Death by Car

capitalism's drive to carmageddon: news & comments

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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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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Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

fatal crashIn yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, Maureen Dowd reported on her visit to the Ford Motor Company. Dowd, it seems, had previously questioned the car capitalists’ plans to further heighten the inherent danger of operating their Earth-destroying waste machines by building more personal electronic gadgetry into dashboards. Invited to come to Detroit for a dose of propaganda, Dowd went and collected this amazing excuse:

Over lunch at Ford, Sue Cischke, a dynamic company executive, argued that even before cellphones and iPods, drivers were in danger of distraction from reaching for a briefcase or shooing away a bee.

“Telling younger people not to use a cellphone is almost like saying, ‘Don’t breathe,’ ” she said.

Given that Americans are addicted to Web access and tech toys, she said, it will never work to simply ban them. “So we’ve got to figure out how we make people safer,” she said, “and the more people can just talk to their car like they’re talking to a passenger, the more useful it would be.”

Yes, and making cellphoning while driving easier and cooler and more mechanically suggested is also a great way of ensuring that thousands upon thousands of young people will indeed stop breathing, for good.

All for a profit, of course, so onward they roll. They’ve got to, after all.

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lahood Probably because the system needs a figurehead looking thoughtful, U.S. Transportation Secretaries in recent decades have not been nearly as barbarous as the cars-first reality over which they nominally preside. Ray LaHood, a Republican who once refused to participate in Newt Gingrich’s moronic stunts, is the current SOT. As far as is possible, he is an honest and decent one, too.

Take the latest news from LaHood:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says motorists are distracted by any use of mobile phones while driving – even when hands free – and his department has begun to do research that could lead him to call for a total ban, Bloomberg reports.

LaHood says his concerns include vehicle information systems such as Ford’s (F) Sync and General Motors‘ OnStar.

“I don’t want people talking on phones, having them up to their ear or texting while they’re driving,’ LaHood said. “We need a lot better research on other distractions,” including Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calls and the in-car systems, he said.

LaHood said even hands-free conversations are a “cognitive distraction.” He plans to meet with the heads the car companies on gaining their competition to limit distracted driving.

The Transportation Secretary is none-too-keen on OnStar’s experimentation with features that would allow voice updates of Facebook and Twitter.

“I’m absolutely opposed to all of that,” LaHood said. “That would be the biggest distraction of all. All of that is well beyond the idea that you’re really trying to avoid distracted driving.”

LaHood, in other words, is refusing to ignore the facts, despite automotive-industrial capitalists’ insistence on such.

Of course, being the chief public official supposedly in charge of transportation policy, LaHood’s ability to actually do anything to enforce his findings is pathetically tiny.  As reported by Automotive News, the federal Department of Transportation can only offer enticements, adoption of which is left up to individual states (note to the uninformed and non-U.S. residents: in the USA, the influence of money and capitalism over politics, horrendous as it is at the national level, is even stronger at the state level):

The Transportation Department’s powers to push further limits on distracted driving range from exhortations to setting standards backed by the federal government’s financial clout. The government previously awarded highway aid to states based on whether they raised the legal drinking age to 21 or required seatbelt use.

In any event, this is the kind of limited reform that is both woefully and even sinfully inadequate (in 2009 distracted driving was a factor in 5474 crash deaths out of a total of 33,808; that’s only 16 percent) and vitally important.  We here at DbC urge support for Secretary LaHood and groups like this one on this issue.  There are many thousands of  lives in the balance.

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