Damned if You Do . . .

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Perhaps the most Kafkaesque things about what is style “autonomous” or “self-driving” cars is that the driver is still regarded as the legally liable party when the “self-driving” car drives over someone.

Just ask Rafaela Vasquez, who has just pleaded guilty to being responsible for the death of Elaine Herzberg, who was killed when the “self-driving” Uber Vasquez wasn’t driving ran her over in March of 2018.

Vasquez was either asleep or looking at her phone rather than the road when Herzberg stepped into the path of the car.

But was this unreasonable?

It is certainly perplexing.

On the one hand, we have this assertion that cars such as the one Vasquez was driving have “self-driving” capability. In other words, the car touts the ability to drive itself. The plain meaning of the words. (Kind of like vaccine – which most people understood to mean something that immunized them.)

But it turns out that is not what the words “self driving” actually mean, because the driver is still expected – is legally required – to be ready to drive at all times. That is to say, the driver must keep his – in this case, her – eyes on the road, their hands ready to grab the wheel, their feet ready to apply the brakes. In which case, he – or she – is responsible for the car’s driving.

In that case, what is the point of having “self-driving” cars?

Put another way, if you can’t look at your phone – if you can’t take a nap – then all “self-driving” cars allow is for you to pretend you’re not driving.

They are analogous to airplanes with autopilot – an aviation term pilfered by Tesla to describe its “self driving” cars – in that the pilot/driver is still responsible for whatever the vehicle does. But it’s also different in that airplanes generally fly strictly defined, predictable routes and are usually under constant supervision by air traffic control. The pilot may step away from the controls for a moment for a pee break or nap, but there is usually another pilot there for just-in-case. In no case is the pilot allowed to take a nap if there’s no other pilot available to be there for just-in-case.

Driving – on the road – is much more fraught with variables than flying. The traffic situation is constantly changing and the unfolding, unanticipated possibilities are almost limitless and for that reason beyond the ken of “self-driving” programming parameters.

And this is precisely why the sellers of “self-driving” cars (and “self-driving technology”) make it very clear that the driver is responsible at all times for the operation of the vehicle. He must be “ready to intervene” – which he can only be ready to do if he (or she, as in the Vasquez case) is not looking at their  phone or taking a nap. It is not possible to be “ready to intervene” if you aren’t paying attention.

Full attention. Not partial, distracted, half-asleep attention. Yet the latter is precisely – paradoxically – what is encouraged by “self-driving” cars, by calling them that which they aren’t.

This is both deceptive and malicious in that it eggs on the person (wink, wink) to stop paying attention to their driving while at the same time holding them responsible for not driving. Thus, Rafaela Vasquez was charged with negligent homicide in the death of Elaine Herzberg for doing what everyone – including the companies that make and sell them – knows people who have “self driving” cars are going to do.

They are going to let the car drive itself.

And so she did.

And because she did, Elaine Herzberg is dead. And Vasquez has pled guilty to “endangerment,” a lesser but still serious charge that includes three years of supervised probation and the payment of restitution to the victim”s family and the insurance mafia that paid for some of the costs.

The cost of living with the fact that she ran over Herzberg is one Vasquez will have to bear for the rest of her life.

It’s an astounding thing. Or rather, the indifference of the government (and the “safety” lobby) is an astounding thing. The same government that will often insist if it saves even one life it’s worth whatever it costs is indifferent when lives are taken – by something the government has decided is worth more than “saving lives.”

The indifference to not only the dangers of “self-driving cars” but also the fact that the term is grossly misleading can probably be explained by the government’s finger-licking enthusiasm for taking people out of the driver’s seat. “Self-driving” cars aren’t “autonomous.” Those would be the cars under our control.

The ones that do what we want.

“Autonomous” cars will do what the programmers want.

We’ll be taken for a ride – literally as well as metaphorically. And if some people get run over along the way, it’s a price well worth paying – for those who will be in charge of taking us for that ride.

. . .

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  1. Mercedes’ new self driving systems accept legal liability while they are driving. As they get better, this will happen more.

    This approach of selling an L3 system but having it legally certified as an L2 system to pass liability to the driver is a cheap trick by the lawyers (pioneered by Tesla) to get the systems out without regulatory scrutiny around safety.

  2. Looking at his “hairdo” I’d say yeah, toss him in the clink. I never claimed to be 100% Libertarian. Her, we don’t have to worry about. Stupidity has consequences.

  3. Most everyone here has probably seen the short “Design for Dreaming” to promote GM’s Motorama in 1956. If not here’s a link to the MST3K version, which is much more entertaining:


    Around 7:15, after the new for ’56 cars are introduced, they announce the “turbine powered” Firebird II. I actually saw this concept (without engine) in the Henry Ford museum. As Harley Earl fever dream of a film enters its climax, the couple drive the Firebird off into the sunset on a high tech elevated (empty) highway. But before that happens the man must get clearance from a “control tower.” Once on the highway there’s what seems to be highly regulated traffic, all driving the same speed and maintaining perfect seperation (since they’re slot cars that’s pretty easy to do), implying an autopilot. All the roads are elevated, nothing at ground level.

    Automation is going to have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Or at least everyone will be under very tight control by an authority before even considering it. Autopilots on planes is, as you say, a fairly easy process, but even in the airspace with a relatively few vehicles it is hard enough. And ATC becomes overwhelmed almost instantly when there’s any volume (just watch some of the videos from Oshkosh to see how), and that’s with human pilots flying manually and highly inspired to not crash into each other. ATC instructs planes where to fly, how fast and how high. The pilot can request to override but had better be prepared for a call from the local FAA field office when he lands. And ignoring ATC instructions can get you into a hell of a pickle.

  4. I watched that video of the accident, and even if Rafaela Vasquez had had her hands and feet on the car’s controls, I don’t see how she could’ve avoided the impact. Elaine Herzberg wasn’t even VISIBLE until immediately before impact! I just watched the tape again, and Vasquez had, at most, a second to see Herzberg. Is that even enough time for her to realize that there’s a problem that must be dealt with now? Isn’t reaction distance part of the overall stopping distance when braking? What’s the average driver’s reaction time, 3/4 of a second? The best Vasquez could’ve done is hit the brake, but with so little time (1/4 of a second) before impact, how much speed could’ve been scrubbed off prior to impact?

    To ask those questions is to answer them. To charge her with anything is BS, IMO. Even if she’d been fully alert and engaged, Vasquez would’ve barely had time to get her foot on the brake pedal! Again, the average driver’s reaction time (i.e. the time to realize that there’s a problem and to deal with it by hitting the brakes) is 3/4 of a second. When reviewing the tape, Elaine Herzberg was visible for, at most, a second. With that in mind, would the result have been any different had Vasquez been fully engaged? I don’t see how.

    Then, we must ask more inconvenient questions. Such as, WTF was Elaine Herzberg THINKING when crossing a multi-lane, heavy traffic roadway? What was she thinking? Why cross a four lane, high speed roadway or highway? Why do so where there is no traffic signal or crosswalk? Why do so where there aren’t any streetlights? Finally, why cross with NO urgency whatsoever? When viewing the tape, it’s obvious that Elaine Herzberg is just slowly walking her bike across the road; it’s clear that there’s no urgency for her to expedite crossing a highly traveled, high speed roadway. In light of that, doesn’t SHE bear some responsibility for her death?

    • Elaine Herzberg could have been suicidal and completed the goal.

      Sometimes, people don’t pay attention and accidents happen.

      The driver of a pickup truck struck a train at a crossing. The driver survived, the engineer walked up to the accident victim, grabbed him by his hair and said, “See, that’s what you get for hitting my train.”

      A horse was standing on the railroad tracks, unfortunately, a train came along at 60 mph, the horse was chopped in half. The stuff you see when you are working fool in this world.

      Look both ways, always obey traffic signs, railroad crossing signs are there for a reason.

      Another accident victim I saw some 40 years ago now, a deceased body was motionless in the center of the Pacific Coast Highway south of Seattle.

      A woman was carrying a bag of groceries at night, had a dark coat on, the driver of the car didn’t see her, she hit the pavement immediately. Happened probably 50 years ago by now.

      Didn’t have a chance to react, the driver couldn’t avoid the accident.

      Do not cross busy streets willy nilly, how you can die unexpectedly and suddenly.

      You witness accidents, you don’t want to, but they happen.

  5. I just don’t get the whole point of “self driving” vehicles; if you really don’t want to drive there are lots of options. Bus/mass transit, Lyft/Uber, taxi, chauffeur driven limo if you’ve got the bucks for it. The PTB are pushing the tech for this so eventually “your” car will lock you in and deliver you to the FEMA camp if your CCP style social credit score drops too low.

  6. Even if the thing is completely “self driving” autonomous and comes without a steering wheel, it’s still going to be “incumbent on the ‘driver'” or passenger to be responsible for its operation. You wait. That’s what they are going to come up with.

    It’s like those “terms of service” that no sane person reads anymore.

    We live in a two tiered bananna republic justice system. Hold on, no insult meant to bananna republics. You know that if you charge up one of those pieces of crap, you’re responsible.

    Liability is shifted to the individual regardless of who causes the issue. If it hasn’t been legislated, it will be so adjudicated in a court of “laaaaaw.”

    I hate this country.

    • Privatize the profits, socialize the losses. Same as ever. This isn’t capitalism, it’s fascism. And we have been living under fascism (for the most part without realizing it) for a very long time.

      Fascist regimes always end, and always do so in ignominy.

      • The people that get the brunt of the “collapse” are every day working Americans of all classes, shapes, colors, etc. It’s not these elite dweezels. I’m sick of the whole thing. So, a machine goes and hits someone and the individual is responsible. I saw that type of crap years ago when in the 1980’s they hold bar owners repsonsible when someone gets behind the wheel, drives 50 miles and hits a street walker at night. How did the bar owner have anything to do with it? And there are pointy headed drunk morons at bars who think that the bar tender should absolutely know when to stop serving people liquor. Beam me up.

  7. “Driving – on the road – is much more fraught with variables than flying.”

    I’d say the more important difference is separation. On the “open road,” planes must be separated vertically by at least a thousand feet, and sometimes twice that. If the automation malfunctions, pilots have a lot of time to react relative to a similar glitch in a car, where other vehicles or the edge of the road might be just feet away.
    Some airliners can autoland on a runway that is equipped for it, but that feature is used mainly in low-visibility conditions to decrease the minimum height at which the pilots must either be able to see the runway or execute a go-around. And once the plane’s wheels touch down, the pilot flying has to keep it on the centerline the old-fashioned way, with the rudder pedals.
    As far as I know, there is no such thing as “auto-taxi.” When planes are on the ground and close to one another, there is no substitute for a human hand on the tiller.

  8. The ‘safety’ on a gun isn’t responsible for the safety of the gun. It’s the owner’s responsibility from the time he picks it up until the bullet is rendered inert downrange or it is properly unloaded, stored, etc.

    Unlike car manufactures, gun producers don’t market the safety switch as a substitute for individual responsibility and common sense.

  9. The lady walking the bike….didn’t her parents ever teach her not to walk out in front of vehicles? And wearing dark clothing in the dead of night? How did she expect anyone to see her? Even if that driver was paying attention, they would not have seen this pedestrian until it was too late. I agree with Mark-she had lousy representation.

    • Hi Shadow (and Mark) –

      I agree with you guys; but I think the point stands regarding “self driving” cars. There have been other accidents involving them – and will be, again. Of course, accidents happen. But when they do, it’s easier to determine who was at fault when the car wasn’t driving.

  10. Thanks for providing an update on the self driving Uber crash/death story from 2018. Looks like ‘po people will always pay more for “crimes” than the DIPs (demons in power). [Bidens I am looking at you.]

    I guess Vasquez should be thankful she only got convicted for endangerment. Sad story for both human victims.

    Back before the Covid Me-Too Freakout, the self driving car craze was being pushed by the MSM, big time. The MSM gushed over self driving cars, saying the future would free Americans from the tedium of driving. I saw many futuristic videos and mockups of humans sitting in the backseat of a self driving car taking a snooze, as the “self driving car” drove the lowly humans to their destination (usually a coffee shop in the middle of a 15 minute city).

    Then bam! a self driving car hit and killed a pedestrian.


    The MSM no longer seemed to care about self driving cars, and of course the Covid Me-Too Freakout took over and self driving cars were banished into the dustbin of history.

    I was hoping self driving cars would actually work and I could finally not have to drive in snow, or pay insurance (seeing as I am not driving the car, I am only riding in the car). But alas, it was all only a massive grift. Grifting has become Americans only way to earn a living, seeing as most of manufacturing and tech jobs have been shipped overseas to China decades ago. But nobody cares about *that* as long as they get cheap crap from China (alas the cheap crap is getting more expensive, funny how that works).

    After the self driving car crash/death in Phoenix, the self driving “technology” stalled, and many self driving startups quietly shuttered their doors.

    Now the MSM is on to electric cars. Electric cars the average American cannot afford and are impractical for the average distances many Americans drive. Let us not even talk about the “Power Grid” in America being able to support the millions of electric cars being charged everyday all day.

    There will never be true self driving cars, where a human never has to “take the wheel” and be absolved of all responsibilities of driving. The insurance mafia will never allow it. Back during the self driving craze of 2016-2018, I posted many comments on online forums and I asked “how will the insurance work with self driving cars?”


    No one ever gave me an answer. Just the typical “it will work itself out” response.

    Guess it didn’t work itself out. RIP self driving cars. You were never missed.

  11. Everything you say about “self-driving” cars is true, Eric.


    Watch the video in slow motion, Herzberg died from her own stupidity.

    She crossed the road in a dark area just past the street lights which is going to make it exceptionally difficult for a driver to see beyond. This fact alone should exonerate Vasquez. It was a multi-lane highway and the car seems to be going at least 50mph. Her shoes become visible about 100′ from impact. Her black jacket completes the scenario. She made the decision to cross the road at such a point dressed in that manner. She seems to be the typical bicycle rider expecting the world to watch out for them regardless of their own stupidity.

    No competent driver is going to be frozen focused straight ahead. You move your eyes to scan mirrors and the surrounding area. Vasquez had less than a second from the shoes becoming slightly visible to avoid the strolling bicyclist.

    Vasquez had lousy legal representation.

    • Indeed, I typically check mirrors, instrument cluster, and the roadside on about a ten second cycle. If she had been focused on the road ahead, she may still have been unable to avoid the collision. The shoes appear, the driver thinks “what’s that”, then the rest of the the object appears and I don’t think many average drivers could have avoided impact, even if focused straight ahead.

      • John,

        I concur. Even if Rafaela Vasquez had been fully engaged, the outcome would’ve been the same. One, Elaine Herzberg, the cyclist, was visible for, at most, a second. Two, she crossed the roadway where there was no signal or crosswalk. Three, she crossed where there wasn’t even a streetlight to illuminate her. Four, the average driver’s reaction time is 3/4 of a second; i.e. 3/4 of that second when Herzberg was visible would constitute the time it took Vasquez to realize that there was a problem. Five, at most, the brakes would’ve been applied for 1/4 of a second, which begs an obvious question: how much speed would’ve been scrubbed off prior to impact? Six, Herzberg was dressed in mostly dark clothing; both her pants and jacket were dark-hardly conducive to being visible at night. Seven, the bicycle didn’t appear to have any lights or reflectors on it; there was no flash of the reflectors from the bike’s wheels. What happened to them? The only conclusion one could draw is that the cyclist wasn’t taking proper precautions for night riding, and therefore bears responsibility for her death. I don’t see what Rafaela Vasquez, the driver, could’ve prevented Elaine Herzberg’s death even if she were fully engaged in driving her car that night.

  12. Phone. Texting.

    Texas state-wide law prohibits texting while driving, but cities have discovered that tighter laws can be lucrative revenue streams since the Governor and Legislature lack the political will to establish an enforcement standard.

    Austin enacted a $500 fine for simply touching portable electronic devices while the vehicle is in motion, and that would make the driver in this case liable.

    • “portable electronic device” … hm. I guess that “Austin” is okay with people mirroring their phone on one of those flat screens on every new auto built since 2018 or so. I really hate these assholes. I want to run over every last breathing politician alive.

      • The “portable electronic device” standard allows the heroes to set up what I call “Waze traps” on the overpass across the freeway, just in side the city limits northbound on I35. 2-3 heroes with binoculars scan the road for people touching electronic devices and then dispatch motorcycle troopers to deal with the scofflaws.

        I haven’t seen it much lately, but Austin PD did it frequently when the law was new.

        Ironically, what I believe motivated the law initially was not a desire for a new source of revenue as much as the Ed Bolian Cannonball record in 2013, which made law enforcement wake up to the power of the social mapping applications ability to report speed traps in real time.

        The traditional Cannonball routes cross Texas to some degree. Law enforcement here seemed to go crazy that Fall in the wake of the new record.

        • I don’t understand how anyone could set any kind of new record in Tejas. It is larely an overcrowded rathole of a place with freeway exits being overrun with fast food eating establishments, discount shopping, Buccees and billboards.

          On parts of I-45, in “rural” areas, traffic inexplicably comes to a complete halt on 75 mph stretches of highway. Presumably because of being overrun with traffic. Fortunately, I know several escape routes across the freeway.

          I-10 and I 20 are the same from just west of SA to the Tx/LA state line and West of Abilene to the state line TX LA line. I can’t speak for west of SA because I’ve never traveled that route.

  13. How hard does the “autonomous” car fight you for control if you do try to take over? I’ve only had one brief experience with a small degree of “autonomy”, and it was very unnerving. Driving a newly purchased 08 Miata home from the dealer, every curve I took I got feedback from the Traction Control. I assume that I was going fast enough for the rear tires to slip just a little bit. At which time the TC kept trying to “fix it”. Which gave me false feedback. Which felt like I had a low tire or something. I stopped and checked the tires, no problem. Found it in the manual when I got home, found the off switch, which has to be turned off every time you start the car. Problem solved.

    • I turned off the “Lane Departure Assist” in my 2018 Camry the first night I owned the car, and it hasn’t been on since.

      Driving home from the dealership, I brushed the line changing into a turn lane at a light, and the car violently shook the steering wheel, as if it thought that I was asleep.

      Never again. Every time I took the car in for the “free” maintenance, however, I noticed the techs accessed the saaafety settings. Once they even reactivated everything I turned off, but, after calling and ripping the service manager, that never happened again.

      • Or worse, if you change lanes on purpose without using your turn signal, the car fights you. Why would use a turn signal if you are the only car on the road?

        • Hello, Horst. In these parts, when the roads are snowy and icy for nine months, we do not care where the lines are on the road (and neither do the state troopers), we drive where the roads are clear. When my old car was getting repaired, I drove a Toyota Forerunner. Nice vehicle, and it was a trip being in the nose bleed section. But even with the safety crap turned off, it still wanted to fight me. It was Winter, and yes, it had snowed. So, like everyone else, I was driving on the edge of the road where it was clear of ice and snow. The safety crap stuff did not like it much, and it still kept trying to steer me to the middle of my lane. I could feel it fighting me (through the steering wheel, even with it turned off! It is scary to think it would try to fight me when I try to avoid hitting a moose on the road.


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