This week in review: Safer Cars But More Accidents

Wired magazine offers a very intriguing theory about the increasing number of car crashes. The article is called Cars are Safer Than Ever – But Traffic Deaths are Climbing, by Aarian Marshall.

People drive more in a good economy,” Researchers have long known that driving deaths rise and dive with the economy and income growth. People with jobs have more reason to be on the road than the unemployed. But this increase can’t be pinned on the fact of more driving, the stats indicate. Even adjusted for miles traveled, fatalities have ticked up by 2.6 percent over 2015. You can still blame the economy, because people aren’t just driving more. They’re driving differently. Better economic condition give them the flexibility to drive for social reasons. There might be more bar visits (and drinking) and trips along unfamiliar roads (with extra time spent looking at a map on a phone).

Ars Technica is asking the high stakes question: Should Drunk Drivers be Charged With DUI in Fully Autonomous Cars?

Though it may seem obvious that a drunk person should be allowed to be taxied home by a fully autonomous car, the question is less clear if you have to determine just how autonomous an autonomous vehicle needs to be for a drunk person to operate it. The government should want drunk people to engage a high-level autonomous driving system if the alternative is driving themselves home, but if they’ll be penalized for being drunk while they’re “in control” of an autonomous vehicle, uptake of self-driving systems may be slow. The question gets more complicated, too, depending on who owns the autonomous vehicle. In ride-sharing situations where the car has been hired temporarily, it seems straightfoward that the passenger shouldn’t be responsible if the self-driving car is involved in a crash. But if the rider is also the owner of the vehicle and claims they were in self-driving mode, how will law enforcement determine if that’s true?

On a side note, Globe and Mail published my opinion on what’s really at stake with distracted driving.

3 deadly seconds

Re There’s More At Stake For Distracted Driving Than Just Fines (Oct. 4): This issue is about saving lives. It’s bigger than insurance premiums and fines. With distracted driving as one of the main – if not the main – cause of road accidents in jurisdictions like Ontario and B.C., it is troubling to observe the problem spreading. Indeed, more people are victims of someone or themselves using a phone at the wheel than speeding or impaired driving.

Here is some quick math on the matter: Checking a phone’s status takes about three seconds. That is 75 metres of blind driving while moving at 90 km/h. How many of us would walk, let alone drive, for 75 metres while blindfolded? Yet the texting driver risks everything while doing just this. Besides the completely avoidable tragedy, the economics of distracted driving is astonishing: The cost of health care and lost productivity from traffic collisions is some $10-billion per year, as measured by the Canadian Automobile Association. It’s time we all pledged to put that thing down and arrive home in safety.

There is so much at stake.

Lucian Vinatoriu, Luxembourg