The shift to self-driving vehicles may lead to something we can’t quite envision now…

April 17, 2017

So where is this demand for self-driving cars?

I keep reading that automakers are racing to get them on the market but I have also read there is little apparent demand for them at this time.

On the other hand, after a couple of decades of driving a big truck and many more driving my own car I’m not wild about driving.

I am not surprised that some new way of getting around is on the horizon. In fact I am surprised that for all the advances in technology in general and all the advances within the automotive industry we are still driving cars powered by internal combustion engines that despite all our new gadgets don’t seem to be all that far away from those driven say in the 1930s or ’40s or even before.

We are not flying around in miniature space crafts like in the old George Jetson cartoons of the ’60s. And here we are in 2017 getting around about the same as we did in 1960.

Yeah, I imagine it is about time for a major change, something akin to the horse and buggy to the automobile, so actually the self-driving car somehow does not seem all that revolutionary.

But something I cannot wrap my head around is how we are going to get along in the transition, with a combination of self-driving cars and manually-driven ones. There’s going to be a lot of confusion and a lot of lawsuits and maybe a lot of crashes.

The liability in such cases is uncertain at this time. We don’t have a history yet so what is the law supposed to draw on?

Of course as a truck driver I should be concerned about self-driving vehicles taking my job. Well I am already past retirement age, but still working. I’m not too concerned. I know it’s coming, there are already some test cases.

But whether it’s on the commercial end or the consumer end I’m thinking the ultimate transition will be something we cannot quite envision yet and will just evolve.

In the meantime with various “driver assist” features on cars and in the offing we are moving into a full takeover by technology I suppose.

I have read that younger people are not as tied to the automobile-driving way of life as people have been since say the 1920s when Henry Ford made it possible for darn near anyone to buy a Model T.

Today the cost of cars is so prohibitive that the supposed freedom they offer (basically freedom of movement) is no longer so attractive or even possible for many.

On the other hand, if you live away from the major metropolitan areas and mass transit, a private vehicle is almost a necessity.

Well I don’t know where all of this is going to wind up but it would be nice to retain our freedom of movement but in a much more economical and environmentally sound way. And I think that is likely within the offing, it is just hard to grasp from our vantage point.


The hapless passenger might have used bad judgment but United Airlines was horrid in its violent action; we need better, safer police procedures…

April 13, 2017

I’m not a frequent flier but for the past three years I have taken vacations via the airways and plan to take another one this year. I now have a heads up on which airline NOT to use — United Airlines.

And of course I am referring to that horrific video of a passenger being dragged off a plane and bloodied and injured in the process (including a broken nose and loss of two teeth) for failing to give up his seat for United employees. A story said he will be getting some “reconstructive surgery”.

The victim is Dr. David Dao, 69, originally of Vietnam, but living in the U.S. for decades. He was trying to take a flight from Chicago to Louisville in order to get back to his home.

So anyone reading this has likely seen the video that went viral on social media.

And of course there is always more to the story — some of it true and some not and often we never get the full story or never even try.

Sometimes I think videos with their limited-in-time view and tunnel vision are unfair and inaccurate even if they are a live shot of an incident. But in this case I don’t think one needs to know more, that is none of us general observers.

Airlines routinely as a business practice over-book their flights to try to ensure they have a full (and profitable) load and when they wind up short of seats bump passengers off. In this case the airline apparently needed to move some of its crew members and bumped paying passengers off with some type of incentives — free flying miles, whatever.

But the incentive it finally offered Dr. Dao, who refused to leave on his own, was violence.

The airline was way wrong in how it approached the matter. But maybe so was the passenger. I can certainly almost feel his frustration myself. But I kind of see it like that whole Black Lives Matter thing (and I don’t mean to make light of that). On the one hand, you have over-zealous police (or worse I know) and on the other hand, you have someone with the poor judgment to challenge police (airport police in this case). I mean if the victim is in the right, better to play it cool and fight it later. Stay alive and/or uninjured and live to fight another day.

And yet, even if the airline was within its rights it is incredible it would have such poor judgment or such a poor attitude as to commit such an affront to public decency and customer relations.

There just had to be a better way to handle things, even if it would take time. A calm negotiation by airline officials (they would not have needed to call police probably), it would seem, would have worked far better. The reports I read indicate that the airline had upped the ante in inducing others on the flight to give up their seats. So pay this guy more and save face, save the ultra-bad publicity of manhandling and seriously injuring a paying passenger and the falling stock prices (that resulted) and the untold loss of future potential customers who see that the skies of United are not at all friendly.

In one story, an expert on such matters said that among the mistakes the airline made were that it should have bumped the customers out of their seats before they got on the plane and that by calling in the airport police, a third party over which it ceded all control, let the whole thing get out of hand.

I was not there and did not see exactly how it went down even though I watched the video or videos. But one passenger said that while the uniformed police were calm and polite at first another man in plain clothes but with a badge came in and simply told the passenger to get off and then grabbed him — not at all diplomatic.

And then there was a story that contained some hint of character assassination of the victim, that he allegedly had been in trouble with authorities in the past. Well first of all that may not be true and second of all I don’t think it pertains here. As far as I know he was a paying customer and had not done anything to warrant being removed from the flight. Instead the airline decided it was more convenient for it to yank him off so it could get some crew members to where they needed to be.

Apparently this process of bumping passengers for the airline’s convenience is not unusual and most fliers are aware of it. The man would have used better judgment to comply as other passengers did for his own sake.

But the violence inflicted on an airline passenger by United is unforgivable and unacceptable.

The CEO of United initially refused to apologize and in fact lauded his people for acting correctly. But under pressure he relented and offered what some called nothing more than a forced apology after the public outcry.

Yeah, I won’t be flying United.

p.s.

Maybe in using the Black Lives Matter thing I was conflating one problem with another but I just meant two wrongs don’t make a right. It is generally in one’s best interest to comply with lawful authority and hash the rights and wrongs out later (realizing in racial incidents that has not always been possible). There have been some accusations of race in the United incident because the victim was Asian. But a lawyer he has hired said he did not see a race aspect here.

….And more. I thought about self-censoring myself and deleting the reference to Black Lives Matter because just after posting this I saw another viral video of a white police officer in Sacramento earlier this week accosting a black man for jaywalking. I watched the video, and as a I stated earlier, in videos you usually just see a limited vision in time and space as to what went down. The way it was presented it seemed a cop admonished a black guy for jaywalking and then for some unknown reason pushed the black man to the ground and began beating him. I think, I only think mind you, what basically happened is that the officer seeing the guy jaywalking in traffic saw the danger he posed to himself and others. And then the black guy might have made some comment (but I did not hear or see) and then the officer felt challenged and ordered the man down on the ground. Would you expect to be told to lie down on the ground for jaywalking? It’s too much for me to sort out but I am perplexed why all this is happening. In the meantime, when a cop orders you to do something I think the best judgment at the time is to comply. But we need to straighten all this out. I’ll confuse the issue more. A follow-up story said the victim in the incident I just mentioned had similar encounters with police elsewhere. Still, we need to get this all worked out. So anyway, I left the reference to Black Lives Matter in. I think all of our lives are threatened when lawful authority becomes the adversary to the citizenry as a whole, no matter what our color.

 

 


Guess we better move quick on safety, humans to be taken out of the driver’s seat…

May 15, 2015

UPDATE: (6:42 P.M. PDT, 5-15-15)

So just maybe the Amtrak engineer in this week’s train crash was distracted by a flying object — a rock thrown at the train while it travelled though a bad part of Philadelphia? Weapon(s) fire?The latest today was that new information, including communications from another train, is that a projectile of some type may have hit the train. Glass breakage on the train’s windshield seems consistent with that possibility. Other trains, including, reportedly, another one just before the one that crashed, have been hit.

–   –    –   –  –  –  –

The Daily Beast is now reporting from an unverified source that the train engineer may have been exhausted because he just came off a run where existing electronic devices were not working and he had to depend upon eyeballing all signals (apparently not easy to do and fraught with danger because views are sometimes obscured) and that he had not had enough rest. The report said that engineers are forced into speeding so they can have a break at one end of the line before they go back the other direction. Interesting — is that any way to run a railroad?

–  –  –  –  –  –  –

So while most of my post below talks about the need for responsible drivers, maybe the reality is the reality most modes of transportation will soon be remote-controlled (with maybe no drivers at all). So we will be dependent upon the sophistication and upkeep of the technology.

(About the rise of the robots, see story link at end of this post.)

For the past two decades I have been an over-the-road truck driver (did not get into that until well into my 40s). Coincidentally this afternoon while driving my own private vehicle (I’m on some time off) I was hearing a radio talk show where the speaker confidently predicted that soon (and I did not catch how soon he meant) virtually all cars and trucks will be driverless (hey it was radio and I did not catch what his credentials were, but I have been hearing and reading all of this so much lately that I believe it — like it or not (and mostly not).

I see a lot of issues with all that, not the least of which is so many people (not just drivers) will be thrown out of work.

But the issue at hand is what happened to that train. We don’t know for sure yet, but it seems parts of the puzzle are coming together.

————————————-

In all of this talk of why the Amtrak train that derailed after going more than 100 miles per hour in a 50-mile-per-hour zone in Philadelphia did not have an emergency electronic braking system it seems to me the main point is being missed:

Why was the train going in excess of 100 miles per hour going into a steep curve?

I’ve never driven a train — I mean I don’t know if somehow the throttle can get stuck and the engineer can’t immediately do anything about it.

The engineer’s lawyer says his client does not remember anything about what happened. Yeah, he might do well to stick to that story (and maybe he really does not).

But until it comes out what happened, it seems as if the engineer was negligent. So the problem is competent personnel to drive the train. Electronic safety devices certainly should be operational but unless we go to driver-less trains (and I am sure that is down the road like it is for everything else, or actually already here),  we need people who act responsibly.

There have been recent commuter train accidents in which the operators were texting or sleeping.

This distracted driver thing is a problem in all modes of surface transportation in this world of cell phones. And let’s not even talk about air — there we apparently have to worry about suicidal pilots who want to do away with themselves and take everyone with them — well pilot, I’m referring of course to the German Wings incident.

And then Republicans and Democrats or mass transit fans vs. not so mass transit fans, or Northeast Corridor lawmakers vs. non-Northeast Corridor lawmakers are bickering over Amtrak funding. In fact a congressional committee denied extra funding a day after the crash in Philadelphia.

There is the troubling story now that in the latest accident, in which at least eight people died, the train was equipped with an electronic braking system but it was not yet operational because congress failed to provide adequate funding and to mandate the necessary broadband access so Amtrak was having to negotiate with private entities.

There is still an open question as to why another safety system or systems on the train did not prevent the accident and why a safety device in the direction the train was traveling had not been installed and why Amtrak officials were not even aware of that until after the crash  — all of this kind of muddled here. I’m not into the  technical stuff but I can detect that there seems to be blame being traded back and forth with some blaming congress for lack of funding and others blaming Amtrak management for not using funding wisely. If only our government was more into doing things than playing the blame game, but that is in all life, I suppose.

I know Republicans, the ones most likely to oppose additional funding, are supposed to have good business sense, but when in comes to public safety I think it is hard to put a price on that.

But right now I just want to know why that train was going so fast.

P.s.

In the near future we won’t need to worry about human error. Of course none of us will have jobs. Read the following story and weep:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/books/review/rise-of-the-robots-and-shadow-work.html?hpw&rref=books&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well

 


Budget airline gives me pause; depressed co-pilot deadly…

March 26, 2015

It’s bad enough one has to worry about dangerous flying weather and mechanical malfunctions, and terrorists when flying in an airliner, now we may have to worry whether the person piloting the airplane is depressed.

The unconfirmed news today is that the co-pilot who investigators determined deliberately crashed a jet with 150 aboard (all dead now) into the French Alps had a bout with depression and had taken some time off from his flight training. But he seemed to have gotten better and was rated as fit to fly. He had been among the top in his class.

Well we don’t really know for sure about the depression thing — but that is the news today.

We do know, however, that the pilot was locked out of the cockpit after leaving to — I don’t know, use the restroom?

And how is it that the pilot can be locked out of the cockpit? Even if the other person meant no harm, the other person might become incapacitated.

While I understand the technology is such nowadays that it’s getting where modern jetliners nearly fly themselves with the pilots basically monitoring things, I think maybe safety procedures need to be reviewed.

I for one don’t want a pilotless plane, and I also want someone, and maybe more than one, with much experience at the controls. The co-pilot, who did not have a large amount of flying time, was left in charge.

After so many hijackings and terrorist actions in the sky there was a big deal about securing the cockpit from intrusion. But what if the danger is in the cockpit itself?

The airliner is question was operated by something called “Germanwings”, a “low-cost” or “budget” version of Lufthansa.

I’m not a frequent flyer to say the least — but I have been up there on numerous occasions and plan to be again (maybe). I have never flown Lufthansa, but kind of always wanted to. One reason is that I just like the name. Another is that it is German and I am partly of that heritage and it just seems that anything with the designation of “German” bespeaks quality — I mean the Germans have a reputation in quality, and craftsmanship, and science and technology. But the low-budget (or low-cost) part gives me pause. I don’t feel more secure if I am up there in something that is low-budget.

I’m sure Lufthansa officials are already trying to see if there is not something they can do to improve their quality check and fitness tests for pilots. I think the whole industry should.

Of course it is still early with a lot of unanswered questions. We really don’t know exactly how this happened — it could still be an act of terrorism. But the evidence from the flight recorder and other preliminary info points to a deliberate act by a co-pilot, who managed to either get the captain of the ship out of the cockpit or took advantage of his absence to do the unthinkable.

And it raises the question, when is someone with a history of depression ready to go back to normal work? And if the someone has people’s lives in his or her hands, is the person ever fit for the job? I don’t know.

Of course when we put a stigma on things like depression we in the process discourage treatment.

I’m just glad that I am not a frequent flyer and that I really don’t have to fly.

They say that flying in an airplane is far safer than driving your car. Just tell that to someone in a crashing airliner.

And I hope I don’t seem glib here: the sorrow that has to have engulfed loved ones, including parents of their teenage children who had been to Barcelona, is enough to break my own heart just imagining it.

I guess what I really mean is that we just can’t cut financial corners on airliner safety.

 


We need safety exits for commerical buses…

April 12, 2014

The sound bite from an interview of a student in that horrendous truck into bus crash at Orland, Ca. (happened Thursday evening) said that students had to break out a window for those fortunate ones who escaped death (ten people dead and many injured).

There were something like 48 people on board the bus (exact number I do not know), including high school age students from the Los Angeles area, along with adult chaperones. Both the truck and bus driver were among those killed.

It was a commercial tour bus (not a school bus). One wonders why there was not a safety exit and an easier and more expedient and even safer way of escaping. And now we are told the National Transportation and Safety Board recommended requirements for escape doors/windows way back in 1999 — but nothing has happened.

Money/profit beats safety much of the time.

No we can’t protect our children and ourselves from everything and we have to keep things in balance. It’s a dangerous world. But I think this proves something needs to be done.

The reports I have heard and read say that there were multiple explosions and fireballs and people from miles away felt something like an earthquake. How terrible for the poor souls trapped in the inferno. And of course how tragic for those injured (and even those not injured), and for those who lost friends and children and loved ones. Among the dead were even a couple in their 20s who had planned to marry soon. They had made that decision in Paris.

We don’t know yet (and it may be some time) what caused that truck to veer over the median. That may lead to other safety concerns.

And I am a truck driver myself. The most terrible thing can happen in a split second out on that roadway (and I travel that stretch constantly).

P.s.

And it occurs to me that the more safety guards they can install in medians between directions of travel the better. At the section in question I believe tall bushes are in the median. They are pleasant to look at but all they do is obscure vision and stop nothing from coming through. On some sections of freeway cable barriers have been installed. I think they can be effective (maybe not always, not sure).

 


Commuter train engineer may have been in a ‘daze’ (asleep), but this could happen to you if you drive…

December 3, 2013

Even professionals blow it. The latest news about the deadly commuter train crash in New York is that the engineer guiding the train may have fallen asleep, and that is why he failed to apply the brakes in time as he hit a curve at 82 mph where the speed limit is 30 mph.

There had been wonder at how the accident could have happened in that the train operator was a seasoned professional and had a reputation of being an exceedingly conscientious person. In initial reports he was quoted as saying the brakes did not work. But so far investigators indicate no mechanical problems were found. However the story is now that statements he made and his demeanor at the scene indicate that he may have been asleep — maybe the kind of sleep where it seems like you’re awake but you are not. Some reports say he told first responders he was in a “daze”.

Almost anyone who has driven a car or any vehicle knows what that is. It is of course the result of fatigue, but perhaps also the monotony of covering the same ground. No pun intended, but it is a wakeup call to all who conduct any kind vehicle — on the land or in the air. One has to be on top of his (her) game to safely drive (or fly an airplane, of course). There just is no room for distraction or loss of concentration.

I’m not in any way excusing the train engineer — and the investigation is not complete, so it would even be possible to find that some bizarre thing happened, some mechanical problem really did occur — but at this time it seems not.

I’ve spent the last decade and a half as a truck driver — so this hits home. But like I say, anyone who drives a car knows what this is all about.


NAFTA (and other such programs) could mean the outsourcing of my job and yours too…

October 20, 2011

I’m an American citizen born and raised and I make my living driving a truck on interstate routes. And here I thought maybe I had the one job safe from outsourcing. Wrong. Very few jobs are.

Now before I go any further, I have not lost my job, but if things go as planned American truck drivers will lose jobs.

The reason is a little publicized, although not altogether unreported, part of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA. It is a program to allow Mexican trucks into the U.S., and not just to let them deliver to spots on the border but well into the interior.

There had been a pilot program or programs previously, but then due to opposition within the United States it was shut down or at least postponed.

In retaliation, Mexico raised tariffs on various goods coming into that country.

But now it is reported the program is set to begin again.

But here is the deal, as far as I can see it:

Customers who pay for freight see this as a way to bring down freight rates and major over-the-road trucking companies would like to be able to recruit drivers right in Mexico. They would not even have to worry whether they are American citizens. Then they could pay substandard wages or at least reduce the pressure on themselves to keep wages in line with a decent standard of living under U.S. standards.

I read an editorial in the Dallas Morning News lauding the agreement. That editorial tried to make it sound as if the Mexican truck agreement would make things more efficient — goods would not have to transfer at the border and such. It also made it sound as if it was just organized labor against it.

Well I am not a Teamster and neither are most or all over-the-road truckers. But I do haul a lot of loads to and from the border. I like having my American job and do not want to give it up to those from without my country — I’m sure there are plenty of loads to haul in their own country.

Another laughable part of this whole arrangement, if it were not so serious, is that American trucks could go into Mexico. Oh sure, like I want to go into a completely lawless nation that not only has highway thieves, but corrupt law enforcement.

I talked to a Mexican truck driver once. He said that sometimes you drive down the highway in that country and the police pull you over and demand money (for no violation whatsoever). And we all know about the ongoing violence down there caused by the drug cartels — no one is safe.

Besides, I don’t want to even drive into peaceful Canada. I just want to stay right here in my own country and make a living.

Somehow I think there would still be the usual bureaucracy at the border for inspections and such. And while there may or may not be any increase in efficiency of hauling freight from a point in Mexico to within the U.S., any savings would be offset by the loss of American  jobs.

There is nothing wrong with dropping trade barriers in and of itself, but when we start outsourcing American jobs, that is another thing.

In addition, I have seen Mexican trucks on the border. They are not often in the best of shape. While supposedly these trucks will be inspected this side of the border, I am not sure the politics that allowed them to come in in the first place will not get in the way of thorough inspections.

In addition, allowing Mexican trucks to cross the border and proceed into the interior offers another way for drug cartels to smuggle their contraband into the U.S.

Our nation’s trade policies have made it so most everything is no longer made here; it is made elsewhere and shipped back in. Millions have lost their jobs that way.

Now they even want to outsource the American transportation system that brings those goods to us.

There is plenty of blame to go around; The history of NAFTA began with Republican president George H.W. Bush, and then I believe was eventually signed by Democrat Bill Clinton, carried on by Republican George W. Bush, and now Democrat Barrack Obama.

Thanks for doing what you can to keep me employed I say to all of these gentlemen and all of the legislators who had a hand in NAFTA,  but with friends like you I don‘t need enemies.

There is a current effort to delay and/or rescind the Mexican trucking program. I have contacted my congressman and U.S. senators to let them know my feelings.

But even if you are not a trucker, you can see how the powers that be care not whether you have a means to make a living or not.

P.s.

And once Mexican trucks are allowed into the interior they won’t just haul loads from a point in Mexico to a point in the U.S. and straight back. The reality of this business is that they will crisscross the nation in search of loads, just as all or most interstate trucking does.

Free trade done right would enrich the economies of both nations, creating jobs for the respective workers in those nations. This is not the way to do it.

P.s. P.s.

I have to admit that Canadian truckers have long run our roads. But Canada is more compatible with us due to its peaceful culture and rule of law and its stability, and we don’t need to add to the competition for American jobs now anyway.

P.s. P.s. P.s.

And I am not anti-Mexican. In fact I get along with Spanish speakers whom I deal with fine, especially the ones on the border. A lot of people have jobs now on both sides of the border thanks to our continued trade that pre-dated NAFTA. Why try to fix (or ruin) something that works for us in the U.S. (and Mexico).

And while I don’t think this story in the link I provide adequately covers things, it does give some points of view, not all of which I share: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/worldbusiness/first-mexican-truck-to-enter-us-in-coming-days-congressmen-say-program-puts-safety-at-risk/2011/10/19/gIQApnw3xL_story_1.html