Death by Car

capitalism's drive to carmageddon: news & comments

“As the father of a daughter who just turned 16, any new technology that makes driving safer is important to me,” he said.

Driving, inherently massively dangerous, remains beyond question, even against such a supposedly sacred standard.

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C. Wright Mills complained of the U.S. left’s “liberal practicality,” by which he meant a tendency to sell out at the first chance, a “kind of democratic opportunism.”

quixote Ralph Nader, for all his upsides, is a major case-in-point, and precisely in the area that delivered him his fame — cars.

Consider the pathetic lawsuit just filed by Public Citizen and allies. The goal? To force car capitalists to make back-up cameras standard on all car models sold in the United States. The alleged reason? Such cameras “would prevent 95 to 112 deaths and 7,072 to 8,374 injuries each year.”

Now, let’s take 112 deaths as a real number. In 2012, a total of 34,080 people were killed in U.S. automotive collisions. 112 divided by 34,080 equals 0.003. That’s three-tenths of one percent.

And, of course, one major question is how much good a back-up camera actually does. If a child darts in front or back of a moving car, how much does the camera speed driver reaction time? It certain can’t be 100%, and might well be close to zero. Meanwhile, according to the Naderian logic of lawsuit, once the cameras are mandatory, the inherent dangers of automobiles to darting children are just fine and dandy.

Such tragi-comic flea-fucking, is, alas, the beginning, middle, and end of what passes for transportation militancy in this market totalitarian society, despite the times.

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Stress Machines

Along with bogus history, the overclass pushers of cars-first transportation constantly insist that cars are freedom machines and that we all love them, end of story, without qualification.

In reality, researchers are finding that routine driving is highly stressful, and brings frequent exposure to spikes of stress comparable to those generated in extreme sports (and presumably the onset of major life crises):

MIT designed a series of experiments that measure stress and frustration during real-world driving tasks, which saw volunteers put behind the wheel and wired up to computers with psychological sensors plus face- and body-tracking technologies. GPS was used to track the vehicle’s location and speed while in-cabin cameras monitored the driver’s facial expressions and his or her view through the windshield.

To put the collected data into perspective, it was compared with other routine and not-so-routine tasks. “In addition to daily driving conditions, we are measuring stress levels under a variety of daily activities: at home, in the office, while having breakfast or attending a lecture at MIT. We found that certain driving situations can be one of the most stressful activities in our lives,” said Kael Greco, project leader, MIT SENSEable City Laboratory.

One of the biggest surprises came when the stress levels of driving were compared to those generated from partaking in extreme sports. “The data we received is fascinating. One study showed that getting side swiped by an oncoming car can be almost as stressful as jumping out of a plane,” said Filip Brabec, director of product management, Audi of America.

Surprisingly, this research is actually being publicized by Volkwagen’s Audi subsidiary, no doubt in the hope of making itself look like the bleeding edge. Of course, no amount of engineering is going to take the inherent stress out of operating an independently steered metal box at high speeds across the paths of thousands of other such operators.

In any event, this useful video shows the elevated baseline stress level of driving a car in America. Watch for the graph:

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Hands-Free Murder

skullcar Turns out writing letters while operating an automobile is an especially terrible idea. The New York Times today reports:

The research was led by David Strayer, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah who for two decades has applied the principles of attention science to driver behavior. His research has showed, for example, that talking on a phone while driving creates the same level of crash risk as someone with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level, the legal level for intoxication across the country.

In this latest study, he and a team of researchers compared the impact on drivers of different activities, including listening to a book on tape or the radio, and talking on a hand-held phone or hands-free phone.

The researchers compared how the subjects performed when they were not driving with two other conditions: when using a driver simulator and in a car equipped with tools aimed at measuring how well they drove. The researchers used eye-scanning technology to see where driver attention was focused and also measured the electrical activity in the brain.

Mr. Strayer said the results were consistent across all the tests in finding that speech-to-text technology caused a higher level of cognitive distraction than any of the other activities. The research showed, for instance, that the person interacting with speech to text was less likely than in other activities to scan a crosswalk for pedestrians. And that driver showed lowered activity in networks of the brain associated with driving, indicating that those networks were impaired by the interaction with the technology.

In a string of claims straight out of the old tobacco corporation playbook, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers lies about being “concerned,” obfuscates the issue, and, of course, finally excuses its members:

“We are concerned about any study that suggests that hand-held phones are comparably risky to the hands-free systems we are putting in our vehicles,” said Gloria Bergquist, the vice president for public affairs at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington, adding that carmakers are trying to keep consumers connected without them having to use their hand-held phones while driving.

“It is a connected society, and people want to be connected in their car just as they are in their home or wherever they may be,” she said.

What the AAM spokeswhore doesn’t mention is that built-in hands-free devices are just so many more parts to a car, each of which is a profit center. The overclass, you see, wants to sell these parts. And it will.

It’s mass murder for money, plain and simple. The corporate veil makes it all normal and natural.

The automakers aren’t likely to slow down development of the technology unless the law forbids it [cue sound of cats laughing], said Ronald Montoya, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com, a research firm.

“They’re not going to pause based on this research,” he said.

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No Words Needed

bugcrash

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“Safety Issues”

grind

In a statement, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland stressed vigilance: “Even as we celebrate [yes, he said "celebrate"] the progress we’ve made in recent years, we must remain focused on addressing the safety issues that are continuing to claim more than 30,000 lives each year.”

“The safety issues” of which Administrator Strickland speaks? “Those” would be the automobile itself, would “they” not?

As for “the progress we’ve made in recent years,” that is otherwise known as the Great Recession.

Look for a huge spike in U.S. traffic deaths in 2012. Should be another lesson in Big Brotherism when they make that jump official.

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Big Brother Medical School

vancrash “The International Center for Automotive Medicine.” Savor the flavor of that for a few seconds.

Bold medical scientists, having sworn “I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure,” are now dedicating themselves, with the generous support of automotive capitalists, to tweaking the bandages with which they so lucratively adorn the gaping public health wound that is cars-first transportation.

One might contrast the oath to prevention with the statement-of-purpose governing ICAM:

Our team at the International Center of Automotive Medicine is uniquely positioned to marry the exceptional medical, engineering, and educational resources of the University of Michigan with the unmatched automotive technical and industrial resources of southeast Michigan. The center’s mission is to foster synergistic research between medical specialties, and biomedical and automotive engineering-efforts that translates quickly into new technologies, medical treatments, education, and policies that prevent injuries and improve care.

Building a (slightly) better guillotine! Thank you again, you saints in surgical garb! Keep on “marrying” the Grim Reaper, and we’ll keep on shoveling mountains of cash your way.

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crash In the not-necessarily-news department, guess what the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says about its members’ move to put such vital activities as Facebook and Twitter on the dashboards of future car models, despite the well-proven fact that 10 percent of all automotive crashes, including the tens of thousands of fatal ones each year, are already caused by distracted driving:

“They’re going to do those things whether it’s through the vehicle or through a handheld electronic that they bring with them in the car,” [AAM PR agent Wade] Newton said.

Yes, and by the same logic, we know for sure that people are going to drink alcohol and then drive cars. So, what’s the harm in having a keg-cooler and drinking hose come stock in each new auto? After all, they’re going to do those things whether it’s through the vehicle or through a handheld bottle that they bring with them in the car.

Never fear, though! Our valiant regulators are busy striking pained poses as the mass murder proceeds.

“If the auto manufacturers focused as much on safety as they do on marketing their products, we would save a lot of lives,” National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman.

Yes, how true. Indeed, you might say we’d have saved 32,885 lives in 2010 alone, if, as in Ms. Hersman’s fantasy, car capitalists weren’t car capitalists.

Then there’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has obviously abandoned any glimmer of principle he once possessed on this issue:

“We don’t have to choose between safety and technology,” LaHood now says, parroting the industry’s defiant Big Brotherism.

Thank the gods we have President Obama… Oh, wait.

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Good News!

ossuary It’s that time of the year again — the day the Orwellianly-named National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announces its official count of the number of people who died in U.S. automotive collisions last calendar year.

As always, the news this year is good: In 2010, only 32,885 people were killed in car crashes! Isn’t that heart-warming?

How is this good news, you ask? What would we be saying if 2,740 among us were dying each month in war, terrorism, or some other kind of accident? Would those deaths ever be reported as happily reduced? Or would the absolute number be portrayed as a scandal, a dire emergency, or an outrage?

Would we tolerate a governmental agency supposedly charged with reducing the deaths instead playing logical tricks with the numbers — say by reporting that, while a war was killing 2,740 people a month, there were fewer deaths per enemy bullet fired? No? Then why is the NHTSA’s habit of reporting automotive crash deaths as a number per mile driven — as if what matters is the risk per distance, rather that the risk per day — not taken as its own outrage?

The answer, of course, is that because cars-first transportation is the lifeblood of corporate capitalism, its inherent dangers simply must be packaged in a favorable light, the millions of dead be damned.

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Manslaughter is Hilarious

sync In another piece of unsurprising news, AOL Autos reports that the voice-command media-control systems that car corporations and their various partners are pushing are quite crappy.

Only the most sophisticated systems work consistently. And even the best ones have some persistent flaws: Women’s voices can be tricky for the technology to decipher, especially when using navigation, causing many female drivers to give up trying. Drivers with foreign accents say it won’t work for them. Even drivers with thick regional accents can have trouble.

Many issues with women’s voices could be fixed if female drivers were willing to sit through lengthy training, [car capitalist] Tom Schalk says. Women could be taught to speak louder, and direct their voices towards the microphone. But he admits that most customers don’t have the patience to figure it out, and are then easily discouraged. Even if a system successfully works 85 to 90 percent of the time, many drivers grow frustrated and call it a failure.

fatal crashOf course, the real problem with voice-commanding media devices is that it is a form of knowing mass murder by car capitalists, as the research has demonstrated.

Safety advocates like the Governors Highway Safety Association say drivers are distracted by a growing number of gadgets that cause them to look away from the road, such as cellphones, MP3 players and GPS devices. They believe drivers’ divided attention is behind an increase in fatal accidents caused by distracted driving: Distracted driving was a factor in 16 percent of all fatal accidents in 2009, up from 10 percent in 2005, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Six percent of 2009′s U.S. auto-crash deaths, by the way, is 2,028.

The industrialists’ response to the blatant facts?  The usual: the heroin dealer’s argument:

[S]afety advocates such as Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, argue that too often, things go wrong, leaving drivers tinkering with display screens instead of watching the road.

“Why do we need to be doing this?” asks Adkins. “Driving is a really complex task; you have to be able to react to what other cars are doing. If you’re fiddling with these systems, it can be the difference between life and death.”

But the auto industry argues that drivers will never put away their phones and other devices, so voice-activated technology is the only option to keep drivers focused on the road.

In an attempt to make the technology less distracting, software developers are trying to make the process more natural. Ideally, drivers would feel like they are talking to a passenger in the car, says Tom Schalk, vice president of voice technology for auto supplier ATX Group.

Schalk says drivers will bring technology into their cars, even if it’s legally banned. They’ll continue talking on cellphones and twiddling with their GPS systems, looking away from the road while doing it.

The federal government’s approach to such felonious excuses?

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has met with the top executives at seven car companies, including General Motors, Ford, Toyota, and Honda, to discuss what the companies can do to keep distractions at a minimum.

LaHood won’t say whether he thinks voice recognition technology will solve the problem. He’s leaving it up to the industry to figure that out.

“We’re hoping that they’ll put their creative juices to work in helping us solve this very, very serious and dangerous problem,” he said during a recent press conference.

Yes, creative juices.

If it weren’t for the refusal to pass the obvious laws banning all telephony and texting while driving, the use of things like Ford Sync would also be manslaughter, from the point of view of the driver.

As it stands, the sponsored almost-manslaughter is a source of entertainment to some:

But sometimes the mistakes just turn into laughter. Anthony Castillo has a Ford Fusion, and generally loves the SYNC system. But when he wants to make his kids laugh, he tells it to call his wife, Amy.

Instead, it calls someone from Castillo’s phone book named Peter Schkeeper.

“It gets them laughing every time,” Amy Castillo says.

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