Perils of the Part-Time Driver

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Big Brother has been riding shotgun for years, but he’s never been able to actually watch what we do in our cars.

That’s about to change.

He’ll soon be able to tell whether we’re sleeping or texting or doing other things unrelated to driving. Which isn’t the bad part.

BMW just publicly revealed their new camera-based driver monitoring system. It is called Extended Traffic Jam Assistant and will be available in the 2019 X5, the company’s best-selling mid-sized SUV.

The assistant is part of what’s styled Level 2 automated driving tech. The 2019 X5 can drive itself – including steer itself – without the driver touching anything – all the way up to just under 40 MPH. But for obvious reasons – including legal liability reasons – BMW doesn’t want to leave it entirely up to the X5 to drive itself.

Well, that’s not exactly accurate.

The driver is still expected to pay attention to his driving – even when he’s not the one actually driving the car.

But if the driver is supposed to pay attention to driving, shouldn’t he just . . . drive?

And if he isn’t driving – if the vehicle is equipped with a system specifically designed to do that for him – is it reasonable to expect him to pay attention? And how can he fairly be held responsible for the consequences of the vehicle’s bad driving?

If the car isn’t 100 percent capable of safely controlling itself without the driver ever needing to concern himself with what’s going on, then he probably ought to concern himself with what is going on 100 percent of the time .  . . otherwise isn’t this automated car stuff unsafe?

Paying partial attention isn’t sufficient – for all the obvious reasons. If the driver is looking away from the road – even for just the moment it takes to type and send a text – that is precisely the moment when his lack of paying attention may prove decisive.

If he fails to notice in time that traffic up ahead just stopped – and the automated X5 fails to stop itself in time – then the car isn’t going to stop in time. Who is at fault?

The part-time driver?

Or the part-time automated car?

And who gets the ticket?

This technology (and BMW is not the only car company installing it; Tesla does and so does GM’s Cadillac division) is hugely questionable because it introduces a purposeful delay in reaction times – something you’d think the Greek chorus of saaaaaaaaaaaaafety nags inside and outside of the government would be most concerned about.

But the chorus is oddly silent.

The X5’s forward-facing camera that is the key element of the system is supposed to be the fix.

It is there to monitor the driver’s paying-attention-ness, which it does by keeping track of whether the driver’s eyes are looking at things other than the road – and whether they are open.

If it decides the driver’s not paying enough attention – or is falling asleep – it first nudges him to pay more attention via audible and visual pestering. If that doesn’t do the trick, the system will ultimately disengage the automated driving system.

Hopefully the drowsy driver will notice in time.

Even assuming it all works optimally, there is still the issue of delayed attentiveness.

The driver isn’t paying attention to what the car is doing or to what other cars around him are doing – it’s whole point of the automated driving tech.  If  the driver was paying attention the camera would not have to trigger the nudging.

So, he’s texting or eating or maybe even nodding off. The camera detects this, which takes a moment – processing time is not immediate – then prompts various nudges to get the driver’s attention and refocus it on the road and what’s going on outside around him.

Meanwhile, things are happening.

In the time it takes for the driver to stop paying attention to other things – or just wake up and refocus his eyes on the road – things may already have happened.

The whole point of continuously paying attention to the road and to one’s driving – something which was once considered the most basic foundation of safe driving – is that  there is no (or at least, less) delay when something crops up unexpectedly which requires the driver’s immediate attention.

And the driver’s immediate reaction.

Even at less than 40 MPH, things can happen pretty fast. How long does it take to notice a kid just ran out into the road chasing a ball? To swerve around the kid?

You’re either the driver – or you’re not.

BMW says the technology reduces the “cognitive load” on the driver, who is freed to do things other than pay attention to driving.

But technology which encourages drivers not to drive but then expects them to pay attention to their driving is inherently dangerous and Kafkaesque. If the tech can’t be trusted, then the driver shouldn’t trust it – nor be faulted if something terrible happens because he did trust it.

It is very hard to understand how all of this passes muster with the deities at NHTSA and DOT who coo that they are so very concerned about our saaaaaaaaaaaaaafety.

Or so they coo.

How about the saaaaaaaaaafety of other people – who are paying attention but are within the orbit of potential mayhem of narcoleptic drivers who’ve turned control of their vehicle over to technology that is far from being infallible?

How is it that the government – so concerned about saaaaaafety – permits this?

It’s the same government which forbids the hundreds of thousands of people who are stuck driving around in cars equipped with known-defective (and known to be potentially lethal) Takata air bags from even temporarily disabling them until the dangerously defective air bags can be replaced.

Which may take years.

Meanwhile, we get to the be guinea pigs – the experimental subjects. Let’s see what happens, they (apparently) reason.

After all, it’s not their lives on the table.

. . .

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42 COMMENTS

  1. Buying a large, older vehicle that can absorb the impact of a smaller vehicle may be the smart thing to do , to prepare for these “self” driving vehicles running around.

    • Anon, I’ve practiced that strategy all of my life- whether it be brainless self-driving cars…or cars being driven by brainless people….I don’t care to be severely injured or die for the sake of a few extra MPGs.

      Saved me once, so far, when a Polak pulled out of a stop sign RIGHT in front of me (He thought it was a 4-way stop!), in an old full-sized Impala. I walked away with nothing but a scratch on my head from where it went through the side window.

  2. Great article that was on DRUDGE today, all about the huge problem with “self driving” vehicles.

    https://phys.org/news/2018-10-carmakers-brace-electrified-future-looms.html
    The Best quote: “Each of these new cars requires 100 million lines of code: That’s five to six times more than in a Boeing,” Luc Chatel, head of the French auto industry association, told executives on Monday.

    Totally agree. As airplanes are controlled in very fixed routing, they need less code. Most of the control occurs at airports and once in the routing air, very simple plane to plane flight routing.

    Ground vehicles have to “talk” to each other in a VERY uncontrollable environments. Examples: POT HOLES, POOR LANE MARKING, DEER, GEESE, SNOW, ICE, BLACK ICE and the millions of other uncontrolled conditions.

    And the OEMs who are responsible for the final code for the vehicle, today’s “simple” vehicles are re-coded constantly due to errors in the code. They call it “re-flash” and I experienced numerous “re-flashes” with various OEMs to fix the code errors on simple items.

    Last week, Honda Accords hit a mandatory recall due to code error on their camera systems. And they are suppose to be the “best” for quality.

  3. It is strange that they are so concerned about saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety–until they aren’t.

    This is completely absurd. They allow something into the car that is DESIGNED to allow the driver to NOT pay attention to what the car (that he controls) is doing.

    Too bad they aren’t responsible for the effects of their moronic fatwas.

    • Travis, the government agencies can be held accountable as some individual must sign off on the regulation. It is just a matter of a victim suing the agency. Governments cannot escape responsibility for bad decisions. It is the people who have the power but the people must use that power.

  4. One of the characteristics of a semi-comatose driver is an apparent inability to find the accelerator pedal. I see really slow drivers frequently do the most dangerous and stupid things in traffic.
    I am surprised at how slowly most people drive. I had several boards tied to the top of my car a few days ago, so I was accelerating very gently out of stoplights. I still left the crowd behind, at half my usual acceleration.
    The slowest of them are usually the ones who will swing wide in a turn, leaving their lanes, or pull out in front of traffic forcing the other drivers to brake to avoid a wreck.

  5. Want to go 70+ without a driver? We have had them for over a century….they’re called Roller Coasters……you’ll find them only in amusement parks, for a reason. Too busy or too lazy to drive where you’re going? Take a cab, a bus, a train, a plane, they have those for a reason, too! Those of us who are capable of driving don’t want or need to be collateral damage in an experiment in stupidity!

  6. love your column, Eric, I read it faithfully

    you mention devices inside the car that can detect a sleeping or drowsy driver, etc – but these are only in new cars – how, in the interest of saaaaaaafffftttyyy, do we detect drowsy drivers of old cars? my idea: specialized cameras on the side of the road, aimed at drivers, to detect YAWNING – yawn detectors – if you’re yawning, you’re automatically guilty of drowsy driving

  7. Could you please remove my name and gmail address from your bbs? I actually enjoy your articles and read your comments. But I dislike having your system remembering my info.

  8. Here’s some common traits of a meatsack as they drive their electric turduckens:

    Their mouth is open just a little. Their tongue is resting on their lower lip. The eyes have that 1000 mile stare…partially glazed. It is the look of defective genes…incest…dull wittedness…sloth-like reaction times…they utter noise similar to sheep…and the smell….that smell I’ve not yet identified. But it is very unpleasant.

    • Hmmm, Aljer, sounds like these cars will be a big hit in West Virginia! [The Inbred State].

      The smell? That’s the smell of what befouls one’s trousers as they are about to hit a semi trailer broadside at 50MPH.

      • That’s the smell of what befouls one’s trousers as they are about to hit a semi trailer broadside at 50MPH.
        You mean like the Tesla driver who ran into a white semi because his autopilot thought there was a cloud in front of his car and didn’t activate the brakes?

  9. “The driver is still expected to pay attention to his driving – even when he’s not the one actually driving the car.”

    This alone automatically gets failure on the FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis). It scores 10s across board IMO. Probability, Detection, and Severity all tens on a scale of best = 1 and worst =10. Now FMEA scoring can be subjective to a large degree but I don’t see how any rational person can’t score it this way. Probability of a person not paying attention at some point is 100%, the chance of the car not detecting a hazard sooner or later is 100% and the severity is extreme. This alone says these systems should not be deployed. And yes, I hope some lawyer, even a scumbag one starts calling engineers to testify to this basic procedure that Tesla Motors didn’t do and now everyone else is following along because TM got a government pass no to do it.

    Wall Street, various Geeks, car buyers, etc have browbeating the major automakers for being “behind”. IMO They aren’t behind but rather they have proper internal procedures that kept this nonsense off the market because it doesn’t pass FMEA. But because of TM they are being left with no choice but to go forward with it and the government’s desire for power doesn’t help any.

  10. So, these autonomous cars are being touted for being able to drive home drunk or sleepy passengers. Hey great. But I foresee another problem arriving. How is a drunk or sleepy person going to accurately get their destination input to the car? I can see a lot of drunks passing out in these cars and just riding a merry go round of the car following the one in front of it until it runs out of gas or battery. Again, it rewards bad behavior.

    • Brazos, the cars have a “drunk mode”. You program in the right address, but it delivers you to a house similar to yours, but two blocks over. 😉

    • I’ve typed it before and I’ll type it again…. “drunk driving” is going to remain very illegal and BACs will only be lowered if they change, even with robot cars that do everything. Why? Because revenue streams and power, that’s why. However taking a robot car “Johnny Cab” will be just fine.

  11. The US is fucked.

    Americans don’t care if a Supreme Court judge supports censorship, NSA wiretapping, indefinite detention without a trial for Americans, and torture, but Americans will go batshit insane if he’s accused of sexual harassment.

    The Supreme Court will say everything unconstitutional the government does is legal, but even if the court ruled against the government, the government would keep doing it anyway, and Americans won’t even shrug.

    • Yep, Libby,

      And I believe this whole sex scandal accusation thingie is just a ruse to cover up the fact that the Swamp (D’s & R’s) LOVE this guy- as he has already proven that he will play their game, when he let the Clintons get away with the Vince Foster murder (No one seems to care about that, either).

      Notice too, anymore, only Catholics and Jews are appointed to the Supreme Court- both of which are aligned with the NWO; socialism; and Zionism.

      This is what I’ve been saying for a long time: It’s not just the government that’s our problem- that is just a symptom. The real problem is ultimately the people, who have been conditioned over the course of several generations to worship and adore our captors; to look upon them as benefactors and protectors; and to participate fully in their treasonous system (Try not paying your extortion to the IRS and see how fast “we the people” will throw our asses in jail; they’d probably vote to execute us if they had the opportunity).; they’ll even sacrifice their kids for these creeps- sending them off to murder and die in the various wars for the empire.

      Even if the government were to disappear overnight, we still could not have liberty, because 99.9% of Americans despise liberty and don’t practice it.

      This whole Kavanaugh thing is just an act; propaganda, to distract the masses from the real issues, and to get many to support yet another criminal tyrant Swamp-creature.

      It just keeps getting worse and worse.

      Is this what Trump meant by draining the Swamp? He drains it right into his cabinet and every agency and branch of government.

  12. Yeah, this IS nuts. One is either driving the car, or a passenger in the car.

    WHOSE fault was it when that Tesla in autonomous mode ran into the side of a 53 foot white dry van and was killed? Was it the truck driver’s fault, because he was THERE? Was it DImWit’s fault because he was there, but not all there, paying attention, cuz after all guys, the car WAS in autodrive mode. Or was it the fault of the engineers who designed/built that system and FAILED to account for that scenario and provide a means of dealing with it? Seems the low-grade sensors in the car “saw” the huge white featureless expanse of trailier side as NOTHING.

    Anyone with few enough brain cells to accept the risks who gets these systems then TRUSTS them, well, deserves HIS fate…. but what about the reckless endangerment for the rest of us sharing the road with these freakazoid autonomous cars?

  13. Why can’t those designers build something more sensible; like a devise that will send a powerful electronic zap to a politician every time he presses a button to vote on bills which violate the Bill of Rights or Natural law?

  14. You’re absolutely right, again.

    I’m an engineer at a self driving car company. We’re building level 4 and level 5 autonomous car systems. Level 4 means that it is completely hands off, you don’t need to pay attention, but it’s limited where it can drive due to availability of maps or whatever. Level 5 would be a car that can self drive without your intervention anytime, and anywhere.

    These half assed systems which require a person to pay attention while not driving are terrible. When you tell a human being to sit, do nothing, and pay attention, they can do that for a couple of minutes, at most, then their attention starts to wander. We’re not built for paying attention without being engaged in some way.

    Now, imagine a well designed L4 autonomous car. You’re tired, you ask it to drive home the rest of the way, and it tells you, “yup, I can do that”, and it takes over. You can now sleep, read, whatever, knowing that you won’t have to intervene. It’s like being in a taxi. Liability wise, the law is being worked out, and it will take years to work through the courts. Let me give you an example with taxis. Say you’re in a taxi, and it turns right and hits a pedestrian. In this case the taxi driver is at fault. If, on the other hand, you tell the taxi driver “turn right here”, and he hits someone, you will at minimum share liability, but perhaps have complete liability in today’s law. This is probably where autonomous cars will start legally, as completely responsible when they’re driving, but with a driver participating in any way, the driver will be liable.

    • I test-drove a Model S last year and tried out the “Auto Pilot” system. It was impressive, but it would also react a fraction of a second slower than I would have. I got the impression that it’s view of the road & traffic was fairly limited and it was reacting to what it saw, and not predicting what might happen. I turned it off after a while and finished the drive on manual inputs.

      I do want an EV at some point – that instant torque is addictive.

  15. It’s either drive the car or not at all. Not this in between bullshit. It’s driving by committee. You know how well that works……

  16. The real indicator of the severity of our predicament, is how people are voluntarily buying this stuff!!!!

    They’re paying for it!! They’re CHOOSING to have it!

    The good news is: With BMWs already being very expensive disposable cars, this will make them even more so; and within a few years, most who would foolishly buy such a car, will be bankrupt- as will BMW itself.

  17. “The way a traffic app works is it routes you selfishly towards your destination as fast as possible, but it does not take into account the effect you have on the system,” Bayen said.

    https://download.cnet.com/blog/download-blog/why-your-favorite-navigation-app-might-be-causing-traffic-problems-according-to-new-research/

    So now you’re being selfish by using the fastest route? Oh yea, this is going to end well. Look for legislation and restrictions put on the nav systems that will cause insane behavior and massively increase processing requirements. And the legal departments will have their “click OK to accept this route” language added to the ELUA so that the navigation company will be completely blameless when your nav system runs into a restricted area and you’re pulled over.

    Maybe that’s the answer. Just have an “approve this turn” button that needs to be pushed or the vehicle will just stop. Perhaps they could even have a controller that the driver has to push or otherwise actuate. Maybe shape it like a wheel and pedals…

    • Probably have a button to push randomly, kind of like the system they use in locomotives. A buddy of mine is an engineer for the commuter rail here and to make sure they don’t drift off to sleep there’s a visual, and sometimes audible as well, alarm that goes off randomly every few minutes. If you don’t push a button within 15 seconds then the loco shuts down; it’s also set up that you can’t just jam the button down and keep it that way, needs to be pressed and released. Won’t that be fun on a long road trip.

      • Just like popup ads. Getting us used to the new economy work. The AI does all the work but we click the start/stop buttons. Plausible deniability for the coders when the AI screws up.

      • > Probably have a button to push randomly, kind of like the system they use in locomotives.

        Hello Mike. When I was much younger than I am today, I worked as a signalman for Southern Pacific Railroad. The locomotives were equipped with “dead man switches”. The engineer had to keep pressure on the throttle which kept the switch engaged. If he released his grip due to heart attack or whatever, the spring loaded switch would remove power from the wheels. The train would slow down and come to a stop.

  18. Screw mileage. I am putting the small SUV away and putting plates on my F450 crew with the 350lb plate steel bumper on the front.

    Think I will weld a few spikes to the front just to make sure the sleeping driver is killed on impact as he goes under….

    Why? ‘Cause safety. My f’ing safety.

      • Meh, just get a tow-truck style push bumper. When I had my tow truck, if someone did something stupid in front of me, I wouldn’t even slow down- I really wanted to hit the asshats and send them spinning out of the way. Sadly, no one obliged to the point of contact.

        • Nun, I watched a video of stupid people in 4 wheelers going around big rigs, cutting back in front and slamming on the brakes. It didn’t work out well for many of them.

          One driver in a 379 Pete claimed he couldn’t see the car…and he might not have since it was over to the right side and the hood blocks your view of the immediate front and passenger side. You’ll see these trucks sometimes with chrome lights mounted at the outside edge of the bumper so the driver know just where the end of the bumper is.

          But this one driver pushed a car a quarter mile….sideways. The truck was probably on cruise and it never slowed. It finally shed it after it kept going to the right….slowly. I’d love to speak to the driver and ask one question “So, reckon you’ll be brake checking a big rig again?”. SIASD

          • Excellent, 8!

            I saw one (vid) where the driver clearly could see the car in front of him slowing to about 15MPH on an interstate, after cutting in front of the truck- but just didn’t bother to slow down, and sent the car spinning out of the way. Bet the truck driver caught it for that…but I’ll bet it was also the best feeling of his life when he did it!

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