace is glacial. There is SO much money to be made with improper traffic laws and enforcement for profits – that the wins come hard. But as more and more people become educated, the wins sometimes come easier. As one example, the total number of red light camera programs is down by about 100 in the last few years. For another, there are now 7 states that have 80 limits on some rural freeways. We WILL get there to have most traffic laws based on science and not on revenue, but more educated people and more members helps.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Nader was so awesome that safety equipment improved from Model T standards even before he received his extremely safety-engineering relevant law degree. America is, after all, divided by great, saintly politicians and lawyers on one side; and those engineers, workers and business people who are so greedy and evil they, like, do math and stuff. Instead of kind, useful stuff like feeling something and suing someone.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      He had a career to launch, man. He needed a crime to bust.

      And his legacy is initiating a movement that has saved lives and prevented maiming. That’s pretty effing good in this world, no?

  • avatar
    TW5

    These articles are always particularly cloying because they come from journalists who rarely bear any liability for their professional malfeasance. A lion’s share of press activity is protected by a constitutional amendment, and the law is lazily applied. I mean, it’s strange. An 18 year old kid can go to jail for cyber bullying, but the press can write libelous hit pieces, and win Pulitzer Prizes. Public figures aren’t real people anyway so I guess it’s not a big deal.

    Back on topic, if you’re too dumb to drive a car correctly, you’re too dumb to ascertain who is imminently qualified to monitor and modify your behavior.

    Besides, we don’t really need someone to help distracted people drive. We need car companies to stop selling cars to dumb people. Basically, car-buyers will have to take and IQ test and a driver’s test before they are allowed to buy a vehicle.

    But when you think about it, dumb people are a danger to us all the time, not just when they are driving. We need to make sure these dumb people are never born.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Don’t look for that to happen. That would dramatically hurt sales, and the thickest ones at that.

      • 0 avatar
        TW5

        I thought about teasing out the sales angle. The collapse of our economy brought on by the end of dumb people who buy more than they can afford on credit, and the dumb creditors who keep giving them money.

        Also, if I’m dumb enough to sit around and wait on the government to protect me from dumb motorists, rather than taking practical action on my own, perhaps I’m the dumbest motorist of them all? Let’s make the government’s job easier by starting a petition for government protection from dumb motorists. Write the model of car you drive next to your name. If it has more than 150hp (who needs more than that) and less than 20 airbags, you’re one of the dummies.

        • 0 avatar
          VolandoBajo

          OK @TW5 I will start off your idea.

          97 Grand Marquis LS, 190 HP (OMG!), a handful of airbags (2, I think), and my IQ has been tested at 150+, so there is objective evidence that I am not a dummy.

          Your hypothesis doesn’t hold water.

          And the creditors who lend dumb people money for more car than they afford are crazy like a fox. If they end up with a default, they get a tax writeoff. And if they end up going broke, most of them are “too big to fail”, so the non-Libertarians in our government rush to bail them out.

          In their case, it is actually true that if they have a business, they didn’t build that business, the government helped them build that business.

          Imagine if you or I could play poker for money, and weather we won or lost, we would leave the table with more money than we came with.

  • avatar
    RonaldPottol

    I used to think that. Now I think autonomous cars will mostly solve the issue before we can do much via driver improvement.

    Changing us distractable monkeys is hard. I say that as someone who at one point had a school bus driver certificate (in California, where it is administered by they CHP, yes, your driving test is administered by a cop with a uniform and a gun), traffic violators school instructor, driving instructor, unrestricted class b (basically anything but trailers over 10,000 pounds) with air brake and passenger endorsements, motorcycle (and I took the MSF advanced rider course).

    I’ve been trained a lot, and it helps. I still suck in many of the same ways I did before starting down this road (but hey, unlike most people, I have a good sense of my suck). Training only gets you so far. Automation can make things worse (because people stop paying attention).

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