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Carl Kanowsky: Driving while human

Posted: January 9, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 9, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

Driving nightmares:

Woman zipping down Sepulveda at about 60 mph, cigarette in one hand, cellphone in the other. Not sure what appendage she used to steer.

Guy on the 405 repeatedly dipping down toward the passenger seat. After the accident, learned that he had been eating pancakes.

Newsflash: Drunken driver flies off road in Orange County, crashes into house, killing sleeping man.

While trying to “thumbs up” an Eagles song on Pandora, man plows into car.

According to Distraction.gov, “In 2012 alone, 3,328 were killed in distracted driving crashes.”

Driver enters freeway going 45, moves without looking to fast lane.

How many stories do you have about how terrible the drivers you share the road with truly are? And not all of the stories are about numbskull, bonehead drivers (although there are days when it seems that that is all there is on the road).

My wife had two of our boys in the car, one about 5 and the other just 1 and in a car seat. Suddenly the younger one started choking on a nut.

Terry, freaking out, tries to safely pull over while also instructing the 5-year-old how to dislodge the nut and trying to keep the little one calm. Fortunately, she pulled over and Scott saved him from choking.

But do you think she might have been just a bit distracted behind the wheel?

Makes you wonder if there isn’t some safe alternative to human drivers.
Warren Olney, who hosts two great radio shows on KCRW, recently did an entire program on driverless cars. He discussed the Google program in Northern California where folks have been driving to work for a year and a half in an autonomous car.

His guests discussed how great it would be to have a self-driving car — you could drive and eat, drink, do email and text, sleep, and sight see. All the time the car is doing the driving.

The assumption is that if all cars were autonomous, then the accident rate goes way down, efficiency goes up, and pollution is greatly minimized.

To me, the values of self-driving cars are evident. Fewer fatalities, traffic jams significantly reduced, and I can do drinking and riding without worrying if I’m placing innocent people in danger.

But not everyone feels that way. Some people will always want to do their own driving the way they like. Others’ self-identity (and even, to some extent, self-worth) is measured by what and how they drive.

Still others will rebel against the machine simply because it is a machine.

And then there are the legal concerns. For instance, if the car malfunctions, who’s at fault? The owner, the car manufacturer, the software developer?

If you’ve eliminated the human factor, would cities and states still be liable for poorly designed roads?

From another perspective, can a government mandate that man-driven cars be replaced by self-driving ones by some future date?

In order for the cars to be truly effective, safe and efficient, the cars will need to talk to each other. Things like,

“Where are you going?”; “What’s your schedule?”; “Are you going to turn soon?”; “Let me know when you’re planning on braking.”

If this much communication is being shared between cars, can the government listen in? What if the purpose for the government snooping is to keep high levels of safety?

Is the invasion of privacy allowed then? What if they’re trying to stop a fleeing felon or recover a stolen vehicle?

Can the government use the cameras in the car to identify the occupants?

Can they use these same cameras to monitor people in their car — are they wearing seat belts or is the baby in a child seat? Or is this an unreasonable search and seizure?

Interesting questions and fascinating possibilities. What are your thoughts? Send them via email to citydesk@signalscv.com. Put “self-driving cars” in the subject field.

Carl Kanowsky of Kanowsky & Associates is an attorney in the Santa Clarita Valley. He may be reached by email at cjk@kanowskylaw.com.

 

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