Smartphones Are Killing Americans
October 22, 2017 11:29 PM   Subscribe

In 2016 alone, more than 100 people died every day in or near vehicles in America, the first time the country has passed that grim toll in a decade. Regulators, meanwhile, still have no good idea why crash-related deaths are spiking. ... Collectively, we seemed to be speeding and drinking a little more, but not much more than usual. Together, experts say these upticks don’t explain the surge in road deaths. There are however three big clues, and they don’t rest along the highway. One, as you may have guessed, is the substantial increase in smartphone use by U.S. drivers as they drive.

...The increase in fatalities has been largely among bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians—all of whom are easier to miss from the driver’s seat than, say, a 4,000-pound SUV—especially if you’re glancing up from your phone rather than concentrating on the road. Last year, 5,987 pedestrians were killed by cars in the U.S., almost 1,100 more than in 2014—that’s a 22 percent increase in just two years.

Safety regulators and law enforcement officials certainly understand the danger of taking—or making—a phone call while operating a piece of heavy machinery. They still, however, have no idea just how dangerous it is, because the data just isn’t easily obtained. And as mobile phone traffic continues to shift away from simple voice calls and texts to encrypted social networks, officials increasingly have less of a clue than ever before.
posted by Bella Donna (270 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I remember from my high school stats class that there was an initial spike in road deaths when cell phones were banned while driving because people started hiding their phones in their laps, instead of holding up their cell phones to the windshield. (Driving with their peripheral vision)

But I can't find it now, and it's kind of likely that I've been telling everyone a fun fact that my stats teacher may have made up.
posted by weewooweewoo at 11:48 PM on October 22 [3 favorites]


I suspect the intersection of cheap gas causing increased vehicle miles traveled and of larger parts of society forgoing car ownership are more to blame than cell phone use.

Not that cell phone use behind the wheel should be tolerated, but I don't think it's the primary issue, or at least there isn't great evidence for a significant shift.

Hopefully self driving taxis will get more people out of the mindset that owning a car is necessary.
posted by wierdo at 11:49 PM on October 22 [2 favorites]


there isn't great evidence for a significant shift.

One of the major points in the article is that the evidence doesn't exist because state and local law enforcement don't track it consistently. This is a problem.

FWIW, hands-free isn't much safer.
posted by asperity at 12:02 AM on October 23 [34 favorites]


"Not that cell phone use behind the wheel should be tolerated, but I don't think it's the primary issue, or at least there isn't great evidence for a significant shift."

I dunno. The evidence sited in the article, while not always direct, does indicate cellphones have caused a "significant shift" in the injuries and death associated with cellphone use.

"...larger parts of society forgoing car ownership are more to blame than cell phone use."

An individual struck by a car is not generally more to blame than the cellphone using motorist (or non cellphone using motorist) because there are less motorists and more pedestrians, bicyclists, et cetera.
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 12:08 AM on October 23 [20 favorites]


From an Australian perspective: http://www.itspeoplelikeus.com.au/

(Full documentary also uploaded to youtube, only 20 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnJqHhkvtNs) (there is a bit of swearing, unbleeped.)

I'd rather see phones on ears rather than heads looking at laps, it's scary to see cars moving erratically on the road.

What I like about this documentary is that they all say "yeah, I do it at the lights only" but when you see the footage, (they recorded the drivers over a period of time) they are checking way more often.
posted by freethefeet at 12:22 AM on October 23 [5 favorites]


I only have two anecdotes, but here they are:

A few years ago, I was sitting on a surface street behind a line of traffic at a red light, with my kids in the car. I had been sitting for a while, then looked in my rear view mirror and saw a car approaching at an extremely high rate of speed, which wasn't slowing down. I had nowhere to go, so I tried to relax for the impact. At the last moment, the driver swerved into the center dividing lane* and flew past before applying the brakes hard; just before the swerve, I got a great look through his windshield via my rear view mirror, and what I saw was the young man's face looking shocked, right over the phone he was still holding in one hand in front of his face as he swerved with the other hand.

About a year ago, I was driving west on the 101 freeway in reasonable traffic, again with my kids in the car. A car entered the freeway and merged, and moved into the next lane, nearly hitting a car passing in that lane. the driver kept merging to the left, and I slowed to avoid getting hit as the driver merged into my lane, then into the far left lane...and kept going right into the center barrier. I swung to the right and passed as the driver's car ground into the barrier -- the driver wasn't slowing down beyond the friction at this point, no brake lights -- and what do I see but a shocked looking middle aged man still holding a phone up in front of his face.

So yeah, I can buy into this.

*in Los Angles, long stretches of road have a center lane for left turns in either direction
posted by davejay at 12:25 AM on October 23 [35 favorites]


Here in NZ too - call for higher fines . I reckon one in eight drivers are texting here - a lot of vacant/glazed expressions and heads tilted downwards. Not that drivers need more reasons for stupidity - last week I saw a driver frantically leafing thru a paper report draped over the steering wheel.

"The NZ Transport Agency said drivers were 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash when texting while driving." and yet our fines (nz$80) are little more than for parking across a fire hydrant, and about half that of driving with a bald tyre. No one's counting here either - may change with new govt. The previous govt didn't like to bite the hand that feeds.

Anguished howls from cell companies usually follow hard on the heels of these stories 'we need more research'. Also just found this - distacted pedestrains
posted by unearthed at 12:30 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


What we need is cops willing to enforce "no cellphone use while driving" just like any other form of reckless activity that takes your attention off the road. Snap a picture of someone using the phone while driving (and hey, dashcams should be useful for something), pull them over, and give them a choice: have the phone confiscated, or get out of the car and leave it here - call someone for a ride if you can. If the car's in a safe place to park (like side of a city street), it has the normal 3 days to get moved; if it happens on the freeway, car's going to be towed.

If your phone is confiscated, you can pick it up at the police station after paying a fine.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:33 AM on October 23 [9 favorites]


Oh yeah expect 'distracted pedestrians' to become the new demonized class again as we try and slam self-driving technology into the public realm and blame the victims when the carnage inevatibaly happens.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:34 AM on October 23 [46 favorites]


What we need is cops willing to actually enforce "no cellphone use while driving" just like any other form of reckless activity that takes your attention off the road

I don't see an awful lot of preëmptive enforcement of reckless driving laws in this country, the world's second safest, so I'm assuming it's the same wherever you're posting from. Even after the fact, reckless driving is usually actually prosecuted as driving without due care and attention, unless there's an aggravating factor such as class or race or youth.

Occasionally I take my life into my own hands when walking alongside a traffic queue and make a "what are you doing with that thing?" gesture at someone who's lost in a world of their phone, but there's a pretty small demographic I can do that in where neither I nor the phone user great for their safety.
posted by ambrosen at 12:52 AM on October 23 [7 favorites]


Snap a picture of someone using the phone while driving

Two birds with one stone, if this picture is taken by another driver.
posted by fairmettle at 1:14 AM on October 23 [16 favorites]


In the UK:
It’s illegal to use your phone while driving or riding a motorcycle unless you have hands-free access, such as:
•a bluetooth headset
•voice command
•a dashboard holder

The law still applies to you if you’re:
•stopped at traffic lights
•queuing in traffic
•supervising a learner driver
....
Penalties

You can get 6 penalty points and a £200 fine if you use a hand-held phone.

You can also be taken to court where you can:
•be banned from driving or riding
•get a maximum fine of £1,000 (£2,500 if you’re driving a lorry or bus)

If you passed your driving test in the last 2 years, you’ll lose your licence.

The law

•It's illegal to use a handheld mobile when driving. This includes using your phone to follow a map, read a text or check social media. This applies even if you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic.
•It is also illegal to use a handheld phone or similar device when supervising a learner driver.
•You can only use a handheld phone if you are safely parked or need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop.
•If you’re caught using a handheld phone while driving, you’ll get 6 penalty points on your licence and a fine of £200. Points on your licence will result in higher insurance costs.
•If you get just 6 points in the first two years after passing your test, you will lose your licence.
•Using hands free (e.g. for navigation) is not illegal. However, if this distracts you and affects your ability to drive safely, you can still be prosecuted by the police.
Six points is halfway to a driving ban (in most cases).
This is all subject to the whims of the officer. A friend of mine was pulled over recently when she checked her Google Maps app when stopped at a red light, with no other cars in sight. It has caused her a considerable level of upset, but as she is a pretty, well spoken young white woman, unsurprisingly it didn't go any further than a stern talking to.
posted by asok at 1:52 AM on October 23 [6 favorites]


As with most driving-related behaviors this clearly applies only to other people as I myself am actually quite good at using apps on my phone while driving and therefore should be allowed to do so see watch
posted by 7segment at 2:15 AM on October 23 [43 favorites]


Is it possible to build cars that block the signal, so you cannot use a phone in the driver's seat?
posted by Segundus at 2:27 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


Sure, if they were just using it as a phone. But a modern smartphone does an awful lot you don't need cell signal for.
posted by Dysk at 2:30 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


Completely true story, I swear:

Several years ago, I was stopped at a light in Silicon Valley. SUV pulled up next to me. I looked over at the driver. She had her laptop out, turned on, up against the steering wheel.

Driving is terrifying.

*opening riff to Airbag plays*
posted by Mikey-San at 2:31 AM on October 23 [7 favorites]


As someone who owns neither a car nor a cellphone and has almost been hit more times than I can recall by drivers using those damned things I, anecdotally, find this research completely believable.

It doesn't matter whether its a busy street in the heart of downtown, with drivers taking left turns into pedestrian foot traffic or on the outskirts of town where they miss lights and turn right or left into pedestrians crosswalks without a glance. Too many people are more interested in their phone calls and Tweets than they are concerned for any loser who doesn't share their fascination.

Confiscation? Nah, jail time just like driving while intoxicated, just because these assholes are intoxicated on themselves rather than booze doesn't make it any less dangerous for the rest of us.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:31 AM on October 23 [11 favorites]


What we need is cops willing to enforce "no cellphone use while driving"

It's not illegal here so that's not going to happen. Also police in my city can't be bothered to enforce more obvious infractions like speeding, running red lights or blasting through crosswalks so the idea that they'd bother with cellphones is laughable.
posted by octothorpe at 2:31 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


cell phone use is a factor but i'm not sure it's the only one - it's my impression that speeding on city streets has gotten a lot worse in the past 5 years - it's not uncommon to see people going 40 to 45 on my street, which is zoned 30 - the police must be aware of the problem because they put one of those portable signs that tell you how fast you're going

but what i don't see is people pulled over or cops parked by the side of the road ready to pull people over

obviously, if they're not able or willing to enforce the speed laws, they're probably not going to enforce the distracted driving laws either
posted by pyramid termite at 2:33 AM on October 23 [8 favorites]


As a regular pedestrian in a smallish town, the rule I'd most like to wee actually enforced for a change isn't even mobile phones. It's indicating. I swear I never walk anywhere without at least one incident of nearly getting run over by someone turning across me who didn't indicate. The penalties for that need to be stronger than me yelling "INDICATE IF YOU'RE GOING TO TURN YOU FUCKING WANKER" at them. Christ, I can't count on one hand the number of times the car in question has been a marked police car, even.
posted by Dysk at 2:35 AM on October 23 [50 favorites]


I wonder how this correlates with bicycle collisions — between bike and bike, or bike and stationary object, or bike and pedestrian.

I’m suggesting that if the collision incidents trend in cycling is comparable to the spike in automobile incidents, this is an issue about mobile devices. If, on the other hand, there is no similar spike in biking, then this is an issue about car culture.

Also, are people missing their subway or trolley stops at a higher rate than in the past? Hey Siri, do my research.
posted by Construction Concern at 2:37 AM on October 23


It's a hard impulse to unlearn, I know--but Jesus Christ, the answer to everything isn't "push the police to enforce this more aggressively," unless the problem you're trying to solve is that there aren't enough people of color receiving wildly disproportionate amounts of fines and/or jail time, or getting beaten by the side of the road. Stop saying the answer is more enforcement. Stop it.

I don't know what the answer is, but that ain't it.
posted by duffell at 2:39 AM on October 23 [73 favorites]


I’m suggesting that if the collision incidents trend in cycling is comparable to the spike in automobile incidents, this is an issue about mobile devices. If, on the other hand, there is no similar spike in biking, then this is an issue about car culture.

That doesn't follow. It can be the combination of mobile devices and cars that's the issue. No corresponding increase in bike on bike collisions could simply indicate that people don't feel safe cycling and using a phone like they do when driving.


the answer to everything isn't "push the police to enforce this more aggressively," unless the problem you're trying to solve is that there aren't enough people of color receiving wildly disproportionate amounts of fines and/or jail time,

We don't all live in America. Other places have enforcement systems like points of license which can lead to your driving license being taken away. Beatings at traffic stops aren't commonplace everywhere, and the cops aren't as racist as yours everywhere.
posted by Dysk at 3:01 AM on October 23 [28 favorites]


@asok Similar here in Ireland although the penalties are less severe. Not sure how enforced or enforceable it is - I suspect far more so in the UK.

@duffell If the answer isn't laws and the enforcement of them then the only other options is education, which will work about as well as it does with speeding, i.e. it won't.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:02 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


octothorpe: It's not illegal here

wat
Why on earth not? That seems like it would be the bare minimum.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:08 AM on October 23


Hopefully self driving taxis will get more people out of the mindset that owning a car is necessary.

That's not going to happen. A person likes to have a personal car full of personal items. It's a staging area for people going places.

But a self-driving privately owned car presumably will not run over pedestrians while the owner of the self-driving car plays with a phone or sleeps or whatever.
posted by pracowity at 3:12 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


Why on earth not? That seems like it would be the bare minimum.

I just looked it up and I guess that texting and driving is now illegal in PA although it's only a $50 fine. I thought that Verizon was still blocking that law.
posted by octothorpe at 3:23 AM on October 23


But a self-driving privately owned car presumably will not run over pedestrians

Given how well we manage at making all the rest of our critical IT infrastructure completely bug-free, sure, no pedestrians will be harmed by self-driving cars. I mean, we're provably capable of writing incredibly complex completely bug-free code.

Yup.
posted by Dysk at 3:24 AM on October 23 [10 favorites]


Dysk, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Even if self driving cars are only half as likely to crash, that's still a fuck ton of lives saved. Were it not for the spike in suicides, the high oil prices and economic turmoil of the late 00s would probably have been one of the best things to happen in modern history in terms of preventing road deaths.

As long as humans are the ones driving, the safest course of action is to discourage driving as much as possible. Everything else is just window dressing.
posted by wierdo at 3:34 AM on October 23 [11 favorites]



But a self-driving privately owned car presumably will not run over pedestrians

Given how well we manage at making all the rest of our critical IT infrastructure completely bug-free, sure, no pedestrians will be harmed by self-driving cars. I mean, we're provably capable of writing incredibly complex completely bug-free code.

Yup.


In the end the software will never be bug free. It just has to be better than the average human driver.

Then the insurance rates will take care of the rest.
posted by KaizenSoze at 3:35 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


Google's robot cars seem to have a pretty incredible record with a lot of miles in real traffic situations. Just not exceeding traffic speeds can go a long way to reduce the edge conditions where a lot of fatalities occur.

There could be a tech solution to cell phone distractions, just legislate a blank screen when car in motion.
posted by sammyo at 3:35 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


There could be a tech solution to cell phone distractions, just legislate a blank screen when car in motion.

How would it know if you're not on a moving bus or train or just sitting in the passenger side?
posted by octothorpe at 3:43 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


duffell: "I don't know what the answer is, but that ain't it."

As a former offender, I agree. Basically I learned to stop using my cellphone while driving when I saw just how dramatically it made other drivers worse. I realized that every time -- every time -- I saw a car driving slow in the fast lane, or drifting out of a lane, or running a red light, or lollygagging at a green light, it was because the driver was doing something urgent on their phone.

I decided I didn't want to be like that, and didn't want to kill someone or crash my car or anything, and so I stopped.

I do use the hands-free Bluetooth function at times to make phone calls, and I know that is dangerous too. But I've stopped doing anything that involves looking at the screen, typing or swiping.
posted by chavenet at 3:45 AM on October 23 [10 favorites]


How would it know if you're not on a moving bus or train or just sitting in the passenger side?

It would be wireless linked or paired with your car, something you can't simply choose not to do, because your phone is now also your car key.

Idea's free to anyone who wants it.
posted by Dysk at 3:49 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


Like smoking, you know cellphone use unhealthy to deadly while driving, but until a full study comes to public view, it will continue to mysteriously kill.
posted by filtergik at 3:50 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Dysk: That doesn't follow. It can be the combination of mobile devices and cars that's the issue. No corresponding increase in bike on bike collisions could simply indicate that people don't feel safe cycling and using a phone like they do when driving.

Despite your contrary lead in, I’m glad we agree that the issue may potentially lie in something specific to car culture.

You might be on to something when you mention feelings of safety, since they are such a fundamental appetite fed by the car sales process. There’s an argument that could be made that cyclists, due to the immediacy and intimacy of their road experience, are more likely to have an appreciation of risk that is situationally appropriate — in contrast to automobile drivers, who have been coaxed into their position with promises of safety, security, privacy, and isolation from road noise.

In other words, perhaps the very way we sell/enjoy cars has given drivers a perversely distorted sense of road risk.

If that’s the hub of the problem, that’s where efforts should be focused to alter outcomes: car culture. Otherwise if you remove today’s distraction while leaving in place the feeling of teen-level risk-blindness in drivers, drivers will eventually find or be sold a new way to disengage from the road experience.

Of course, this is assuming bike collisions have remained stable. If they’ve ballooned then maybe mobile devices are eating our brain, and are themselves the red hand of Satan.
posted by Construction Concern at 3:59 AM on October 23


Cell-phone use while driving is as much of an impairment as alcohol. Pedestrians with their faces in their phone are pretty annoying too, but they don't often kill or injure anyone (besides themselves).

Mrs C and I have empirically determined that the majority of upscale automobiles are not equipped with turn signals.
posted by Artful Codger at 4:20 AM on October 23 [6 favorites]


Uber is a cellphone app, right?

We have a few new food delivery apps here in Australia disrupting stuff, like uber eats, deliveroo, and foodora. I see these people on bicycles and scooters with these huge cubic back packs constantly checking the app on their phones. Some even have mounts on their handlebars. As if biking in traffic wasn't dangerous enough.

it makes me want to order a giant bucket of piping hot soup
posted by adept256 at 4:31 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


In other words, perhaps the very way we sell/enjoy cars has given drivers a perversely distorted sense of road risk.

I'm not sure it's a misapprehension. A car hits a cyclist or pedestrian, the people in the car are safe. It's the person they hit who isn't. I don't think drivers doing this are misinformed about risk, I think they're self-centered garbage human beings.
posted by Dysk at 4:36 AM on October 23 [14 favorites]


Distracted driving is nothing new - we have been talking, arguing, daydreaming, and listening while driving since the personal car became standard. (Try driving a VW bus full of un-seat-belted screaming children and a dog, as my uncle did). We used to drive with large unfolded maps in our laps, so I'd argue that navigation apps are an improvement.

Disabling phones in motion would indeed be a big issue for those of us who don't buy the "personal vehicle" mandate. I am very often in fast motion while sitting on a bus or a train. There would be few good reasons even for individual driverless cars (the maximum overuse of raw materials, highway, and fuel) if our mass transit systems were better.

Increased enforcement and arrests are a solution people tend to trot out whenever they're frustrated, but such solutions tend not to work even when racism and unprovoked shootings are not an issue. The best solutions are usually design solutions, and I don't think the companies who have more and more been trusted with our design solutions have the safety of the individual in mind. They are working to maximize engagement with media, and they are very effective at it.

Design solutions create situations in which cars must go more slowly, drivers must pay attention, and events like pedestrians, stop lights, merging cars, and other events are more salient. Signal blocking at high speed is often suggested, but as I said above, the definition of "signal" is too broad.

An analogy: Drunken driving. Arresting people after the fact is not a deterrent. Alcoholics continue to drive because (a) they have no better way to get where they're going and (b) their judgment is impaired when they get in the car already, so being concerned about arrest goes out the window. Likewise, trying to catch people while they are under the influence is also not a deterrent. Breath sensors can be disabled. Random road checks can be used to entrap those who are not driving under the influence. The drunken driver can also evade road checks by various means. The "designated driver" option worked for those traveling with a group, but many places are committed to the idea of the solitary driver.

My first thought is that We need much better mass transportation, and a cultural shift that makes it desirable. My second thought is that we need design solutions on our highways that work to exit distracted drivers, slow them down, and demand their attention and focus. My third thought is that we need some design solution to ensure that the non-distracted drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, other living creatures, and the environment are protected from those who are distracted.

My last thought is that we need to notice that our brains have been hijacked by the uncontrolled need of companies to gain access to our eyeballs and brains and our unreflective assumption that it's okay to accept that.
posted by Peach at 4:38 AM on October 23 [16 favorites]


100 deaths a day is the same as a fullen laden 747 crashing every week, or 911 every month... but freedom, capitalism.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:40 AM on October 23 [10 favorites]


There's been a rise in cycling deaths relatively recently. Emphasis below is mine:

In decades prior, children and teens made up the bulk of cycling deaths, but that has changed dramatically, according to the report. The average age of a cyclist who died riding in 2015 was 45, and the vast majority—85 percent—were men. In 1975, there were 786 deaths of cyclists under age 20, compared to 212 over 20. In 2015, there were only 91 deaths for those under 20 and 720 deaths for those over 20. Researchers found that most of the fatalities involved incidents where the driver of the car did not see the cyclist, while the cyclist expected the driver to yield and instead was unable to avoid a collision.

About a year ago I stopped dating a guy after he sent me a couple of photos of the ocean. Turned out he'd taken them and texted them to me during his 80-mph commute to work. Mind you, I am also guilty of texting while being behind the wheel. Of reading texts. Of looking up shit. That guy scared me. I don't do it anymore because it is dangerous. The question I have is why all my friends and family members who continue to do this somehow believe (as 7segment suggests) that they are so talented that they can safely multitask. It's a potentially fatal form of arrogance and I wish people would cut it the hell out.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:44 AM on October 23 [13 favorites]


Police in the UK think it's an issue... Police release fatal car crash video to warn drivers
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:45 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


We are not aware that we are distracted. We are not aware that we are distracted. We are not aware that we are distracted. (Repeated for emphasis so you notice it :))

My students were always quite sure they were able to overpower the lacunae in the brain's task-switching process, because they were not aware of the gaps in their attention, just the way we are not aware of the large "blind spot" in our vision.

Just as most human beings are under the illusion that they are rational.
posted by Peach at 4:50 AM on October 23 [18 favorites]


I think one of the main problems is that for a potentially dangerous activity like driving it is extremely mundane and boring for most people. So our brains start to wander and these days they usually wander to our phones.
I don't really know how to solve that particular issue, though.
posted by dominik at 5:01 AM on October 23 [6 favorites]


Oh yeah expect 'distracted pedestrians' to become the new demonized class again as we try and slam self-driving technology into the public realm and blame the victims when the carnage inevatibaly happens.

Self driving cars are already better at not hitting cyclist and pedestrian, they don't get drunk or distracted and have excellent response time. Kudos to the person who mentioned insurance rates will push human drivers out of the road once self driving cars are good and common enough, I believe this is how it'll happen.

We should also legislate that applications that are primarily designed to be used in a car (Uber/lyft/etc..) need to have their input locked while the phone/tablet is moving, since it's guaranteed that those are used by drivers and not bus/train riders there's no point in allowing it.

And while I think its fair to expect more of drivers since they're the ones who can inflict more one-way damage, it would be cool for everybody to start being a bit more careful. I still see a lot of reckless behaviors from pedestrian and cyclist, they might only be a danger to themselves but nobody should need to die while getting somewhere.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 5:02 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


... Drunken driving. Arresting people after the fact is not a deterrent. Alcoholics continue to drive because (a) they have no better way to get where they're going...

Arresting people after the fact IS a deterrent, just not enough of a one.

Your reason (a) is bogus. In the majority of cases, there are better options. Including not travelling.

So, not much hope for that analogy.
posted by Artful Codger at 5:07 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure it's a misapprehension. A car hits a cyclist or pedestrian, the people in the car are safe. It's the person they hit who isn't. I don't think drivers doing this are misinformed about risk, I think they're self-centered garbage human beings.

Not only are they not misinformed about risk, they also aren't misinformed about the legal consequences of hitting a pedestrian or cyclist. Even when the driver is at fault, the consequences are rarely severe.

As someone who is both a driver and a pedestrian (obviously not at the same time), I am really looking forward to self-driving cars. There will still be plenty of risks, but even imperfect self-driving cars will remove a lot of human error from the equation.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:08 AM on October 23 [6 favorites]


Self-driving cars aren't the answer to this, or much else. Not that we'll see anything approaching them in our lifetimes anyway.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:10 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


I know how easily distracted I am, will not even listen to books on tape when driving, let alone talk on a cell phone. It really scares me to see people talking away, zooming in and out of traffic, hoping the rest of us look out for them.
posted by mermayd at 5:12 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Our Silicon Valley overlords would rather make driving unnecessary than lose even a millisecond of attention for their advertising customers.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 5:17 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Self-driving cars aren't the answer to this, or much else. Not that we'll see anything approaching them in our lifetimes anyway.

They exist now, and they drive better than we do.
posted by rocket88 at 5:18 AM on October 23 [8 favorites]


Self-driving cars aren't the answer to this, or much else. Not that we'll see anything approaching them in our lifetimes anyway.

If self-driving cars become technically viable, and the number of accidents caused by self-driving cars is demonstrated to be even fractionally smaller than human-driven cars, the insurance rates between the two are going to diverge at a disproportional rate, and that's what's going to change everything.
posted by lagomorphius at 5:20 AM on October 23 [14 favorites]


Distracted pedestrians and distracted cyclists are a problem. I’ve seen people walking down the street, oblivious, face in phone. I’ve seen people riding bikes in our neighborhood with phone in hand blowing right through stop signs. BUT. The onus is on the person traveling the fastest. On foot? Watch out for other pedestrians. On a bike? You hit a pedestrian, it’s your fault even if they are on the phone - you are expected to watch out for them. Driving a car? Unless you are hitting another vehicle, it’s your fault, even if the pedestrian or cyclist is on the phone. You should never be driving so poorly or with so little attention that you cannot stop in time, except for very rare instances.

iOS now detects when I am driving and asks me if I want to put the phone in “do not disturb” mode. I’ve set it to do so automatically when the phone is connected to auto Bluetooth. It works well - near instant shutoff when I am driving my car, and no false positives when I am a passenger in my wife’s car, as my phone doesn’t connect to her car - and gee so far there have been exactly zero messages received while driving that were so important I couldn’t wait to read them when parked. Imagine that. Sure many people will opt to tell the phone “I’m not driving” even when they are, but just including this feature to begin with is a good thing.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:21 AM on October 23 [6 favorites]


Self driving cars now please I wanna read a book on the way to work. Or hell how about a decent mass transit system, I feel like an asshole behind the wheel. I hate cars.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:23 AM on October 23 [15 favorites]


Self-driving cars aren't the answer to this, or much else. Not that we'll see anything approaching them in our lifetimes anyway.

They're almost here. (I had someone demo me its Tesla auto mode, its quite impressive and they don't even have LIDARs yet).

And I think they're a huge part of the solution. If we can automate (and electrify) the last part of the mass public transportation it would make the option more interesting for more people and reduce the number of cars on the road.

Not so much in rural areas since its a different problem. But around cities, you'd have trains/subways lines to move lots of people quickly to the city center, those work well and are faster than a car usually, the problem is getting to them. Most of the time you're talking long and convoluted bus ride (often infrequent outside of rush hour) and that's a deterrent. An automated car could drive you there and drive itself back (no need for a parking at the station) and would run at the time you want it.

And if you can automate buses (feels like its more complicated), you could make em smaller and run more or them for a longer time of the day. Improving coverage and convenience. Heck you could even do dynamic routing if everybody used their phone to summon them.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 5:31 AM on October 23 [5 favorites]


Not everybody who uses buses has a phone. Just a small example of how techno utopianism leaves people behind
posted by Dysk at 5:36 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


I'm generally skeptical of "technology will solve things for us!" but given that it's our relationship with technology that has brought this problem about, maybe technology can be a major driver of the solution, too.
posted by duffell at 5:38 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


Self driving cars make sense. Humans need to get past the idea that we're more reliable than machines. We all think we're wonderful drivers. The truth disputes that.
posted by davebush at 5:51 AM on October 23 [11 favorites]


Not everybody who uses buses has a phone. Just a small example of how techno utopianism leaves people behind

Agreed on the not everybody has a phone, and they shouldn't be excluded from using transit because of that.

But if we develop technology that could help solve problems we have, we'd be fools not to use it.

These things are getting cheaper by the minute, by the time every technical problem about this is solved you can probably make the tech part of the bus pass for people who eschew phones at barely any additional cost.

Instead of trying to shame people into using public transportation lets make it better than owning a car.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 5:54 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


This is a entirely impractical solution, but one that I've fantasized about before, usually after seeing someone almost kill someone with a car. You know those one way spike strips in rental car lots? Install them in major intersections, so that you can exit during a red, but not enter during it. After a few cases of severe tire damage, people would at least not blindly drive through red lights. I'm not sure how to deal with the cars blindly turning through intersections, except to make any damage done to a vehicle by a pedestrian in a crosswalk with the light immune from prosecution. Finally, we already have a way to prevent all speeding: average speed cameras. Take a photo of the license plate 1 mile apart, find their average speed. This could also be used to check for people texting while driving by looking for cars moving at a different (more than 10mph) speed than the rest of traffic and having people check the photos for signs of cell phone use while driving.

These are all wildly impractical, as no politician would be able to propose that drivers strictly follow the rules or else and stay in office. But I can dream.
posted by Hactar at 5:56 AM on October 23 [11 favorites]


ban cars
posted by entropicamericana at 6:01 AM on October 23 [22 favorites]


Most people on my buses have a phone, but then I live in a large East Coast city in the USA? In my area, the poorest people are more likely to have a phone than any other ridiculously expensive thing. They are incredibly freeing if you're poor, more than almost any other thing you can own.
posted by Peach at 6:02 AM on October 23 [8 favorites]


you can probably make the tech part of the bus pass for people who eschew phones at barely any additional cost.

Let's say I'm a homeless panhandler, and I occasionally use some of my change to get a bus from one side of town to another. How am I getting a tech bus pass, exactly?


We all think we're wonderful drivers. The truth disputes that.

We think we're wonderful at making failsafe and reliable software and engineering systems with no major unforseen risks or problems. The truth disputes that too.
posted by Dysk at 6:04 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


Not ten minutes ago I was waiting to step off the curb on Penn Ave here in the 'Burgh and an Uber self-driving Volvo blew through the yellow as it was about to change going at a speed that would have probably killed me. The light was definitely red by the time it hit the crosswalk on the far side of the intersection. So I think that they still need a little tweaking.
posted by octothorpe at 6:10 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


It is kind of weird that the conceit of the article is "we don't know why people are dying?" In Ontario every accident is investigated and it has been four years running that distracted driving (use of a cellphone) has been the number one cause of fatalities - twice as many as impaired driving (speed and seat-belt related round out the top four). We have had the "no cellphones" law since 2009 and it really does not seem to be the issue that the rest of you relate - I rarely see drivers with cellphones or looking down at their laps.

Self-driving cars are one option, the other is to engage drivers more fully with actually driving. I suspect that someone on cruise control, fiddling with their Spotify, is a lot more dangerous than someone in a manual car having to pay attention to the clutch and gears etc (outside of sports cars that encourage speeding, of course).

For the buses I use, the drivers have cell phones and tablets to process users when parked, but the screen locks as soon as the gears are engaged so that the screen cannot be accessed even when at a traffic light.
posted by saucysault at 6:14 AM on October 23 [9 favorites]


Blaming cellphone use doesn't make much sense, as we had pretty much complete cultural adoption of the smartphone five years ago when I was poking into the issue back then and the number of collisions, not just fatalities but collisions overall, were dramatically down over those of a decade prior.

Dramatically increased miles traveled as the economy has improved and gas remains inexpensive, a sharp uptick in impaired driving due to opioids, and a lot of people sticking with bicycle commuting or walking to and from work or school even as cars miles travelled blossoms. More cars are making more trips, and there are more pedestrians and cyclists to hit, and we have a crisis of impaired driving due to a drug epidemic. These are the likely factors.

Bear in mind traffic fines are a regressive tax. They are not levied against well dressed white people in late-model cars, even though I can goddamn guarantee you they will be breaking traffic laws as much if not more than POC in an old rust-bucket on their way to their third job. Scarepieces like this are basically calling for the lower classes to take up more of the financial burden of running the municipality.

Instead, require retraining and re-testing for license renewal, concentrating on pedestrian and cyclist/motorcyclist awareness, and good highway and stoplight etiquette.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:14 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


Let's say I'm a homeless panhandler, and I occasionally use some of my change to get a bus from one side of town to another. How am I getting a tech bus pass, exactly?

Add summon buttons at select bus stops? (lots of stops also provide shelter from wind/rain, this is still useful). I mean around here they can get frigging flat-screen in them to show you publicity, a button should be easy.

I'd be more worried about the fact that people carry less and less money on them and soon to panhandle you'll need a smartphone.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 6:14 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


We have a few new food delivery apps here in Australia disrupting stuff, like uber eats, deliveroo, and foodora. I see these people on bicycles and scooters with these huge cubic back packs constantly checking the app on their phones. Some even have mounts on their handlebars. As if biking in traffic wasn't dangerous enough.

That may be more of an urban thing; I've never actually seen someone checking their phone while they're riding. I've got handlebar mounts on my bikes for my phone, but that's specifically to use it as a bike computer to log my ride and especially when I'm out riding in the country to keep track of where I'm at in the country. There may be cyclists blowing through stop signs and red lights while looking at their little screens, but there were cyclists doing that before, because some cyclists are assholes who try to ruin it for the rest of us. Not really in the same league as a distracted driver.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:22 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


Did we have complete adoption of the smartphone five years ago? With the same style of use? It was right about five years ago that people in my social circle started getting them; I got one two and a half years ago because of work. It was about four years ago that I started taking night classes and students weren't on their phones in class to nearly the same degree that they are now - it was laptops. I didn't see other cyclists using their phones until the past couple of years, with an uptick in the last year. It seems as though apps are way more of a thing now, and Twitter seems bigger.

I would say that in my age and income bracket, constant use of the phone has happened within the past five years and was not in fact an established thing before then.

(In re cyclists - I was riding behind someone who was all over the bike path, going really slowly, and as I carefully approached her to pass, I saw that she was, yes, on her phone. Only the fact that I am an old and a weirdo kept me from yelling at her - I was pretty sure that "don't use your phone and bike" would be totally disregarded coming from someone like me. But man, I wanted to yell.

However, cyclists with phones can't do the damage that drivers with phones can, partly because in a car you can go really fast while distracted, but on a bike you are frequently slow and wobbly. And in Minneapolis, where we have a lot of bike paths and bike lanes, stupid phone-using cyclists are at least more likely to injure themselves or other cyclists than to be flattened by cars or hit pedestrians.)
posted by Frowner at 6:25 AM on October 23 [15 favorites]


It has caused her a considerable level of upset, but as she is a pretty, well spoken young white woman, unsurprisingly it didn't go any further than a stern talking to.

That, and you're allowed to look at map apps while driving in many jurisdictions.
posted by jpe at 6:30 AM on October 23


Anyone who would operate a car or bicycle while using a smartphone is a crazy person. Driving and bicycling are dangerous enough as it is without devoting a significant amount of your attention to a glowing screen.

Just this morning I rode my bike to work and while I was stopped at a red light a driver went by me to make a right turn. He had his phone up on some sort of stand in the middle of the dashboard and was clearly video chatting with someone. This is in the middle of rush hour on Bloor, one of Toronto's busiest streets. On Saturday night I was biking to a friend's house and a cyclist shot out of a parking lot across two lanes of moving traffic, weaving around cars going both directions. He had headphones on and was holding his phone up with one hand so he could look at it as he rode. He also had sunglasses on at what I will charitably call dusk. And of course pedestrians are constantly on their phones and distracted; I've seen people stop dead in the *middle of the street* while answering texts or whatever.

I literally see shit like this every single day I am out on the roads in Toronto. It's a fucking miracle there aren't more pedestrians and cyclists killed than there already are.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:31 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


Distracted driving is nothing new - we have been talking, arguing, daydreaming, and listening while driving since the personal car became standard

The difference with talking on a phone and talking to somebody in the car is a lot greater than you might think. My sister works in transport at a national level and in the late 90s the traffic research bods had already established that even hands-free it's the fundamental different way we talk which makes it so dangerous.

If we are talking to a passenger in the car and coming up to a roundabout or other potential hazard, the conversation will slow down or stop for a moment while it is dealt with and then, once clear , the conversation can continue. Neither of you may even be aware this is happening but the passenger can see what the driver is dealing with and both sides make allowances and fit the rhythm of the conversation around the driving.

On a phone there aren't the same visual cues for the conversation to flow around the obstacles on the road so you might be discussing something important whilst negotiating a busy junction and as the person on the other end is not aware of where the driver is, the driver may have to concentrate that much harder on the conversation, leaving less room for concentrating on what is around them.
posted by jontyjago at 6:31 AM on October 23 [26 favorites]


STOP LOOKING AT THE FUCKING THING
posted by Burhanistan at 6:43 AM on October 23 [12 favorites]


@rocket88: They exist now, and they drive better than we do.

Do they? Where?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:50 AM on October 23


This is why I am not too happy about a future of self-driving cars.
posted by JanetLand at 6:52 AM on October 23


Let's say I'm a homeless panhandler, and I occasionally use some of my change to get a bus from one side of town to another. How am I getting a tech bus pass, exactly?

It's not just the homeless panhandler. Not everyone can or will use a smart phone or tech bus pass, and an inclusive and well-functioning transportation system needs to serve all of its users. When I take the bus, I always notice how many of the passengers are what I think is termed "transit dependent" -- unable to drive because of age, disabilities, and/or finances. They need the bus as much or more than anyone, and we need to make sure that changes to the system still work for them.

But this is tangential to the core issue, which is the risk posed by distracted drivers. It's a problem caused by technology, and I have to think that it will get at least partially solved by technology. Cars will gain safety features (and eventually the ability to self-drive); phones will get software that limits distractions; and likely the police will get surveillance tools that aid enforcement.

If self-driving cars become technically viable, and the number of accidents caused by self-driving cars is demonstrated to be even fractionally smaller than human-driven cars, the insurance rates between the two are going to diverge at a disproportional rate, and that's what's going to change everything.

I don't see how that would work. Insurance is already fairly cheap, with current risk levels. Even if self-driving cars are cheaper to insure, it won't make regular cars prohibitively expensive.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:53 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


I teach undergraduates - and most of them aren't idiots.

But they can't stop themselves from looking at their phones unless I make them put the phones away. In the backpack, backpack zipped up. It's such a deeply ingrained habit that even though their final grade will be docked for checking their phone, they have to physically remove their phone from their presence.

I've never been a heavy phone user so I don't have this impulse. But people who do should probably put their phone away, in their bag.

(I do feel like I'm a safer driver when I need and have my phone's navigation because I'm paying attention to the road rather than to street names, changing lanes less, etc - but that's a single case and if banning all phones while driving means I'm less likely to get hit by an asshole who just can't wait to send that text until later, I'll deal with it.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:56 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


Is Red Asphalt still a thing? Take photos of people killed in collisions and text them to people or something
posted by edeezy at 6:56 AM on October 23


Add summon buttons at select bus stops?

You don't think these will end up vandalised, or just ignored by bus drivers or companies who'd much rather pick up the 'proper' customers calling for a bus with their phone than a homeless person at a shelter? And in the context of routeless buses, you need something more complex than a summon button, because you need to know the intended destination, too. Do as well as ending up as low priority calls, you've now got a reasonably complex system that needs to survive wind, weather, drunks, and vandalism, where my experience shows that most bus companies can't even keep an up to date timetable safely up, unmolested at a bus stop.
posted by Dysk at 6:56 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


Don't ignore the elephant in the room. 10 years ago, gas prices skyrocketed, and we started driving a lot less. During that same time, we ran a buyback program that effectively took all of the oldest and most dangerous vehicles off of the road.

Since then, gas has gotten cheaper, the remaining cars have gotten older, transit systems have crumbled from disinvestment, employment increased, and VMT has gone way, way, way up.

During that same period, the TIGER grant money ran out, and the states that were using it to perform basic maintenance suddenly stopped maintaining their roads, and the state of repair of the average American road got worse.

Meanwhile, in some parts of the country, centric-focused exurban developments continued to be built at a dizzying pace, roads were widened, and speed limits were raised.

Distracted driving is almost definitely also a factor, but Bloomberg's numbers don't add up. The assertion that the increase in fatalities can't be fully-explained by the increased VMT is completely unsupported. The expert they interviewed estimates that 1 in 4 smartphone-related incidents are incorrectly reported -- this is a shocking statistic, but still doesn't come close to explaining the discrepancy.

The cellphones might be part of it, but there's more to the story, and Bloomberg's unwillingness to consider other factors is a little weird. (50% of fatal accidents aren't due to driver error!? Doesn't that seem like it's worth talking about!?)
posted by schmod at 7:00 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


Did we have complete adoption of the smartphone five years ago? With the same style of use?

It doesn't matter. Wide adoption of messaging and facebook on smartphone platforms was a fact at the time, and if it were a serious contributing factor, we would have seen an uptick in collisions and fatalities. We did not, we saw the opposite. More, SMS was normalized as a mode of communication in the late '90s, and no corresponding spike in collisions. Current smartphone use would have to be dramatically different in a provable way for me to buy into it. It's just not.

Distracted driving is more on the driver and not the device. I've seen people eating soup from a bowl with a spoon on the highway. I've seen people shaving on the highway. I've seen people reading a newspaper in stop-and-go rush hour traffic.

Education and re-testing will go a lot longer towards reducing traffic fatalities. Demanding the cops come down hard on smartphone users means you are asking the police to make minorities and the poor suffer for the sins of us all, and for very little good evidence that it will make a damn bit of difference.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:04 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


I strongly suspect another big reason is the switch from tactile, easy to use physical switches, knobs, and controls in cars to stupid touch-screen and menu-driven everything.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:04 AM on October 23 [24 favorites]


•voice command
•a dashboard holder
These two things have helped me in my driving. That being said, you still have to learn to not fuss with it. There are times when the voice command does not recognize or my data connection is weak or a certain command/task fails for whatever reason.

At that point you have to just learn to leave that shit alone until you get where you're going or until you can pull off some where safe and then conduct your business. But that takes a certain amount of discipline and will-power. Something not everyone is capable of.
posted by Fizz at 7:07 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


Let's say I'm a homeless panhandler, and I occasionally use some of my change to get a bus from one side of town to another. How am I getting a tech bus pass, exactly?

Transport for London stopped taking cash on buses 3 years ago. Now you need to have a travel card or to swipe your cash card in and out. So, perhaps predictably, the answer to the panhandler wasn't very inclusive. I imagine it will be a fairly common solution in the future.
posted by biffa at 7:10 AM on October 23


I saw that she was, yes, on her phone. Only the fact that I am an old and a weirdo kept me from yelling at her - I was pretty sure that "don't use your phone and bike" would be totally disregarded coming from someone like me. But man, I wanted to yell.

See, I'm a lycra-clad speed king and regularly shout at dipshits on their phones while riding. It's really cathartic. Usually, it's just a "get off your stupid goddamn phone!". Sometimes nicer, sometimes meaner.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:17 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


Smart cars are not the solution- at least in the near to mid-term. As it stand right now, they can do 30-40% of driving, more if they are on a fixed route. Even at 95%, they still require a human to attend to the task 1 minute out of 20. Which would be one thing, but you don't know when that moment will be - so the driver needs to attend at all moments. But drivers, obviously, don't do this now.

More and better enforcement would be useful, but have you met cops ? They are even worse about playing with their toys while driving than regular people are. They'd have to look up from their porn once in a while.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:17 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Transport for London stopped taking cash on buses 3 years ago. Now you need to have a travel card or to swipe your cash card in and out. So, perhaps predictably, the answer to the panhandler wasn't very inclusive.

That's my point, aye.
posted by Dysk at 7:20 AM on October 23


This is just another indication that our society has caught a cold of the strain known as "mobile devices."

Last week an internal Oath (look it up, super creepy) presentation revealed that there are 450+ million people in the world that use their phone "actively" more than 300 minutes every single day (not on average) and that the trend line puts that number above a Billion in 2018. This cohort of people in the world, more populous than the USA, also launch or switch applications more than 160 times in a day.

We are doing so much to not: engage with the world around us, have unmediated experiences, have unmediated emotions, learn how to*be*, hell, _be_. And drive, turns out.

Get off my lawn, sure. I am middle aged. But I had become dependent on some version of the social contract where the people around me: my family, friends, coworkers... where these people were not all strange screen zombies. And mobile use on the road may be the best most visible indicator of this. Driving in LA I see so many (so so so many) people on a daily basis who have decided to drive with their phone in their hands on a daily basis—people who have decided that they are going to suck and endanger many people's lives because they have to... what? Get that 300 minutes in? Make sure they don't have a moment of silence because that's where the scary thoughts come from? I'm not sure.
posted by n9 at 7:32 AM on October 23 [10 favorites]


Autonomous road trials with redundant human backups are already being conducted almost everywhere. The long-haul trucking industry in particular is very much involved in this. Results have been very positive and city driving trials are set to begin soon.

I work for a company that is directly involved in this technology and I can tell you that we could make the switch today if (and it's a big if) we outlawed all human drivers at the same time. Self-driving cars have no problem avoiding each other. It's reacting to erratic and unpredictable human-driven cars that's proving to be the biggest technical hurdle to overcome.

But we have the technology to land a rocket on its end on a floating platform. I think we can handle driving a car. It's very close.
posted by rocket88 at 7:32 AM on October 23 [5 favorites]


It's reacting to erratic and unpredictable human-driven cars that's proving to be the biggest technical hurdle to overcome.

Even if you get rid of all human driven cars, you've still got those pesky erratic and unpredictable humans wandering around near, by, along, and across roads.
posted by Dysk at 7:35 AM on October 23 [6 favorites]


I first noticed the problem of drivers distracted by cell phones more than fifteen years ago, back when I was bicycling to work. As you know, when on a bicycle, one pays very close attention to each and every automobile driver, since you just can't trust drivers to notice you. I was amazed--and this was during a time when, believe it or not, all you could really do was converse on the thing--how inept drivers became while talking on the phone. Now that people can order fripperies and whatnot on their "devices," I'm sure it's a hell of a lot worse. (I don't know if the article or the stats prove it. That's another argument.)

Remember the days when we used to argue about whether or not having a radio in the car would be too distracting? OK, unless you're 97 you probably don't. But, still, put those phones down, everybody. You don't want to run over a little kid on a bike, do you?
posted by kozad at 7:36 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


It's not illegal here so that's not going to happen

Using a cellphone while driving doesn't need to be specifically illegal for the police to recognize reckless behavior. Shaving while driving isn't illegal, but if someone was driving slow enough to interfere with traffic, or weaving between lanes, because their hands were busy with a razor and their eyes were on a mirror, people would expect them to get pulled over for it. (This is not a hypothetical example.)

And while I'd rather push for jail time, that takes the time, expense, and luck of a conviction - police are allowed to confiscate materials they think are related to a crime without needing a trial.

And yeah, I know that police in most areas are going to go after marginalized people first - but this is one where a solid push in the silicon valley tech sector might make a difference; strong enforcement on the commute routes in the SF Bay Area could have ripple effects as techdudes decide that if they can't get away with something, nobody else should be able to.

(I know. All fantasies. In reality, drivers' whims get privileged over pedestrians' safety, and there aren't going to be laws or enforcement that changes that.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:38 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


The police don't seem to cite people for much except speeding, until there is a collision, after which someone gets cited for improper lane change, following too close, etc. Maybe that's because in speeding, they have evidence from the radar gun.
posted by thelonius at 7:41 AM on October 23


Distracted driving is a scourge, but whatever the solution to it is, be it enforcement or self-driving cars or some other technological fix, I am quite sure that "admonishment" is not the solution. When has it ever been, for anything?
posted by mellow seas at 7:44 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Step one in any hypothetical traffic enforcement program is to make all fines proportional to income. This somewhat alleviates but does not eliminate the concerns about the disproportionate effect on marginalised people, while still hitting the most advantaged meaningfully hard.
posted by Dysk at 7:44 AM on October 23 [11 favorites]


I don't know what the answer is, but that ain't it.

Redesigning roads.

This is one of those things that I only learned about recently, and then it was so obvious that I felt dumb for not having thought of it before. But I live in a city which has successfully bucked this trend, with declining traffic deaths over the past several years, by adopting a Swedish-developed plan called Vision Zero. Enforcement is part of it, but much more important is redesigning streets to be safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:45 AM on October 23 [17 favorites]


What I'm saying is, we should focus more on education than punishment. Saying "hey, you're a dickhead" or "you're going to go to jail" just makes people double down on their behavior. We see this in EVERYTHING from drugs to obesity to climate change denial. This issue is no different.
posted by mellow seas at 7:47 AM on October 23


iOS 11 has a nice Do Not Disturb While Driving setting. Your calls will still get pushed through to your handsfree Bluetooth thingy, but no texts, no notifications, and the phone won't even let you unlock it, you're limited to what you can do via voice commands with Siri. Which I thought was super obnoxious at first, because sometimes I do want to unlock the phone to see, for example, why traffic has just come to a standstill. But I have to concede that it's maybe the best way to remove even the temptation of fucking with your phone while driving. Not perfect, given you can still be distracted trying to get Siri to do whatever, but it's something.
posted by yasaman at 7:48 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


And like showbiz_liz said, designing cities and streets that force people to drive at a reasonable speed and mind their surroundings would help massively with this issue and other bad driving habits. As for the freeways, that's a separate issue... but we can work on development that leads to less freeway miles overall.
posted by mellow seas at 7:49 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


thelonius: "The police don't seem to cite people for much except speeding, until there is a collision, after which someone gets cited for improper lane change, following too close, etc. Maybe that's because in speeding, they have evidence from the radar gun."

Annoyingly, radar guns are illegal for local police in Pennsylvania so the city police aren't able to do much to curb speeding.
posted by octothorpe at 7:54 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


I strongly suspect another big reason is the switch from tactile, easy to use physical switches, knobs, and controls in cars to stupid touch-screen and menu-driven everything.

I never really thought about this before, but it's so obvious. Back in the 'day' you used to be able to feel by touch, without taking your eyes off of the road at all, for the volume knob or the AC button. Now you have to literally look at everything to make your car do something.

Oh, and back to the phones: MAN, especially as a cyclist, it's unreal. You really are hyper-aware to how many fucking people are on their phones, and have no idea that in the two seconds they looked down they just drove 200 feet.
posted by knownassociate at 7:59 AM on October 23 [15 favorites]


One thing that smartphone apps have gotten a lot better at in the past five years is creating addiction.

A decade ago, most people would look at their phones when they wanted to. Now, appmakers have gotten stickiness down to a well-researched science. They know how to create the anxiety-relief-anxiety-relief cycle. They know how to fill a person's mind with thoughts of their phone the instant they put it down. Your heart beats a little faster. Yes, you're driving, but your nervous system is telling you that something bad will happen if you *don't* pick up your phone *right now*.

The freeway, by contrast, is lulling you. Everything is flowing smoothly. There's nothing to worry about out there. All your immediate worries are in your phone. You better look at it.
posted by clawsoon at 8:06 AM on October 23 [28 favorites]


Step one in any hypothetical traffic enforcement program is to make all fines proportional to income. This somewhat alleviates but does not eliminate the concerns about the disproportionate effect on marginalised people, while still hitting the most advantaged meaningfully hard.

Sweden has this. They have all the nice things ;)
posted by WaterAndPixels at 8:08 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


A few months ago I was in stop-and-go traffic on the freeway, and I could see that the woman in the minivan behind me kept futzing with something in her lap, presumably her phone. This was while her minivan was slowly rolling at approximately the average traffic speed. She glanced up occasionally. When the stop-and-go ground down to stop-and-stop, I looked in my mirror, and saw that she was between safety glances. I watched as she rolled slowly toward my car. I thought to myself "she's going to run into me," and "maybe I should honk my horn," but I hesitated too long and she rolled right into my bumper.

We pulled to the shoulder and examined my bumper. Fortunately there was no damage, it was a low-speed impact after all, so I said not to worry about it. Then she lied and said that the accident was caused by someone who had rear-ended her and pushed her van into my car, and then they just sped off. As if someone could stealthily speed away in stop-and-go traffic. Sigh.
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 8:10 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


I am a frequent pedestrian. I have seen people look right at me, and still proceed - because they are not looking for pedestrians, they are looking for cars. My dad was in a bike accident ten years ago - a pickup truck turned left in front of him, and made him a quadriplegic. As far as we know, the driver was not on a device, but merely didn't notice anything coming when he turned. (To his credit, he called 911 and self-reported. Dad's life was saved by his helmet, a medivac, and the emergency department.)

When I have to cross a driveway and there's a car there, I walk behind it. I would no more ride a bike in this town than play Russian roulette.

We are all much too used to driving and fail to take it seriously. I am guilty of all these things, too. I welcome self-driving cars, and any mass-transit we can put in place.
posted by corvikate at 8:14 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


This somewhat alleviates but does not eliminate the concerns about the disproportionate effect on marginalised people

It doesn't really help at all because any interaction marginalized people have with police in the US is an opportunity for the police to murder them without consequence.

I mean, yes, fine, fines proportionate to income would help in that narrow circumstance where cops were honestly simply attempting to neutrally and fairly enforce the law in order to increase safety, since then poorer people would only be faced with fines that seemed fair to other, richer people and richer people would notice the fines they paid.

But the approximation you should make about the US is that cops honestly, simply attempting to neutrally and fairly enforce the law to increase safety never happens.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:20 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


If we are talking to a passenger in the car and coming up to a roundabout or other potential hazard, the conversation will slow down or stop for a moment while it is dealt with and then, once clear , the conversation can continue. Neither of you may even be aware this is happening but the passenger can see what the driver is dealing with and both sides make allowances and fit the rhythm of the conversation around the driving.

I've actually found myself loudly saying "STOP TALKING STOP TALKING" when I'm on a hands free call and I need to pay more attention to a road situation.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:21 AM on October 23


I am annoyed by the writers' insistence on using the word "accident" to describe collisions even after mentioning the controversy over the term in the first few paragraphs of the article.

It has been over four years since the NYPD officially stopped using accident. I regularly watch roadcams over at reddit. The percentage of unavoidable collisions is very low.

Stop calling them accidents, media. Thanks.
posted by GregorWill at 8:22 AM on October 23 [11 favorites]


People who text while driving, please explain. I truly don't get it. I'm a sort-of millennial and I love my phone and I admit to having it in bed most nights etc. But I have no problem putting it away when operating a two-ton machine. What kind of deep amazing discussions are you having via text that cannot wait? If it's just regular chitchat, why?! Is it really a compulsion? Do you believe the fallacy that you are fine and in control?
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:24 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


I have worked in downtown Charlotte for the last year and I have stood crosswalks, waiting for the light to change, and have seen hundreds of distracted drivers cruise by. It's frightening.
posted by zzazazz at 8:33 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


Yeah, to recall the "past 5 years" conversation higher up, it does seen as if the phones are more...insistent...in their beeping, buzzing, dropping and reasserting connectivity, streaming, every app wanting needing begging for notifications all the time. It's only been in the past 2 years or less that I switched completely from driving with an iPod plugged into my aux jack or tape deck to total phone streaming integration, no feedback on clicking forward or back, no way to memorize what comes next on shuffle, just a little glowing screen throwing up reminders and sometimes getting a janky connection. I have a newer car now with Bluetooth integration, which minimizes the need to fiddle with the dangerbar, but it's imperfect.

Anyway, this is pretty recent. Also, I take the bus more often to minimize the already high likelihood of distraction during my morning commute because it's dangerous. as. hell. out there.
posted by zinful at 8:37 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


and on re reading my comment, it's pretty telling that it's a basic necessity in new cars now to have that integration--we can't stop using the damn things because everything we do seems to be automatically integrated with them. Which is nice if you're lost and need a map, or need to take a drive and sing it out, or etc etc etc but that total lifestyle integration isn't helping us look away, it's just expanding the reach of the phone itself.
posted by zinful at 8:41 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


When talking about drunk driving, repeat offenders pose a greater threat on the road, with a person with a prior DUI has 4.1 times the risk of being involved in a fatal automobile crash, and about one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders. Law enforcement is not enough to stop people from drinking and driving again, and even breathalyzers can be bypassed easily, often by friends or relatives riding with the driver. Treat alcoholism like the disease it is.

As for texting and driving, people are bad at actually multitasking, and those who think they are better than average are often awful (link to the study).


Dysk: Given how well we manage at making all the rest of our critical IT infrastructure completely bug-free, sure, no pedestrians will be harmed by self-driving cars.

wierdo: Dysk, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

EXACTLY. I want to know how much better self-driving cars would be in aggregate than people behind the wheel, because if there's a sizable improvement, I WANT SELF-DRIVING CARS AVAILABLE NOW, with a 10 year timeline to make driving your own car a thing you do on private tracks or off-road courses, like horse riding. (Of course, there's the fact that early adopters of new technology can afford it, so subsidies would need to be in place, particularly for poor, rural communities where increased transit isn't feasible.)


GregorWill: Stop calling them accidents, media. Thanks.

Ditto this, though I've seen crash as more commonly used than collision, FWIW. "Accident" implies no one was at fault, like being hit by a falling rock. Except with cars, there's someone intentionally pushing that rock off the cliff, onto a well-traveled path below.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:43 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


Back when I had a Symbian phone, texting and driving was no more nuts than talking on the phone, but that's because it read texts to me and brought up the reply screen with a simple voice command. Combine that with a decade plus of T9 making tapping out a text completely blind a matter of rote 99% of the time and it wasn't so bad since very little of my driving was done in congested areas and I had the sense to leave it be if the situation was at all complex.

I'm not saying it was a bright thing to do, just recounting the justification I used to convince myself it was OK. For the most part it was (didn't crash or tap a pedestrian or run off the road in 100,000 miles of stupid behavior), but for the most part isn't good enough when piloting a multi-ton bludgeoning weapon.

Touchscreens have made the problem worse since they require both attention and vision, though in the past couple of years we're back to being able to do it hands free with modern phones and voice commands.
posted by wierdo at 8:45 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


I've been using Lyft pretty regularly since January and the number of drivers who:

- don't see me waving my arms to indicate my location
- hold the phones while they drive
- sit stationary at green traffic lights because they are looking at their phones
- make dangerous maneuvers because they are both depending on the phone for directions and also not really grokking what the phone is felling them

has made me really wary of those drivers. Phones are, for the most part, a net negative in terms of road safety.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:47 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Are there apps already that can turn off texting if the phone is moving more than 5mph? Not a perfect solution but seems doable?
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:48 AM on October 23


Phones are, for the most part, a net negative in terms of road safety.

cars are a net negative in terms of road safety
posted by entropicamericana at 8:51 AM on October 23 [7 favorites]


I love cars. I enjoy driving. I've been driving for over fifty years and have been through all sorts of special purpose driving/racing schools. I've held various levels of licensing that allow me to drive commercial/hazmat, competition and emergency vehicles and after all that I know what a mediocre driver I actually am, so when I'm driving, that's all I'm doing. I have my phone set to do-not-disturb when driving; I don't know how to turn that off and I'm not interested in finding out.

Meanwhile, distracted walking is going to be a self-correcting problem.
posted by Standeck at 8:56 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


I'm a year round bike commuter, have been for years, and I can tell you that smartphones have made my daily ride significantly more dangerous. Everyone is playing with their damn toys on the road. Motorists routinely swerve into bike lanes, pull out of side streets without looking up, suddenly cut across several lanes as they realize they're missing their turn, and right hook cyclists much more frequently. Pedestrians wander out into the street on their phones without looking up. Cyclists text while riding!

I've seen so many accidents where a car t-bones a cyclist. I always stop to render aid, even if there are other people there, and inevitably the driver is telling all and sundry, "He came out of nowhere! I didn't even see him." I can guarantee the reason the driver didn't see the cyclist is because he had a phone in front of his face.

My city commute has never been a peaceful affair, but the past 5+ years the chaos seems to be ratcheting up. I wish the cops around here would go after all the distracted drivers, but it seems they've decided cyclists are the problem and they're cracking down on us.
posted by Lighthammer at 8:57 AM on October 23 [7 favorites]


There could be a tech solution to cell phone distractions, just legislate a blank screen when car in motion.
>>>>How would it know if you're not on a moving bus or train or just sitting in the passenger side?


I realize that I am an old person, and increasingly out-of-touch, but passengers managed just fine without smart phones from the invention of the chariot until 2007. I don't think legislating a blank screen is necessary--GPS apps are helpful for drivers--but putting all moving phones into a travel mode like the do-not-disturb-while-driving mode on iOS 11 sounds okay to me. Allow GPS apps, phone calls from contacts marked as favorites, texts marked "urgent," and Siri-controlled access to music, podcasts, or audiobooks. No Twitter, no games, no e-books, no Facebook, no instagram, camera, or random texts. It would be okay. Yes, it would make it harder to do work on a bus or train. Bring paper, a tablet, or a laptop. Or enjoy not being a slave to the capitalist machine while you're in motion. Get a paper book from your library.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:58 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


I am teaching my kids about not using the phone in the car and they are still very little. When we drive they spend most of the time telling me that everyone in the cars around us is looking at the phone and not being safe. "It's not safe to look at the phone and drive at the same time. Just like it's not safe to make cookies and drive at the same time, or to dance and drive at the same time, or to play a guitara and drive at the same time," they say. It seems so simple but people are addicted to their phones and technology. We all know this and see this in most areas of life. I'd like a don't bake and drive campaign, FYI.
posted by anya32 at 8:58 AM on October 23 [8 favorites]


WaterAndPixels: "Kudos to the person who mentioned insurance rates will push human drivers out of the road once self driving cars are good and common enough, I believe this is how it'll happen.
"

Insurance doesn't work that way. Self driving cars may have cheaper rates but the rates for standard cars won't go up.

octothorpe: "Annoyingly, radar guns are illegal for local police in Pennsylvania so the city police aren't able to do much to curb speeding."

VASCAR and pacing still work.

filthy light thief: "EXACTLY. I want to know how much better self-driving cars would be in aggregate than people behind the wheel, because if there's a sizable improvement, I WANT SELF-DRIVING CARS AVAILABLE NOW, with a 10 year timeline to make driving your own car a thing you do on private tracks or off-road courses, like horse riding. "

While not dirt poor my car is still 17 years old and essential to get to my job. forcing me to buy a premium replacement vehicle less than 10 years old would be a significant hardship. Also horses are still legal to ride on roads most places.
posted by Mitheral at 9:01 AM on October 23 [5 favorites]


There used to be a guy who'd ride a horse on the shoulder of NC 54, recently featured here in a post about terrible bus stops.
posted by thelonius at 9:02 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


Are there apps already that can turn off texting if the phone is moving more than 5mph?

Sure. The article mentions some, and there are others out there (four options at the bottom of this page). But none of the apps come installed or enabled by default, few employers mandate their use, and the people most likely to install them are the same people most likely to just put their phones in the glove box or back seat.

I did make good use of my phone to text my partner while I was a passenger in a coworker's rental car a few days ago. After trying several times but failing to get across the ideas that we had plenty of time to get to the airport, that it wasn't necessary to exceed the speed limit by twenty miles per hour, and that following distances of more than one car length are a good thing, I sent: "My driver is scary, and I want you to know that I love you."

At least I successfully discouraged her from using her phone.
posted by asperity at 9:07 AM on October 23


I got all excited that my Apple Watch has voice texting, but you still have to actually tap the watch to send the text, so I don’t text while driving. In fact, I put the watch on do not disturb while driving because it tempts me in a way the phone never did. I don’t want to die because I looked down to see a Buzzfeed story on my wrist.

I was in a car crash last year, and I hit them, so I was officially at fault, but I wonder if the other driver was distracted. I have gone over the crash in my mind and can’t figure out how the other car came to be in front of me at that moment. When we pulled over and waited for the police the other driver spent the whole time futzing with her vape and her phone. Who knows?

One last thing: teen drivers around here watch a film called The Last Text in driver’s ed. It’s about people who died because of texting and driving. They showed it to us in the parent class and it was very affecting. I know my kids were both scared straight after seeing it. My older son won’t even answer his phone while driving because he has ADHD and does not want to invite the extra distraction.
posted by Biblio at 9:11 AM on October 23



While not dirt poor my car is still 17 years old and essential to get to my job. forcing me to buy a premium replacement vehicle less than 10 years old would be a significant hardship.


It seems like either self-driving cars will not be universal-ish until there's enough of them in the used market for most lower income drivers to afford one or else self-driving cars will be mandated and (just as with the terrible disaster of "cashlessness" in India this past year) large numbers of poor people will be forced out of the labor market and there will be all kinds of knock-on social and economic damage.

Also, everyone's non-self driving car is going to become valueless, especially if they're banned. Which means that poor people who have an asset that's worth a couple of thousand dollars are going to lose that money.

The other thing about self-driving cars: are they going to become obsolete faster, hooking us all into ever more debt? When I was growing up, we had the same phones for years and years - I think we had the same phone from when I was three to when we moved when I was fourteen. Now, of course, you have to buy a new phone for hundreds of dollars every couple of years, and if you don't like reading the internet in teeny tiny text on your phone, you need a new laptop or tablet every few years too.

For the second hand self-driving car market to be sustainable, self-driving cars are going to need to have the kind of useful life that cars do now. Is that what Silicon Valley is designing for? I doubt it, given that they all seem to believe that everyone is going to buy new IOT refrigerators and washing machines and so on every three years or so.

I honestly don't see how we get to self-driving cars without incredible economic harm to working people - and that's leaving out the job loss.
posted by Frowner at 9:12 AM on October 23 [12 favorites]


Self-driving cars are like fusion power. They will be 10 years out for the rest of our lives.

Most car interfaces are garbage, and the move to touchscreens over tactile keyboards means everybody has to look at what they're doing because you can't see what you're typing otherwise. Voice controls are going to have to get a lot better or we're going to add to the already-incomprehensible butcher's bill that is the modern road.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:13 AM on October 23 [6 favorites]


Self-driving cars aren't the answer to this, or much else. Not that we'll see anything approaching them in our lifetimes anyway.

I'm looking forward to the day when one of these comments denying the existence of self-driving vehicles, which are generated by the same users year after year, is actually made from onboard a self-driving vehicle. Probably from the True Scotsman's own autonomous car, with the goalposts being moved in the back of the same vehicle.

(Note that this comment isn't directed at anyone simply expressing skepticism or doubts about the virtues or characteristics of self-driving vehicles that exist now or the upcoming next generation of them, but at the absurd recurring pretense above which I'm not going to even bother to immediately disprove with video evidence this year.)
posted by XMLicious at 9:22 AM on October 23 [12 favorites]


Putting all moving phones into a travel mode like the do-not-disturb-while-driving mode on iOS 11 sounds okay to me.

This sounds like a great way to punish public transit commuters for the idiocy of drivers.
posted by zeusianfog at 9:23 AM on October 23 [14 favorites]


Insurance doesn't work that way. Self driving cars may have cheaper rates but the rates for standard cars won't go up.

Wouldn't the diminishing number of insured for manual-driving motorists shrink the risk pool massively and make the cost go up? Though it would, but I'm not an insurance expert.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 9:23 AM on October 23


They exist now, and they drive better than we do.

Do they? Where?


I'm not sure if your question is related to the "they exist now" or "they drive better than we do," but Google's self-driving cars have already driven 3 million miles on the roads in self-driving mode. Multiple cars have driven themselves across the country. As mentioned upthread, Uber's self-driving care are picking up passengers in Pittsburgh. I'm not saying the technology is ready for prime time, but self-driving cars already exist. Whether they already drive better than we do is still up for debate.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:24 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


Also there have been test programs with driverless busses mixing in on roads with normal traffic (on fixed routes) and there are operational shipping ports where shipping containers are moved around internally by trucks that don't even have a cab that a human can sit in, much less a steering wheel.
posted by XMLicious at 9:28 AM on October 23


Also about self driving car.... navigating properly is an harder problem than just not running into things. I'm 100% confident the not running into things part will work most better than on the average human drivers.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 9:28 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Not ten minutes ago I was waiting to step off the curb on Penn Ave here in the 'Burgh and an Uber self-driving Volvo blew through the yellow as it was about to change going at a speed that would have probably killed me. The light was definitely red by the time it hit the crosswalk on the far side of the intersection. So I think that they still need a little tweaking.

posted by octothorpe at 6:10 AM on October 23

I think they call that Kalanick Mode - move fast and break people.
posted by sockshaveholes at 9:28 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


The key issue (for me) with self-driving cars is: when there's an accident, who's at fault? If it's discovered that the code had a bug that made it sometimes mistake bicycles for shadows and hit them, and someone dies, will the programmer be liable for manslaughter?

I am very nervous about more high-tech devices that can cause deaths if they have problems, where all liability has been removed from the wealthy people who use them, and foisted off onto the marginalized people who are most likely to have problems because of the tech.

And I wonder how much of the cellphones-cause-accidents problems are being ignored because cellphones were originally for the rich, and we can't possibly enact laws that make rich people feel uncomfortable or restricted.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:31 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


There's a recent Bikesnobnyc article that really resonates with me.

I've been bike commuting almost every day for the last 15 months or so. Before that I walked to work for years, but it wasn't until I was on the bike in and among that cars that I really realized it: almost everything about cars is bad.

As an engineering accomplishment, as a tool in a vacuum, cars are amazing. I own cars. But in the world, they are bad, and banning private car usage on the streets should be a goal.

- They are expensive.
- They pollute the air.
- Leaded gasoline poised children for decades.
- They have mangled the cities we had, and made us build our new cities foolishly.
- They enable white flight and segregation and sprawl.
- They take up so, so much space.
- Petroleum is an amazing substance. There is a limited amount of it. We burn gallons of it to go to the gym and ride a stationary bike.
- Hundreds of thousands of people have died from or in them.
-They make you into an asshole, at least some of the time, for some reason.

People distracted by their phones while driving is bad, sure. Self-driving cars will probably hopefully kill many fewer people. But the basic problem is the whole idea of the personal automobile, and the way it has consumed and dominated how we live.
posted by ghharr at 9:34 AM on October 23 [23 favorites]


Self-driving cars are going to be a boon to people who can't drive (disabled, too young, too old, too drunk, etc.). No more second-class citizenship because you depend on others to get you around. Get in your car, tell it where you want to go, and wait to get there. A robot chauffeur.

At first, though, self-driving cars would best be kept to certain areas at limited speeds and sizes so we can work out the bugs at low risk. For example, the actual average driving speed in Boston, Mass., is about 20 mph, and the actual average driver in Boston, Mass., is a dangerous maniac. You will not make things slower or more dangerous by putting self-driving cars on the streets of Boston.

Program them to stay between 20 and 30 mph most of the time and never to accept requests for routes outside city limits. Define the rules for car compliance (small, light, and electric would be nice) and give compliant cars free (or very cheap) front-row parking everywhere. Give them their owns fast cross-town lanes when there are enough of them. If you drive to and from work or school within Boston, you want one of these cars. Every damned student of every Boston university, for example, is going to buy one. (And student drunk driving is going to fall to something close to zero.)

I don't care how bad the rain and fog and snow is, your sensors are going to see the well-known buildings 20 or 30 feet feet away on either side of the car. Those streets and buildings and fire hydrants and so on are going to match up to maps and gps and inertial positioning almost 100 percent accurately, especially if the maps are updated constantly with data fed back into the system by all those cars driving around with precise scanning equipment whirring away all the time.

When people are thrilled by the efficiency and safety of that shit, extend the driving area. Suddenly you can drive over the bridge to Cambridge, for example.

And if there truly are places where self-driving cars cannot navigate safely, don't let them go there. You: "Take me to Anchorage, Alaska." Your car: "I can't do that, Dave. Here be dragons, Dave."
posted by pracowity at 9:35 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


WaterAndPixels: "Wouldn't the diminishing number of insured for manual-driving motorists shrink the risk pool massively and make the cost go up? Though it would, but I'm not an insurance expert."

I understand that some states have extreme high risk pools that are subsidized in some way but most auto insurance is finely diced (married/smoker/under 25/red/8 cylinder/sports car/driven in parades only) to mostly recover costs from those incurring them. Besides nearly a third of my insurance is for fire/theft/comprehensive/3rd party legal liability/uninsured motorist protection/registration/fees/etc. that will be affected very little by the change to self driving autos.
posted by Mitheral at 9:40 AM on October 23


I'm a little late to the thread but there's an app that has been helpful for me to recover from the smartphone addiction that has been plaguing the country- Moment. It has two in-app training programs that help you wind down the amount you use your cell phone, both while driving and in general. It's helped me go from reliably more than four hours every single day (I'm not proud- half of those days more than six hours), to reliably less than two hours on my phone per day. It's still too much but I no longer feel like my phone is ruining my life, and I strongly recommend the app to other people who really want to get a grip on their smartphone addictions.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:42 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


At first, though, self-driving cars would best be kept to certain areas at limited speeds and sizes so we can work out the bugs at low risk. For example, the actual average driving speed in Boston, Mass., is about 20 mph, and the actual average driver in Boston, Mass., is a dangerous maniac. You will not make things slower or more dangerous by putting self-driving cars on the streets of Boston.

That seems to be the idea here:
Self-driving Chevy Bolts are coming to the streets of Manhattan in 2018
Geofenced and in this testing program with human occupants, unlike some of the other cases mentioned above.
posted by XMLicious at 9:43 AM on October 23


There are, and will continue to be, plenty of apps and other solutions to reduce cellphone use in cars by people who are conscientious but need a reminder. None of those will work on the people who think, "I'm a safe driver! It doesn't affect my driving at all if I [text/ talk/ buy office supplies/ hold a videoconference] while I'm on my way to the office!"

There are methods that might convince those people that they are not as safe as they thought, but that's an individual realization; there's never going to be a single app/movie/info-method that works for everyone.

We may need a sitcom about emergency room workers who deal almost exclusively with cellphone-caused accidents.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:45 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


Self driving cars are going to be a boon to rich people who can afford them, either as personal vehicles or as some kind of subscription service. Self-driving cars are going to be a disaster for poor people, because they will shut poor people out of the labor force, be used to justify the deterioration of our already-kind-of-shit public transit system, shift liability for injury onto the biking/walking poor (of whom there will be more) and just generally increase inequality.

Things get nicer and nicer for the comfortable and worse and worse for the poor. Rich people will live in nice neighborhoods made nicer by self-driving cars. Poor people will live in more and more inaccessible, still-polluted neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, made worse by self-driving cars. Silicon Valley will pat themselves on the back, as usual, for how nice they've made everything for people exactly like them. This is not new, but it's depressing.
posted by Frowner at 9:45 AM on October 23 [21 favorites]


And what will happen is everyone (of a certain class) will go "but why are you complaining? Do you want people to die on the roads?" as if somehow this is literally the only problem faced by poor people.
posted by Frowner at 9:46 AM on October 23 [7 favorites]


My opinion on this matter: (in the US) we have spent the last 40 years smoothing and straightening roads (thereby increasing the perceived speed limits) and decreasing the number of bikers and pedestrians. In the past 5 we've started adding bikes and pedestrians back into the mix. Gonna see an increase in injuries and fatalities in a road system that has basically built without considering those needs. In my metro, we've had kids hit in the same crosswalk 3 different times and the city still hasn't added safety infrastructure, because right now speed trumps safety.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:50 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


I can tell "on the [expletive] phone" or "reading a text" drivers from a distance, but that's because I was taught defensive driving.

Americans are terrible drivers. They get terrible driver education. The proficiency required to pass a test in most states wouldn't get you out of a private car park in most developed nations. On the other hand, the assumption that most adults should be able to operate a complex two-ton machine at high speed is kind of crazy.

I've said my piece about self-driving cars, the gap between "the better-horse problems people want them to solve" and "the problems they are currently suited to solve", and the way in which iterations on the latter affect discussions of the former. In a way, the conversation on self-driving cars hasn't even begun, because it's actually a conversation about adapting the surroundings to them and the extent to which public investment in accommodating a technology is a subsidy to the handful of companies that deploy it.

Rich people will live in nice neighborhoods made nicer by self-driving cars. Poor people will live in more and more inaccessible, still-polluted neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, made worse by self-driving cars.

And I think again about the richest people in São Paulo and their helicopter commutes.
posted by holgate at 9:55 AM on October 23 [8 favorites]


This is a wicker man argument if I ever saw one.
posted by srboisvert at 9:57 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


When I had the good fortune to ride a commuter bus to work, I would observe the people in traffic on I-5. I've seen countless texters, talkers, and scrollers while driving, but also a person (perhaps a realtor?) trying to write in a ledger while driving; a man reading a damn newspaper; and a guy in a BMW bracing his friggin iPad against the steering wheel. So many idiots, so many cars.
posted by Existential Dread at 9:59 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


>banning private car usage on the streets should be a goal.

Amazingly, even on reddit.com/r/roadcam there is a groundswell of support for this idea.
posted by GregorWill at 10:00 AM on October 23


Putting all moving phones into a travel mode like the do-not-disturb-while-driving mode on iOS 11 sounds okay to me.

This sounds like a great way to punish public transit commuters for the idiocy of drivers.


Google's location history is pretty damn good at telling whether I am in a bus, on the L or in a car. So making this setting work probably wouldn't be too hard. It will mess with passengers in cars and cabs though.
posted by srboisvert at 10:01 AM on October 23


Self driving cars are going to be a boon to rich people who can afford them, either as personal vehicles or as some kind of subscription service. Self-driving cars are going to be a disaster for poor people, because they will shut poor people out of the labor force, be used to justify the deterioration of our already-kind-of-shit public transit system, shift liability for injury onto the biking/walking poor (of whom there will be more) and just generally increase inequality

Ah but will living in a self driving car be cheaper than rent?
posted by srboisvert at 10:03 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


I no longer own a car because by sheer luck we don't really need one, but we do rent them to go visit my in-laws or make daytrips, etc. Sometimes I remember how weird it is to know how to drive and despite the fact I passed my driver's test nearly 25 years ago, we never test anyone's driving prowess again. (Obv, DUIs, accidents, etc, pending.) Perhaps it would behoove all drivers--car owners or not--to be tested regularly as to defensive driving. This might ensure that new hazards--cellphone usage, etc--are regularly introduced to all ages.
posted by Kitteh at 10:04 AM on October 23 [2 favorites]


give compliant cars free (or very cheap) front-row parking everywhere.

Not even necessary. An autonomous car can drop you off at the door, go park itself wherever it can find a spot, then pick you up at the door again.
posted by rocket88 at 10:07 AM on October 23


I think people tend to underestimate how much car collision deaths are a public health crisis. It's literally the #1 cause of death in postindustrialized countries if you are under 34, and the #6 overall (after heart attack, stroke, COPD, pneumonia, and lung cancer).

Personally, I have a combo bike-bus commute (and contrary to the MAMIL stereotype, bike commuting in the US is more prevalent among the less wealthy and among people of color: people with household incomes below $10K bike at 150% the average rate, for instance) and self driving vehicles can't come soon enough for me. Uber and Lyft drivers are particular offenders, double parking in bike lanes, swerving, fiddling with the app in traffic, etc.

Automation putting people out of work is a real problem, but sticking with technology that is so deadly for motorists and everyone else cannot possibly be the right solution either.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:15 AM on October 23 [13 favorites]


Oh, and pedestrians are already being blamed for this. Google "petextrian" if you want to see how desperately the blame is being shifted away from poor innocent drivers.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:16 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


> Get off my lawn, sure. I am middle aged.

Every time I get too grumpy about young people and their dag-gum devices, I try to remind myself that they're just living in this stupid world we Gen X'ers and Boomers built for them.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:18 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Last thing, autonomous mass transit vehicles could be revolutionary, but not because they'll change routes. It's impossible to have door to door service be nearly as efficient as a regular fixed route, as even Lyft and Uber are finding now. Instead they would allow buses and trains to run much, much more frequently. If you're in a suburban area and the buses only come once every 30 minutes at peak and you have to make a connection that doesn't sync, a problem that is depressingly common for people who depend on transit, right now you're screwed. Autonomous buses could run at double the frequency, at least.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:22 AM on October 23 [5 favorites]


For what it's worth, I am a Young People and I have a severe dislike of touchscreens, which translates into not owning a smartphone. I think my car is pretty okay at having things be on physical buttons and such, but my portable GPS uses a purely touchscreen interface, and I definitely have Driven Distractedly while trying to swipe the damn thing back onto the correct screen (after having accidentally brushed against it and ended up on the, idk, Display Settings screen or something).

If we are going to talk about eliminating cars, we should also talk about making places more walkable. The number of neighborhoods without actual sidewalks, or with disjointed sidewalks that aren't connected to one another -- the way that crosswalks are placed so that drivers at a stoplight end up blocking them half the time -- the marvel of strip malls and shopping centers that through some twisted arcane magic manage to exasperate drivers and pedestrians alike -- the scourge of uncrossable highways blocking access to libraries, parks, schools.
posted by inconstant at 10:26 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


Every time I get too grumpy about young people and their dag-gum devices, I try to remind myself that they're just living in this stupid world we Gen X'ers and Boomers built for them.

It's not my youngest coworkers who insist that it's totally reasonable for them to join conference calls while they're driving their long commutes from far-flung suburbs.
posted by asperity at 10:31 AM on October 23 [12 favorites]


Technologically we could already link your cars location to the speed limit of that road and stop you exceeding it. Why we allow cars to be sold in the UK that can go over 120 mph baffles me.
The fact we don't fix either tells me the problem may not be technology.

Autonomous vehicle wise. What does it do when it encounters something unexpected (tree fallen in road for example?) Shut down? Hand back controls to human driver?
posted by 92_elements at 10:51 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


Sometimes I remember how weird it is to know how to drive and despite the fact I passed my driver's test nearly 25 years ago, we never test anyone's driving prowess again

Indeed. I started driving school bus part time this fall because I'm an old man, the pay is good, and it somewhat fits my schedule. And during the training and testing I became aware again of how much I have let my initial driving training atrophy. My wife has pointed out that I'm a far more aware and safety-conscious driver since I started driving bus. And I am also far more aware of how many people out there drive really really badly.
posted by Ber at 10:58 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


> Uber's self-driving care are picking up passengers in Pittsburgh.

With a human Uber driver in the driver's seat, and an Uber engineer in the passenger seat. This is a definition of "self-driving" that requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, particularly if you're familiar with Pittsburgh's topography and weather patterns.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:04 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


If you want my unpopular opinion, and of course you do, the phones should go in the back of the trunk (GPS be damned, we got around before there was consumer GPS just fine by pulling over and using a Thomas Guide), driving licenses should be kept valid with tests every five years, and liquor stores and bars should be illegal to own and operate in a location without bus or pedestrian access.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:12 AM on October 23 [6 favorites]


It's not my youngest coworkers who insist that it's totally reasonable for them to join conference calls while they're driving their long commutes from far-flung suburbs.

My younger friends tend not to be drivers, but this is also my observation. I basically don't call my parents on the cell phone because they'll answer pretty much no matter what and start talking. I feel weird enough when they decide to take a call at the table at a restaurant, but I don't want them to die because my dad decided to chat about their vacation plans while going down the highway.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:23 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Every time I get too grumpy about young people and their dag-gum devices,

In my experience, only the people around 60+ are the group who aren't always looking at the fucking things. There may be varying levels of user savvy, but plenty of boomers, xers, millenials and everyone else with eyes and paws are irredeemably addicted to them and can't go from the car to the entrance without gazing at it. Neck flexion everywhere in my godforsaken city.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:23 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


> Uber's self-driving care are picking up passengers in Pittsburgh.

With a human Uber driver in the driver's seat, and an Uber engineer in the passenger seat. This is a definition of "self-driving" that requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, particularly if you're familiar with Pittsburgh's topography and weather patterns.


My understanding is that in every jurisdiction where driverless cars are allowed on the road a human is required by law to be in the driver's seat to hand over control when the car encounters a situation it isn't prepared for, which is called a "disengage." I don't know what Uber's statistics are, but Google reports that it had 0.2 disengages for every 1000 vehicle miles driven in self-driving mode in 2016, down from 0.8 the previous year. When the car only hands over control once every 50,000 miles, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to call it self-driving.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:29 AM on October 23 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that in every jurisdiction where driverless cars are allowed on the road a human is required by law to be in the driver's seat to hand over control when the car encounters a situation it isn't prepared for, which is called a "disengage."

Doesn't that kind of defeat the point? If the driver has to be in the driver's seat and paying attention anyway, what problem has a self-driving car solved?
posted by FakeFreyja at 11:36 AM on October 23


Also you don't need to learn any maths as you will always have a calculator around.
posted by biffa at 11:37 AM on October 23 [1 favorite]


So if all US cars were the same that would be 20 million times in 2016 (3tn / 50,000) Google would hand over control.
Or about once every 4 years for the average US driver.

Do we know what causes it to hand over? Potential crash or just car saying don't understand what's going on here?
posted by 92_elements at 11:38 AM on October 23


Doesn't that kind of defeat the point? If the driver has to be in the driver's seat and paying attention anyway, what problem has a self-driving car solved?

It solves the problem of allowing developers of self-driving cars to test them on the road without running afoul of the law and to make sure that they don't kill people while they're being tested. Presumably those requirements would be removed if they are proven to be safe enough.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:46 AM on October 23 [4 favorites]


but Google reports that it had 0.2 disengages for every 1000 vehicle miles driven in self-driving mode in 2016, down from 0.8 the previous year. When the car only hands over control once every 50,000 miles

.2 per 1000 is 1 per 5000 and 10 per 50,000 miles.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:47 AM on October 23


.2 per 1000 is 1 per 5000 and 10 per 50,000 miles.

You're right. That doesn't change my point, though.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:50 AM on October 23


Eh, I still suspect self-driving cars (as we imagine them) will turn out to be vaporware at this point. I'm pretty sure they will be priced high enough to make them impractical for private ownership for our lifetimes at least. I can almost guarantee we're only going to see them where they were used to eliminate a professional driver's job.
posted by FakeFreyja at 12:00 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


Werner Herzog: From One Second To The Next - Texting While Driving Documentary (SLYT)

edit: It's linked in the article, but worth watching in full (it's devastating).
posted by nikoniko at 12:01 PM on October 23 [2 favorites]


You're right. That doesn't change my point, though.

It does though, because those numbers were achieved on a fixed set of pre-chosen routes in good weather.

Arbitrary route finding and handling is non-existent, complex intersections flummox the car, the systems cannot discern the difference between a paper bag and an actual obstacle, and cannot recognize temporary signals (cop directing traffic, etc.) and they cannot operate in rain or snow conditions yet.

Let me put it this way - how many fully autonomous trains/subways/trolleys are there ? That problem domain is VASTLY simpler and it's still a difficult problem to solve.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:04 PM on October 23 [6 favorites]


There are two things that popped up in this thread that I find confusing: First, why would self-driving cars be bad for poor people? It's pretty clear their initial use will be too provide taxi service at least as cheap as Uber/Lyft are today and likely much less. At that point it's price competitive with the bus for shorter commutes and brings express services within reach of more people.

Insurance in that situation is also a solved problem, obviously.
posted by wierdo at 12:05 PM on October 23


Accidents happen now and again
Sometimes just by chance
You've got to pick your phone up, brush the screen off
And run someone over again...

(With apologies to.)
posted by clawsoon at 12:15 PM on October 23


I drive a lot. I live about 40 minutes from where I work, over a mountain pass. On the other side of things, I now commute to NYC at least one day a week for my Ph.D. classes, and that's not only 65 miles south, but hey, NYC. So, that means that my Tuesdays are driving into work over the course of 30 miles and then departing from work to drive down to NYC for 65 miles and then driving home another 70 miles. Some would suggest I use the train, but 1) expense, 2) I would have to come back to work to retrieve my car and then drive another 40 minutes, and 3) what I can do in my car in an hour, a train would take 1.5.

I don't like driving as much as I do. It's mind-numbingly boring and I call family and friends almost daily in the car to give my brain something else to think about. But, as we mentioned, this is also bad.

I personally am very excited about having a self-driving car, being able to jump in and safely pass from point A to points B and C, I would like that very much. As for any other solution, mass transit isn't going to fix the fact that I live in one place, work in another, go to school in a third, and also have a partner that does the same. I don't know a better solution.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:15 PM on October 23


Oh, and one thing regarding car-bicycle crashes: Drivers have been saying "he came out of nowhere" when they run into cyclists since before I was born. And they are often not wrong. We teach our kids the least safe method of cycling and they carry it on into adulthood. When you're riding on the sidewalk, especially on the wrong side for your direction of travel, you're making yourself much less visible and reducing the amount of time a driver has to see and react to you. You're riding a vehicle, so put it where vehicles go.

Drivers have a responsibility not to hit us, but it's better for everyone if we all help make it easier for them to carry out that responsibility by being predictable when we are sharing the space with multi-ton maiming machines.
posted by wierdo at 12:29 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


There are two things that popped up in this thread that I find confusing: First, why would self-driving cars be bad for poor people? It's pretty clear their initial use will be too provide taxi service at least as cheap as Uber/Lyft are today and likely much less. At that point it's price competitive with the bus for shorter commutes and brings express services within reach of more people.

"Price competitive with the bus" means that, in MPLS, it costs ~$2.50 per trip, less if you're disabled or retired. That is ~$2.50 for any trip where you're on the last leg in three hours or less. For example, I could take the train to downtown St Paul, do something there for 1.5 hours and be on the return trip in time for my transfer still to be good. I doubt very, very much that any self-driving car will be operating at that price.

There is a perception that poor folks are all Lyfting all over the place all the time by choice and that therefore this is the standard. The working class people I know who regularly take Ubers or Lyfts take them because cheaper options are not available, not preferentially because of their incredible cheapness. Taking one represents economic hardship, not savings.

The cheapest way to move people around is mass transit, not any kind of individual car, self-driving or otherwise.

But let's look at it another way:

1. There are lots of poorer folks whose largest, most valuable asset is a car. Normally, that asset depreciates over many years - someone bought it new and it was purchased for progressively less as it aged. When one cheap car gives out, you scrap it or sell it to someone who wants it for parts or repair and buy another cheap car, partially paid for by the first. This is not an optimal cycle but it's the one a lot of people have.

If there is an abrupt, legally mandated switch to self-driving cars, all the old cars become scrap. This not only means that what used to be your $3000 possession is now worth much less, it also means that the scrap market is depressed.

2. How exactly are self-driving cars for hire going to work in thinly populated areas? Are there going to be enough to get, like, Joe to his 2am factory shift and home again, Sara to her 1:30pm carer shift and home again, etc etc? Those people get by now because they have old, cheap, fragile cars and can drive to their shifts. Those cars are paid for. There is no bus.

These are not people who will be able to afford new self-driving cars, and there won't be any cheap ones on the used market for a long time.

If daily car-hire is literally about the cost of a city bus, so that people are spending about $150 per month per person on trips to work, grocery shopping, etc, it may actually be bus-competitive. If it's not literally as cheap as the bus, it will be an additional burden. On the one hand, a piece of shit car is an ongoing stress and expense - but it's usually paid off, and people drive without insurance all the time because they can't afford it. Car hire every day is $5 cash every day.

3. I doubt very much that it will be as cheap as the bus - it will be priced per mile/time. I can go as many miles as the bus goes for one fare; that won't be the case for self-driving cars. Also, bus systems are not run to generate a profit; car services will be.
posted by Frowner at 12:41 PM on October 23 [13 favorites]


I mean, one of the things that bothers me about this whole "let's have self-driving cars" is that is solves very real problems that impact everyone (although some more than others) in a way that is a clean solve for the rich and a trading of miseries for the poor. The rich benefit 100% - less pollution, fewer accidents, ability to own or not own a car as they desire, minimal financial loss during the changeover. The poor benefit to a degree, in that some pollution goes away and the risk of accidents is minimized, but at the price of totally disrupting a fragile financial web. It's solving a long-term, big picture problem by making it harder to live day to day.
posted by Frowner at 12:51 PM on October 23 [5 favorites]


i have this CRAZY idea but: what if our communities were walkable/bikeable and people didn't need to spend money on cars at all
posted by entropicamericana at 12:55 PM on October 23 [13 favorites]


that modification is not compatible with the current build of america.exe
posted by poffin boffin at 1:04 PM on October 23 [13 favorites]


Yep, that is crazy alright.
posted by agregoli at 1:04 PM on October 23


i have this CRAZY idea but: what if our communities were walkable/bikeable and people didn't need to spend money on cars at all

Winter, disabilities, and cumbersome things still exist, though.

Plus, not all of us want to live in downtown Manhattan.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:07 PM on October 23 [8 favorites]


It's pretty clear their initial use will be too provide taxi service at least as cheap as Uber/Lyft are today and likely much less.

I don't think this is clear at all. I'm under the impression that products are priced at the highest possible amount, and I don't know what Uber/Lyft would do to counteract that. It certainly wouldn't serve its investors' interests.
posted by rhizome at 1:07 PM on October 23


It's going to be a while before self-driving cars are mandated, if ever, so nobody's $3000 car will be rendered worthless before other options are available. On an ongoing basis, cheap self driving taxis, alone or in combination with transit is good for poor people in that it is pay as you go. No huge interest on a loan from a but here pay here lot, no unexpected maintenance expenses or any other large expense, really.

Given that Avis will rent you a car for $6/hr now, including gas and insurance, I suspect it won't be long before renting a self driving car will cost about the same or even less if you need one to do more than taxi.

Also, as people get out of the habit of owning a car, transit options will likely improve for everyone.

I think about this stuff a lot since I'm often broke and don't have a car and often have plenty of time to contemplate while I'm sitting on a bus or the train. Uber and Lyft, while a disaster for drivers, have already been a boon for poor people living far from transit who previously depended on taxis because they want scrape together enough money at one time for a car or who can't drive for whatever reason. Making them even cheaper is that much better and eliminates the abuse of drivers.
posted by wierdo at 1:08 PM on October 23 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what downtown Manhattan has to do with anything. There are places that are safer and more accessible for people who are not in cars. It is good for places to be safer and more accessible for people who are not in cars. It is good for places to be built to minimize dependence on car ownership.

Nobody is suggesting that people ought to be forced to carry their family's groceries six miles uphill through the snow while being denied mobility aids. "Build places so that people are not penalized for not owning a car" != "nobody is allowed to use a vehicle ever".
posted by inconstant at 1:12 PM on October 23 [8 favorites]


First, why would self-driving cars be bad for poor people? It's pretty clear their initial use will be too provide taxi service at least as cheap as Uber/Lyft are today and likely much less.

Poor people are more likely to be driving a taxi (including the ones with fancy silicon valley branding) than riding them as passengers, especially in places with a halfway decent bus or train/subway system.
posted by Dysk at 1:22 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


"Build places so that people are not penalized for not owning a car" != "nobody is allowed to use a vehicle ever".

That said, ban cars is a completely reasonable response to the jerk I photographed last week* after she swerved erratically around me while doing something with her phone. "What?" "Using your phone while driving is dangerous and illegal." "I didn't know it would hurt your feeeeelings." As though my feelings are what I'm worried about having hurt.

If we've gotta have police doing police things, I want them unarmed, in plain clothes, and on foot and bicycle regularly, so that they have the same experiences the rest of us not in cars do. Experiences like having bike lanes blocked by police cars, say.

*Not in a car, both feet planted on ground.
posted by asperity at 1:25 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


So between now and the time our cars are all driving themselves, we need to do something about this distracted driving problem. I suggest a) Harsher repercussions for infractions, similar to those for impaired driving, and b) A lockout mechanism to be mandated in all new cars and phones, and retrofitted into the cars and phones of previous offenders, that resides in the steering wheel and disables operation within a radius of 2 to 3 feet - far enough that a passenger isn't affected but the driver is. The technology for precise distance measuring exists today and is relatively inexpensive. The feature can be disabled when the transmission is in park or the parking brake is engaged.
posted by rocket88 at 1:37 PM on October 23


I've been a bike commuter for upwards of a decade now in my somewhat bike friendly town. I survive by being utterly paranoid, never trusting a car. I don't see the people in the car, I only see the car, a loud, smoking, metal beast that's inherently stupid. The awareness at the wheel is encased in metal and glass so has limited vision and situational awareness, moving at extremely high rates of speed, a kinetic dance of imprecise control.
I used to tell myself that I would pass upwards of 100-150 cars per day and it would only take one fool to ruin my day. Almost every person I see is on some blend of drugs, inattention, worry, distraction,caffeine, and music. Then you add in a cell phone on top of that.
Nowadays I've tweaked my ride algorithm to be the most car-free route I can manage and get to work on time.
I constantly adjust my riding style to attribute for cognitive errors I could make, like following sheep-like behind other cyclists, or assuming the driver knows WTF they are doing.
And in all this riding, the only accident I've had was a bicyclist flying off the sidewalk to my right at a stop sign who ran into my bike and fell down. The only close calls I've had have been either poor choices by me to cross busy streets unwisely, or to cross as a pedestrian on a crosswalk on my daily jaunt for lunch where you absolutely cannot trust the judgement of some random sod to stay the f*ck out of the crosswalk while I am in front of them.
All this has definitely informed my driving. I spend a lot of my driving time examining my own assumptions about the world around me to make sure I'm not just cruising on auto-pilot.
posted by diode at 1:49 PM on October 23 [5 favorites]


I'm really down on the prospects of any intermediate corrective to bad driving in society that isn't horribly regressive. For harsher penalties for infractions, too much depends on trusting the police to accurately report and prosecute every case, which LOL. Maybe requiring drivers to re-take a licensing test every 5 years, but that would be a greater burden in cost and time on the poor.
posted by ghharr at 1:52 PM on October 23


I'm really down on the prospects of any intermediate corrective to bad driving in society that isn't horribly regressive. For harsher penalties for infractions, too much depends on trusting the police to accurately report and prosecute every case, which LOL.

We can't punish the (mostly) middle and upper class assholes who text and drive because doing so might negatively impact the poor? I'm not sure there's any path forward with that attitude.
posted by rocket88 at 1:57 PM on October 23 [2 favorites]


Fixing the system such that the laws aren't enforced disproportionately against people of color and the poor would be a way forward.
posted by wierdo at 2:00 PM on October 23 [4 favorites]


I'm really down on the prospects of any intermediate corrective to bad driving in society that isn't horribly regressive.

A thought - we could easily equip every car with cameras and data recorders etc, and not only would this data be available in case of an accident, it could also be regularly checked (eg new drivers) for infractions. It could be used as evidence by courts when a motorist is ticketed. For high-risk drivers or repeat-offenders, the data feed to authorities could be mandatory.

Only thing missing is... the will to do so. Yet there's all this enthusiasm for self-driving cars, which I guarantee will be providing reams of data to corporations and government.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:08 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Don't some insurance companies have apps that attempt to judge how safely you drive? Do they lock the phone down as well?
posted by lucidium at 2:15 PM on October 23 [2 favorites]


I guess my thing as kind of a fully-automated-luxury-gay-space-commie is this: single-payer healthcare in the USA is also going to be a huge shock to employment. (Optimistic tense choice, I know.) When private insurance companies suddenly have much less reason to exist, there are going to be massive layoffs everywhere and a lot of insurance companies are going to go under. By and large, the wealthy people at the top of those industries are not going to encounter any shocks they can't weather; they are going to turn around to providing boutique services or go into other industries and be fine. It's going to be the people at the bottom of the ladder who suffer disproportionately.

So this is certainly something we need to be aware of and plan for, but is it a good reason to oppose single-payer?
posted by en forme de poire at 2:16 PM on October 23 [2 favorites]


A thought - we could easily equip every car with cameras and data recorders etc, and not only would this data be available in case of an accident, it could also be regularly checked (eg new drivers) for infractions. It could be used as evidence by courts when a motorist is ticketed. For high-risk drivers or repeat-offenders, the data feed to authorities could be mandatory.

What would be easy about that? It seems like an incredibly complicated undertaking even if it were very popular and didn't get bogged down with lawsuits and differences in local/state/federal law. Remember how mad people were about the Obamacare mandate?
posted by ghharr at 2:17 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Some insurance companies in the UK install a black box in your car which then rates every drive out of 10. Which you can look up online. And you have to keep your scores good enough.
My colleague has this and it's brought his premiums down by 60% +.
posted by 92_elements at 2:19 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


Single payer actually gives low income people something they don't have now - basically free healthcare. Self-driving cars give low income people a nebulous "less pollution and fewer accidents" benefit while disrupting a fragile transport/economic web. Single-payer is going to hit rich people hard, probably harder than poor; self-driving cars are going to be a net gain for the rich.

I'm skeptical of the wonders of self-driving cars because I expect them to be implemented in a class-biased, destructive way that gives most of the benefits to the rich. Single-payer has its down sides, but both the ups and the downs are much more evenly applied; if anything, having free healthcare is a bigger boost to the poor than the rich.
posted by Frowner at 2:21 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


What would be easy about [mandated data recording]?

My point is that it IS possible (and already exists as the above-mentioned insurance black boxes), so if there was a genuine desire to clamp down on all bad driving, it's technically possible.

Developing, making, and transitioning to self-driving cars isn't exactly going to be a cakewalk either, is it? Yet everyone is painting it as the cure to all our current transportation woes.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:22 PM on October 23


I am reminded of how society just accepted the divine right of kings until they didn't.

We're so addicted to cars that it's easier to imagine them driven exclusively by robots than it is to imagine reworking our society so they're not the center of the universe. (Same for capitalism or healthcare, really.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:30 PM on October 23 [11 favorites]


I guess I am more optimistic about self-driving vehicles' benefits for public transit, because autonomous buses and minibuses could solve a lot of problems we have relating to transit frequency and coverage. It would also make paratransit significantly cheaper for cities/states to provide. And while on-demand transit doesn't make a lot of sense in cities despite Uber/Lyft rhetoric, for more sparse populations that don't have the population density for fixed routes, it could really be a game-changer.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:30 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


We're so addicted to cars that it's easier to imagine them driven exclusively by robots than it is to imagine reworking our society so they're not the center of the universe.

^^ This. The solution to the problem of cars (and urban transportation) is not simply MOAR CARZ. Even if they're smarter.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:33 PM on October 23 [4 favorites]


What would be easy about that? It seems like an incredibly complicated undertaking

The tech's already widely available, so at least there's that. It would definitely be complicated for all the reasons you suggest, but there's not much that's technologically difficult about it. I've driven cars using at least some data recording capabilities myself (for a chance at an insurance discount and for employers whose fleet cars have had them) but not as a regular thing.

I like the idea of having them set up as a permanent thing with stats you can track yourself, though. One thing I didn't like about the insurance discount tracker I tried was that it wasn't user-viewable, so you had no idea why you didn't get a discount or what you could do to improve things. (TBH I think one of them is "drive more," since I don't think we had a big enough data set.)

I guess I am more optimistic about self-driving vehicles' benefits for public transit

Agreed. Right now my local transit agency's second-biggest problem behind lack of funding (and they just got hosed out of $6M by the state legislature) is lack of drivers. There are scheduled trips every day that just aren't happening because there's nobody to drive them, and that's with increased pay and signing bonuses. It really sucks to wait for a bus that isn't coming with no advance warning, and has cascading effects through the rest of the system and the rest of your day.

If autonomous buses can help there, it would solve a lot of our problems. (Though not all. The social skills bus drivers use are underappreciated.)
posted by asperity at 2:38 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


We're so addicted to cars that it's easier to imagine them driven exclusively by robots than it is to imagine reworking our society so they're not the center of the universe.

That's going to be very hard, at least in America. Most of the U.S. was built with cars in mind. 80% of the urban areas here have a population of less than 20,000 people. They're so spread out that a car is the only way to get to work. The average commute time is just over 26 minutes long, making biking or walking an outright absurd notion for the vast majority of people.

How do Americans move forward without at least considering the necessity of cars?
posted by FakeFreyja at 2:45 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


lmgtfy
posted by entropicamericana at 2:51 PM on October 23


That's a very nice blog but I don't see anything relevant there. Very interesting that suburban obesity is up I guess?
posted by FakeFreyja at 2:53 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


This has gotten pretty far away from the original topic of a smartphone/accident correlation, although anecdotally my daily bike commute has seemed a lot more dangerous since thousands of rideshare drivers hit the streets, looking at their phones instead of the bike lane.

Frowner's already laid out the autonomous vehicle problem in several comments. I have no issue with self-driving cars as a technology, but the social and economic implications haven't been gamed out very well, and there's a lot of hand-waving about how all this is supposed to work. "[A]s people get out of the habit of owning a car, transit options will likely improve for everyone" isn't a great starting point, policy-wise. I'd argue that here in DC the ubiquity of Uber&co. has contributed to Metro's budget shortfalls, (at least indirectly in loss of fares).

Self-driving cars are going to be a boon to people who can't drive (disabled, too young, too old, too drunk, etc.)
And who have the money/ability to summon one, or afford to own it.

I can almost guarantee we're only going to see them where they were used to eliminate a professional driver's job.
Probably not only there, but yes, outside the "toys for the wealthy" market that seems to be mostly what they're being tested for. This is where some serious planning is needed, because these are actually the best use cases for autonomous vehicles, especially with respect to long-haul trucking. They just come with a heavy price tag in terms of unemployment, and no realistic solutions for that seem to be forthcoming.

autonomous buses and minibuses could solve a lot of problems we have relating to transit frequency and coverage.
Totally, but are any of the current big players testing that? If all we get are autonomous Ubers and Semis it's just more of the same Private profits/public risk boosterism that has characterized a lot of Silicon Valley wave II.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:54 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


How do Americans move forward without at least considering the necessity of cars?

Here are the things that should be receiving equal or greater attention than autonomous vehicles:
- urban development/redevelopment with pedestrians, cyclists, public transit receiving more consideration. Even the downtown of a 20k city can be improved.
- public transit. For real, this time.
- better interurban transit

All of these are compatible with sensible vehicle use as well. But of course these require public consensus,and public money. Dirty words.

Here's the big reason I think that autonomous cars are getting so much attention: they hold out the possibility that urban transport problems might be solved without a significant outlay on public infrastructure. I believe this is a pipe dream.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:57 PM on October 23 [7 favorites]


That's a very nice blog but I don't see anything relevant there.

The idea of sprawl repair (see also "Retrofitting Suburbia") is to retrofit suburban spaces to reduce their dependence on cars.

Totally, but are any of the current big players testing that?

That depends on what you think of as current big players. Uber and Tesla at best don't give a shit about transit obviously (at worst are actively trying to kill it). But Proterra, a maker of long-range all-electric buses, is currently partnering with the University of Nevada to provide autonomous bus service in Reno.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:00 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


Trains. Trains trains trains. It is criminal that there isn't a commuter rail line matching every major interstate in the US. On the train you can spend the whole trip dicking around on instagram without endangering anything beyond your carpals.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:00 PM on October 23 [5 favorites]


>> Oh yeah expect 'distracted pedestrians' to become the new demonized class again as we try and slam self-driving technology into the public realm and blame the victims when the carnage inevatibaly happens.

> Self driving cars are already better at not hitting cyclist and pedestrian, they don't get drunk or distracted and have excellent response time.


The issue that will increase jaywalking enforcement and broaden the coverage* will be inconvenienced drivers, not maimed pedestrians. A human-driven car can driver over the limit, almost hit a pedestrian and keep on flying. An automaton might try harder (slowing, swerving) to avoid, disturbing the free flow of "traffic." (automobile-only traffic)

* jaywalking in many areas only covers road segments with stoplights at each end. A side road leading away from an artery that has a stoplight at the artery, but stop sign at the next cross street can be crossed anywhere, though peds must still yield to cars.
posted by ASCII Costanza head at 3:05 PM on October 23


BTW I am not 100% sold on the idea of sprawl repair (see the last point on this Strong Towns article: there's just too much suburbia to make costly renovations everywhere, especially given the active political opposition) but it is at least another way to decrease car dependence.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:09 PM on October 23


The bus/train problem is easy to solve. If you're going faster than 5 mph, your phone shuts off except for one app. That app lets you send a code displayed on the bus/train information screen. The code changes every day. Once the code is sent, your phone can be used normally again.
posted by AFABulous at 3:12 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


passengers in cars are out of luck, i guess?
posted by entropicamericana at 3:15 PM on October 23


There will be 20 websites in 5 minutes that will post the daily code. The bus/train/passenger problem isn't trivially easy to solve.
posted by jeather at 3:16 PM on October 23 [4 favorites]


Proterra . . .
Cool!
posted by aspersioncast at 3:16 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


The self-driving vehicle ban doesn't seem to come with a plan to scrap obsolete inventory.
a/o YE 2015 best estimate of total passenger vehicles (any class) ~ 260 million. That pop does not include private- or public-sector fleets, buses, motorcycles, and commercial trucks (any wght).

The self-driving vehicle ban comes with a competitive yet affordable financing plan (limit one per HH) that matches or exceeds current expectations.
a/o CYE 2016 the average new car loan payment was $489.00/mo.

The self-driving vehicle revolution assumes voluntary or mandatory replacement with or without tax funded (read, new UST bond issues) purchase or rent subsidy/p/HH: I call bullshit. US cannot even subsidize social insurance for civilian or VA medical care, retirement, education, housing, mass transit, food, childcare, or disability incomes without annual riots. But it can subsidize KSA, PRISM, FUSION, and the GWOT.

The self-driving vehicle revolution assumes (A) mandatory replacement requires sharing inventory, multiple passenger/trip; (B) mandatory replacement does NOT require sharing inventory, multiple passenger/trip; (C) voluntary replacement, single or multiple passenger/trip reduce traffic congestion; (D) voluntary replacement, single or multiple passenger/trip carrier, will reduce temporary and permanent VIO storage demand; (E) voluntary replacement, single or multiple passenger/trip carrier, will reduce traffic congestion and miles traveled/day; (F) will produce carbon neutral emissions by all EV and hybrid replacement vehicles; (G) obviate title & property rights to the inventory, demand for coal, gas, hydro, solar, or nuKLeAR electricity generation as well as property & casualty insurance; (G) self-driving vehicles will repair themselves; and (H) poor people will self-driving-vehicle share with co-located middle-class or affluent commuters for $6.00 or less/RT/day.

Did I miss anything?
posted by marycatherine at 3:28 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


autonomous buses and minibuses could solve a lot of problems we have relating to transit frequency and coverage.

It will certainly "solve" the problem of employing transit workers at a living wage.
posted by octothorpe at 3:38 PM on October 23


OMG I believe this. Whenever I take a van or a bus to the airport and am thus higher up than normal in my own car and able to look around as I cannot while driving, I am horrified at how many people in other cars are texting and driving. While doing 70 on the highway. My biggest complaint is that I feel like people are always just assuming this is something teens are doing... but my airport shuttle rides tell me that it's just as likely to be 50-year-old people in suits, commuting to work.
posted by TwoStride at 3:48 PM on October 23 [7 favorites]


Ha ha, yeah. Does this self-driving vehicle revolution involve decimating the auto industry? Sure, some will participate in building self-driving cars, but wouldn't the plan necessarily involve fewer cars existing? It's like vaping vs. the tobacco industry.
posted by rhizome at 3:49 PM on October 23


Does this self-driving vehicle revolution involve decimating the auto industry? Sure, some will participate in building self-driving cars, but wouldn't the plan necessarily involve fewer cars existing?

Hints:
- Does the auto industry's future income come from vehicles they've already sold and shipped?
- Tesla's stock price

... I think the auto industry is quite pleased with the prospect of selling a whole new fleet of electric, and maybe also autonomous vehicles. Instead of seeing trains and other modes cut into their share of the transportation dollar.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:54 PM on October 23 [2 favorites]


Self-driving cars aren't going to be worth anything useful if they're stuck in traffic just like regular human-driving cars are. We, as a country, need a radical urban planning solution to "disrupt" the concept that driving is necessary, and to get less people driving on the road. Public transit won't work if there are more people on the road causing congestion.

Portland, as of 2016, had 40,621 move to the metropolitan area between 2014 to 2015, making the total population of the metro area nearly 2.4 million people. Link. The Portland metro area is not a big area, but as a result of this our metro traffic is no longer bound by rush hour, and congestion on most days can last for 6 hours or more, and can occur on any day, due to there being more vehicles on the road (whether that's from people moving here or people buying more cars).

Here's a little bit of perspective, from that above article:
Two years ago Bill Hurt of Oregon City moved to a work schedule that would allow him to leave his Lake Oswego employer by 3 p.m. in an effort to spend more time with his family.

That helped until he switched jobs. Now working in Beaverton, his commute on Oregon 217 is jammed daily.

"Even at 3 p.m., there's a reasonable amount of traffic," he said. "If I leave late at 3:30, or even on a bad day at 4 p.m., I know I'm not going to get home until 5:30, 5:45."
Beaverton to Oregon City, by rough estimates, is a 20 mile drive. He's talking about spending 1.5-2 hours in traffic. Taking public transit from Beaverton to Oregon City takes roughly 2 hours, as well, and depending on where his business and home are, could take longer.

Some info about our public transit, TriMet, which is bus and light rail (the MAX):
•More than 315,000 transit trips are taken
every weekday, connecting Portland-area
residents to jobs, shopping, services and
recreation
• We’re the 24th-largest U.S. metro area,
but 12th in transit ridership (and 9th in
ridership per capita) — this means more
people ride TriMet than other transit
systems our size
• We provide a vital link for people who can’t
drive due to age, income or a disability:
Each year, 12 million rides are taken by
seniors and people with disabilities who
would otherwise be stuck at home
• Riders save up to $10,000 per year, freeing
up money to spend locally
o We know riders love not having to pay
for parking or gas. And if they’re able to
get around with one less car, there’s no
loan, insurance or tune-up costs, either.
That’s more money they can spend
at local shops and services, or use to
support their favorite charity.
• MAX, WES and bus service combined
eliminates more than 200,000 daily car
trips
• MAX carries nearly 1 in 3 Sunset/Banfield
commuters at rush hour
• Westside MAX can carry the equivalent
of more than 2½ lanes of traffic on the
Sunset Highway
• TriMet reduces congestion in the City
Center:
o 45% of Portland State students, faculty
and visitors take transit to campus
o 45% of Downtown Portland rush-hour
commuters take transit
• For each mile taken on TriMet, nearly 69%
less carbon is emitted compared to driving
alone
Source.

On top of that, here is TriMet's annual report from 2016, where you can read information about development along bus and MAX routes, and other things that public transit benefits.

But public transit, although it is capable of keeping congestion at bay, can only do so much. We need to begin moving toward a society that inhibits driving for metropolitan areas and makes public transit easier, more attractive to all sorts of people (low-income; disabled; people who are not "normative" in the sense that they look like a "regular" person (so that "normal" people don't harass/assault them, like what happened over the spring here), and a completely normal process for American life, across all areas, whether that's rural or not.

We all also need to be prepared for situations involving mass migrations of people due to global warming moving into our cities and towns, and making sure we are prepared for that. Over here, we're looking at a possibility of 2.7-3.9 MILLION people by 2040, and that's discounting so-called "climate migrants" ("This report defines a climate migrant assomeone who, by choice or out of necessity, leaves their original habitat because it no longer meets their basic needs as a result of persistent and pervasive climate change.") This isn't just an issue that cities are going to deal with, but rural areas as well, and a comprehensive urban planning approach to making these areas be able to deal with the influx of people should be at the forefront of national policy, and it's something barely ever spoken about.

While I am not an urban planner by any means, I do believe that this is one of the most prescient issues we are being confronted with in modern times, and I think that in the next 30 years we're going to see massive changes in our ways of life. There's a lot of talk here about self driving cars, but self driving cars will be worthless if there are too many cars on the road, especially with huge migrations of people. We should be striving to make our cities accessible for all people, with useful, efficient public transit, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and a lower priority of car travel. People that need to travel 20 miles or so for work shouldn't have to wait in traffic for 2 hours to get home to their families, and public transit should allow them to get to places quickly and easily. I understand that Portland has a very wet fall/winter/spring, so not everybody can bike all the time, so it's doubly important that we have a comprehensive public transit system in place to move people through the city. On the flip-side, places like Phoenix, AZ should have the same, especially when you have such extreme heat in the summer time. It's ridiculous to think that a place like that is nearly dependent on cars.

(Also, if anyone has any good links to urban planning stuff based around what I am talking about, please memail me)
posted by gucci mane at 4:24 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


It is criminal that there isn't a commuter rail line matching every major interstate in the US.

I am regularly re-baffled to realize there's no commuter/business travel train between SF and LA. I gather there are many east coast cities that are similar distances or less, where a direct simple route would also seem obvious. Most of those, at least, have the excuse of having to navigate across state lines and legal systems.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:41 PM on October 23


Maybe instead of banning phone use while driving, which doesn't seem to work very well, we need to develop more ways to make it safer, to minimise harm? Like, someone mentioned upthread how conversations with people who are physically present in the car are safer than ones who are on the other end of a phone line. So maybe teaching people to say, "Just a second" and stop interacting at critical moments would be more effective than telling them not to use their phones while driving, ever. Or maybe popular apps and OSes could offer driving modes requiring less interaction, or phones manufacturers could sell tactile driving accessories with buttons and knobs, or phones could be somehow integrated with traffic lights. Maybe the pretence that tons of people aren't going to be tweeting and driving is part of the problem.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:59 PM on October 23


It will certainly "solve" the problem of employing transit workers at a living wage.

Wow, you got me! Well done! I don't actually care about making sure people dependent on public transit have an effective way to get around and don't have to wait 45 minutes for a bus connection to travel a distance that would take 20 minutes in a car just to get home from work, I just want to screw transit workers over and this was a convenient excuse.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:01 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


I am regularly re-baffled to realize there's no commuter/business travel train between SF and LA.

Be baffled no more.. HSR is getting built right this minute.

All we need is for the federal level Republicans and Elon Musk and his hyperloop bullshit to get out the way and not fuck it up.
posted by sideshow at 5:04 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


I think the difference between the SF-LA route and say, Boston and Philadelphia, is that there are many more cities, stops, and people on the latter route. You know, like New York City, and Connecticut, and New Jersey. The sheer density of the Northeast Corridor isn't matched anywhere else in the country over that distance. And there's a history of rail links between these population centers that the route between SF and LA doesn't seem to share. A commuter/high speed rail line between SF and LA is a good idea, but the current absence of one is understandable given the geography.
posted by mollweide at 6:31 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


After reading through so many comments I can’t help but think that the self-driving car discussion is making the problem harder than it needs to be. As a regular bike commuter, I’d feel much safer if every new car was required to have one of the automatic braking systems which some manufacturers have been shipping for years. Not every collision is head on but many of them are and it seems like they have higher speed differentials, too. We’d save a lot of suffering with that improvement well before computers can handle the full range of driving conditions.
posted by adamsc at 6:37 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


... why do I keep reading this thread...

you know what, people, good things usually happen incrementally. Nothing is going to solve every problem simultaneously without flaws. And we can't always know what new problems will arise. But damn, lots of people are sure dedicated to shooting down every single suggestion.

Re: enforcement - we don't just throw up our hands and suggest that we shouldn't enforce drunk driving laws because they're regressive or because some police are abusive

Re: tech methods to prevent phone use while driving - maybe there's no perfect solution that ONLY affects drivers and not passengers or transit users. Maybe we could decide that giving up Facebook for our 30 minute commute is worth saving lives. (Don't even start about texting your kids, no one I grew up with died because our parents couldn't text us.)

Re: better transit. Of course we need this. We can do multiple things at once.

Re: self-driving cars. They solve some problems and create others but dismissing them out of hand is short-sighted. "They're going to suddenly ban regular cars!" makes you sound like "Obama's coming for our guns!" It's not even logistically possible to confiscate all regular cars in a short time period.
posted by AFABulous at 6:52 PM on October 23 [13 favorites]


The self-driving vehicle revolution assumes...
...Did I miss anything?


Insurance rates? Which might gradually discourage human drivers over time.
posted by ovvl at 7:34 PM on October 23


Trains trains trains.

That ain't going to happen in the USA, because it requires socialism. But after the crush, maybe people will be more ready for it.
posted by ovvl at 7:53 PM on October 23


Maybe we could decide that giving up Facebook for our 30 minute commute is worth saving lives.

I wouldn't mind everyone giving up phone use during a 30-minute drive; I was thinking about the 4-day cross-country trips I used to take with my parents. Two kids in the back seat with nothing but coloring books is a hard stretch for parents these days. (It was hard then, but we didn't have better options. Now we do.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:46 PM on October 23


Oooh, new thought! Rush-hour commute zones that block cell traffic/reception during busy hours. (Or, block everything but actual phone, maybe. No texting, no web, but people could call 911 if they need to.) Busy freeway; inner city congested streets... 7:30-10:00 am, 12-1 pm, 4-7 pm = no cell activity. Cut mobile activity when the streets are busiest and get people used to not relying on constant contact.

I'm trying to think of ways for someone to pull over and get full use of their phone, for map-searching or whatever, but I don't think I understand the tech well enough for that. And of course, there's the hassle of only making the no-reception zone on the streets and not the nearby shops. Maybe that's it - if you can have targeted no-reception zones, pulling off the road would let you use your phone to check email, get directions, text someone to say you're on your way.

I have no idea whatsoever if this is do-able.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:54 PM on October 23 [2 favorites]


Trains trains trains.

Tough when most of the discourse in America around public transit looks like this:
“It’s an extremely difficult thing to do because we have this minor detail in this country called freedom,” [David Hartgen, emeritus transportation professor at UNC Charlotte] said. “You can live where you want, you can work where you want, you can commute how you want.” (via)
There aren't enough quotation marks in the world for this use of the word "freedom," of course.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:14 PM on October 23 [2 favorites]


I have no idea whatsoever if this is do-able.

Not really. Plus I don't even want to contemplate getting the permits to add more equipment to reduce service. I promise that it's plenty hard enough getting the permits to add more equipment to increase it in some jurisdictions.

Appealing to people's better selves won't work, because assholes are assholes and don't really have better selves. We've got one major way to keep people from texting, talking, and playing games or whatever else it is they might want to do with a phone while driving, and that's to encourage them to do anything but drive. Much like it's easier to reduce drunk driving by making sure people aren't driving when they want to drink than it is to stop them from drinking.

I totally sympathize with anyone who's bored enough by tedious driving that they would rather futz around with their phones. Driving is generally awful and the only real answer is to avoid it wherever possible. Maybe you think that public transportation's a thing that only exists in Manhattan, or that you'll definitely die immediately upon mounting a bicycle, or that you might have to wear shoes to walk somewhere, and maybe your job isn't appropriate for telecommuting.

Try carpooling, then. If personal automobiles are the only thing you can use to go about your life, find a friend or family member or coworker or whatever to ride with you. They'll probably stop you from picking up the phone, and you can each trade off to do half of the driving. Or less, if you get more passengers.
posted by asperity at 9:22 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


The sheriff's department in our county (Dane, surrounding Madison WI) came up with an enforcement plan that seemed pretty good to me. They would use empty city buses to patrol major commuting corridors, with a deputy sitting on each side of the bus. If the bus-riding deputies saw a driver using a device, they'd radio to a nearby police car to pull that driver over. I thought it was a great way to do actual observations of the behavior, rather than waiting for a crash (or worse) and trying to investigate retroactively. The idea was to publicize the enforcement ahead of time to deter phone use, and to publicize the amount of ticketing afterwards for more deterrence.

It seems to have been done already in Canada and the UK. However, Madison being what it is, the city council fell all over themselves to whine about imagined perceived oppressions that might occur (http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/govt-and-politics/madison-city-council-rejects-the-use-of-city-buses-to/article_4bb6dbbf-b225-552a-9a38-b2bc73dbcce4.html). It's been tabled for now, and I'm not expecting it to get traction again.
posted by NumberSix at 9:29 PM on October 23 [3 favorites]


The overall driver death rate in the U.S. is less than 40 driver deaths per million years. Since the average miles per year is > 10,000, that's 250 million miles per driver-death. Driver-death is used to remove differences in occupancy, but total deaths are around 85 million miles per death.
Waymo/Google have gone 3 million miles without killing anyone. Tesla went about 50 million miles before it's first (probably second) driver death in 2016. How is this already better than average? It seems way worse.
There's also no way human drivers are getting kicked off the roads. We never even banned non-emissions-controlled cars. What would Jay Leno do?
posted by netowl at 10:13 PM on October 23


If you're in an area with at best one NPR station, a whole bunch of ClearChannel stations, and a couple of religious stations, then the AUX port, a 3.5mm cable and a phone with LTE is a good alternative, without the additional expense of satellite radio. The in-car Bluetooth systems that tap into that functionality are a better thing, but they generally come with screens (more distraction) and are only for newer models.
posted by holgate at 10:21 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


they hold out the possibility that urban transport problems might be solved without a significant outlay on public infrastructure. I believe this is a pipe dream.

The incremental nudge to alter zoning regulations or change road usage municipality by municipality might cost just as much in total, but it won't cause as many big political fights as a headline-grabbing public transit proposal.
posted by holgate at 10:25 PM on October 23 [1 favorite]


I read something like this the other day...scary!
posted by MWatkins at 2:42 AM on October 24


Living in Beijing, the drivers that scare me are the scooters. The people on bikes or walking are using their phones too, but they're going slow enough I can dodge them. I pretty much don't worry about cars since there's decent sidewalks and pedestrian bridges.

Regarding self-driving buses taking away jobs; it doesn't have to. Where I live there are three people working in each bus; a driver, a security guard, and a ticket checker. It's not the most efficient use of workers, but it also means that little old ladies can ask when the next stop is without distracting the bus driver. If/when we get self-driving buses, that'd be a good system. Esp considering the weird things that can go on without human interference. Imagine the shenanigans late at night with only a few passengers.
posted by Trifling at 3:00 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


If it isn't going to take away jobs, it's hard to see how it's going to enable running buses twice as regularly or whatever it was people were saying. (I'm not quite sure why they couldn't run twice as often right now to be honest, but I think the implication is that it'd be too expensive to hire twice as many drivers).
posted by Dysk at 3:17 AM on October 24


I was in my pickup, a full-sized Ford F150. This is *before* smart phones, I was looking down at my phone, scrolling for a phone number as I came to a halt at a traffic signal. The person in front of me was in a Ford Ranger, which is their toy pickup truck, I hit him going at less than 10 mph and it didn't even dent my bumper but it crushed that toy truck like it was an aluminum soda can -- back bumper, tail gate, one entire quarter panel.

If he'd have been on a motorcycle instead of in that pickup it's possible -- perhaps likely -- that I'd have killed him.

That was a good lesson, but I confess here and now that I've done that same thing since. But since that day I've done it much less, and then much, much less since riding my bicycle a lot, and knowing what it is from that perspective.

~~~~~

A gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I'm cycling on a downhill through a park, a guy in a shiny SUV was headed straight at me, I had to bail out, off the road, only as he passed did he see me. But the only reason for that is that he felt himself drifting off the road. He was looking at his cell phone.

A year ago, visiting a friend in East Texas, and I'm not much on riding on the sides of roads like so many other cyclists do, because people who are driving are totally insane. So I'm not much for riding on the roadside but I'd met a guy who was totally into it, he had an extra road bike tall enough for me, I figured "Hey, give it a whirl." One afternoon a woman in a nice shiny Buick passed next to me, at least 55 mph, no further than a foot away -- on her cell phone.

~~~~~

Austin, where I live, pretends that it's a bicycle town. It isn't. Their bicycle "lanes" are nothing more than white stripes of paint on the road. When the road narrows to where there isn't enough room for a bike lane alongside the car lane, they run the painted white line to the side of the road, a nice small sign that says "Bicycle Lane Ends." Sweet. It really is funny, except of course that it isn't funny at all.

The streets are death traps but riding on the sidewalks can get you a ticket. Even though you'll often see cops riding on the sidewalks also. Total bullshit.

I'm very lucky, in that I live very close to the hike/bike trail that goes 'round Town Lake, a very pretty ride. I ride it daily. I lived with just a bicycle to get around, the bicycle and the bus system, and it's a hard way to go.

~~~~~

Way upthread someone suggested that the phone is the car key, and when the car is running the screen is blank, no calls or txt msgs or anything else while in the drivers seat. That's the best solution I've ever seen, really a great idea. And it could of course be circumvented by some, but the solution to that is to take peoples licence away. First offense -- one year no driving privileges. Second offense -- you never get to drive again. Ever. Driving is *not* a right. It's a privilege. We act like big babies, we consider driving a right. It isn't. Nor should it be treated as such.

I can't recommend that Herzog vid highly enough. Linked here. Great film-making. Shows what this really, really is
posted by dancestoblue at 3:24 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


netowl: The overall driver death rate in the U.S. is less than 40 driver deaths per million years.

Driver deaths are going down because of automobile safety improvements. Drivers are being saved from their bad choices by stabilization systems and roll cages. Pedestrian deaths are going up, though.

What would Jay Leno do?

Probably roll out of his garage in a vintage steam-powered auto-rickshaw with his driving goggles on.
posted by clawsoon at 3:26 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


> total deaths are around 85 million miles per death. Waymo/Google have gone 3 million miles without killing anyone. Tesla went about 50 million miles before it's first (probably second) driver death in 2016. How is this already better than average? It seems way worse.

I think non fatal accidents are a big part of the "better than" claims. There was an injury roughly every 1.25 million miles travelled last year (fig 3), and apparently Tesla is up to 222 million miles as of a year ago. I couldn't find how many people have been injured in Tesla autopilot accidents though.
posted by lucidium at 4:35 AM on October 24


I'm not sure if the calculus of fewer non fatal accidents for more fatal accidents is one that's going to go over well. "We kill more drivers" takes a lot of the appeal out of "we cause fewer accidents".
posted by Dysk at 4:41 AM on October 24


222 million miles and two deaths probably isn't enough to draw any sort of conclusion yet, but it is fewer drivers killed per mile so far.
posted by lucidium at 5:28 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


If it isn't going to take away jobs, it's hard to see how it's going to enable running buses twice as regularly or whatever it was people were saying. (I'm not quite sure why they couldn't run twice as often right now to be honest, but I think the implication is that it'd be too expensive to hire twice as many drivers).

I believe this was in Beijing? The wage vs other costs ratios might be different enough that this is not the issue. (no way we'd have 3 paid employees on a bus around here)

And about Teslas, even though it's really impressive to to see in action. Its assisted driving, you're supposed to be paying attention... which of course people aren't....and really I wonder how they managed for that feature to be legal.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 6:03 AM on October 24


222 million as of a year ago does sound more reasonable than 50, and apparently they're going 5 million miles per day now. A lot higher growth rate than I thought. IIHS did say they have higher than average claims rates, but maybe it's just all the miles.
posted by netowl at 7:17 AM on October 24


Autonomous vehicle technology can see in shadows, can see through fog, and can see in all directions at the same time. It can see bikes and pedestrians as well as it can see cars. It can react faster, make smarter avoidance decisions (from seeing in all directions), and never gets tired, tipsy, groggy, or angry. Plus, being in its infancy it's constantly improving and learning. Just like the airline industry, every accident improves the system to prevent the same thing from happening again.

I expect that once it becomes mainstream, self driving cars will get preferential traffic lanes, parking spaces, and speed limits, making human driving less convenient and less desirable. We won't need to outlaw driving, it will quietly fade away.
posted by rocket88 at 7:55 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


Two kids in the back seat with nothing but coloring books is a hard stretch for parents these days.

My parents drove cross-country with three of us in the car in the late 1980s. No one died. We looked out the window. We played games. We had Walkmans (Walkmen?). We read books. We made up stories and told them to each other. Yeah, we fought some but I don't remember being bored. If kids are that hooked on phones and tablets, it's not their own fault......

Like I said, no solution is going to be perfect. Bored children are better than dead children.
posted by AFABulous at 7:56 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


fully-automated-luxury-gay-space-commie

I'm just deeply pleased that this is a meme that I heard off-web (at MICE). post-scarcity-4-evah


Self-driving cars aren't going to be worth anything useful if they're stuck in traffic just like regular human-driving cars are.

Interesting that this long thread has become a discussion of SDC tech. I'm a fanboi (/r/selfdrivingcars seems to be the best spot to keep current) but all the issues and questions are very valid, no one knows where the technology will go. There is going to be many determined efforts to bring many varieties of SDC to market. Not most but every single car company and major associated (parts) company is investing heavily, billions.

The technology works and quality is the development hyperfocus. The current gotchas are cost and availability of sensors, the high computing power, edge issues like snow, regulatory and social integration.

There has been demonstration that calm driving can ease traffic. Will an influx of SDC's cause some parking or congestion problems, change always has potential for unintended consequences.

What percentage of the cost of long haul trucking is salary? When a competitor can reduce cost by 30% and increase speed significantly (no driver sleep requirements) what will happen to that market? Same question about Uber but I'd suggest Zipcar may be a better model to enter that market.

There are rumors that Waymo(google) will be running a full level 4 trial in Arizona as soon as this year WITHOUT a safety driver!

There are huge legal, social and tech implementation issues. One is just the cost of tooling up a new industry is non-trivial. But look at the supercomputer in your pocket, tech scales. And changes society, would you mind an hour commute if you had a full entertainment suite and a comfortable chair of could do fully focused work quietly without interruption? What will change if cars stop being a safety issue, safe for kids to play in the street?
posted by sammyo at 8:10 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


SDC levels - level 4 is fully autonomous with geographic limits, like within city limits.
posted by sammyo at 8:13 AM on October 24


Bored children are distracting children, and distracting children lead to accidents too. (The car key thing sounds interesting, but I have no idea if it is feasible.)

I still think there are better solutions than "you cannot use anything electronic ever if you are in a moving vehicle", because that one is going to be so unpopular there will be enough hacks to make it a failure. I just want to fall asleep to a podcast on my phone, as a passenger: do I now have to buy something else other than my phone? I am on a work trip, during work hours: am I going to be forced to travel outside of work hours, because I can no longer respond to email while on the train? I have a phone which I use for travel directions -- am I obliged to buy a separate GPS for this?
posted by jeather at 8:19 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


Those questions, along with the relatively flat death rate will likely prevent significant action beyond ineffectual education and disinterested enforcement of text-and-drive laws until the whole thing if rendered moot, which it will be soon.

It's fine if you don't believe me, but it's simple economics. For all our bizarre American hangups, the one thing that inevitably changes our behavior is money. In the not too distant future owning, much less driving, a car will be like owning a small plane today.
posted by wierdo at 8:52 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


I'm totally looking forward to when the Trolley Problem is renamed The Autonomous Car problem.
posted by jeather at 9:01 AM on October 24


Autonomous cars are likely to help in some respects, but shrugging at the status quo in the meantime means a lot of people needlessly killed. Failing to redesign our streets to require drivers' attention and to give adequate and safe space for pedestrians and bicyclists has a cost right now, not in the not-too-distant future.

Vision Zero.
posted by asperity at 9:07 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "Let me put it this way - how many fully autonomous trains/subways/trolleys are there ? That problem domain is VASTLY simpler and it's still a difficult problem to solve."

SkyTrain is fully automated (the largest such system in the world) but runs on dedicated elevated or underground tracks.

AFABulous: "(Don't even start about texting your kids, no one I grew up with died because our parents couldn't text us.)"

This is unlikely true in the greater sense outside your small circle acquaintances. I'd bet at kids died because they were unable to contact their parents.

AFABulous: "My parents drove cross-country with three of us in the car in the late 1980s. No one died. "

Being distracted by kids is still being distracted. Two kids fighting in the back seat have probably been responsible for thousands of accidents and deaths over the years. Also the kids who did die aren't relating anecdotes on the internet.
posted by Mitheral at 10:02 AM on October 24


HSR is getting built right this minute

I voted for it, at least twice. I think it's great, and I really hope this administration doesn't manage to derail it somehow (since it relies on DoT grants).

Awesome as it is, though, this was always going to be a long-range, intercity connection, essentially an alternative to flying. And (as usual), I'm a little skeptical that the projected fares will ever actually play out to be as cheap as the project estimates, especially since they keep going up. WRT the topic at hand, presumably it would take a lot of distracted drivers off the road. Also better than flying in terms of environmental impact, and probably cost. Not cheaper than greyhound though . . .

Overall the best return in terms of actual public transit would be money thrown at BART/MUNI, WMATA, MBTA, etc. That's also probably where semi-autonomous vehicles would be most impactful, in both positive and negative ways.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:02 AM on October 25


To be honest so much money is going to have to be thrown at those institutions before we even stop borrowing from the future by skipping on essential maintenance and repairs, that I am very pessimistic we're going to get significantly faster/more reliable transit anywhere in the US in my lifetime.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:25 AM on October 25


Think! Pink road safety ad (featuring music from Aphex Twin)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:45 AM on October 25 [1 favorite]






elon musk running a scam why i never
posted by entropicamericana at 2:11 PM on October 26 [1 favorite]


Not one, who wasn't backed by a government, has successfully started a general purpose car company selling cars in America in probably a century (I'd have to verify establishment dates of some companies); certainly not since 1929. It's hugely expensive and littered with mine fields just like Musk's problem. Musk is being very ambitious in launching not only a new manufacturer but also electric cars and self driving cars; any one of the three would if a difficult task. I'll be pleasantly surprised if you can buy cars from an independent Tesla in a decade.
posted by Mitheral at 7:46 PM on October 26


I am not sure I am following the argument of those who are opposing making mobile phone use by the driver of a vehicle illegal. Do they oppose mandatory seat belt laws? I understand that there is plenty of evidence that there are a lot of disparity in law enforcement rates dependent on ethnicity, but does that mean that road safety should be 'thrown under the bus'? Enforcing legislation against 'distracted driving' is more difficult than against mobile phone use. Should there be any argument the mobile phone data records can be produced.

Surely there is no reason why a driver should be doing anything other than driving their vehicle?

It is well established that talking to someone who is not in the car via a hands free phone system is distracting, but at least that doesn't take the driver's eyes off the road. Using a touch screen is visually distracting, as well as physically distracting.

Jim Morrison was a prophet! 'Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel'.
posted by asok at 2:04 AM on October 27 [1 favorite]


I just read this today:
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A loophole in Pennsylvania’s texting while driving law makes it nearly unenforceable for police officers.
---
The law prohibits texting while the vehicle is moving but it doesn’t prohibit the user from looking up a phone number, dialing, or talking on the phone, or even reading emails, or the internet. It only says you can’t text.

“We’ve made law enforcement’s job harder, “ says Shapiro. “They don’t know if you’re texting or dialing so people have a chance to make an excuse.”

When an officer pulls someone over suspected to texting the only way to prove it is to check the phone. So the officer can politely ask to see the phone but the driver is not required to comply.
posted by octothorpe at 3:56 PM on November 3 [2 favorites]


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