How We Roll, Sept. 26: enough already with the self-driving car nonsense


Dept. of Dodgers: Culberson’s last dinger was two years ago against my Cincinnati Reds. I know that because instead of screaming and losing-his-mind like modern broadcasters, Vin Scully kept his cool and provided commentary that complimented the excitement on the field instead of distracting from it. Can’t say I’m a Dodger fan although I almost became one yesterday.

We’ll have a lot more to say about the Dodgers in coming days (yes, the Dodger Stadium Express will serve all playoff and World Series games), but in the meantime let’s note that some of baseball’s great legacy teams are officially in the post-season or soon-will-be: the Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox, Indians and Tigers with a chance of Cardinals and Giants. Nice!

One other thought: The thing about Vin Scully and some of the other long-time broadcasters is that in days of yore — like when I was a kid in the 1970s — there was no cable television and a lot of baseball games were not on television but were on radio. A lot of folks came to depend on the local radio announcers and newspapers as the way to follow their teams. As much as younger fans came to adore Scully for all the right reasons, I’m sure yesterday was a really hard one for the more senior fans. I know it’s going to be a tough day if/when Marty Brennaman ever hangs up his microphone in Cincy.

Exciting Government Grants!: 


Dept. of 13-days and counting: Until the NFC West-leading L.A. Rams’ next home game against the Buffalo Bills.

Dept. of Non-NFL experts: Attentive Source readers have likely obsessively listened to our 10-minute podcast that includes our Super Bowl predictions. Which continue to look good. Joe Lemon foresees a New England-Arizona matchup and the Pats look good; nothing against Jimmy Garappalo and Jacoby Brissett, but they look like they can win with an old toaster at QB. I selected the Vikings and Bengals. Minnesota looks great, with a stifling D, and the Bengals can play with anyone, but have to stop wilting late as they did versus the Steelers and Broncos.

Will self-driving cars really make cities safer? (Curbed LA)

Another way to make cities safer: enforce existing traffic laws! Credit: Elgin County Archives, via Flickr creative commons.

Another way to make cities safer: enforce existing traffic laws! Credit: Elgin County Archives, via Flickr creative commons.

The U.S. government earlier this month issued guidelines to carmakers on the development of autonomous vehicles. These were not regulations — rather issues the government wants addressed and says likely will be regulated. That led to a lot of excitement among advocates of self-driving cars. Curbed’s take:

The increase in traffic deaths over the last few years is due to the fact that Americans are driving more—overall vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is at an all-time high. And if 94 percent of crashes are caused by cars driven by humans, it seems like a fairly obvious way to reduce crashes is to reduce those vehicle miles driven by taking more human-driven cars off the road.

Not only will self-driving cars make better use of computer guidance safety systems that will route them more efficiently through cities, the real beauty of autonomous vehicles is that they can be summoned on-demand and easily shared, meaning the overall number of single-passenger cars on streets will decline. That’s exactly why rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft are so bullish on autonomy—their business models depend on helping their customers drive less.

Like everyone else, I’m intrigued by self-driving technology because of the safety and convenience factor. But I’m also fairly skeptical about a lot of what I’m hearing. A few thoughts:

•Safety with humans driving is very hard to capture in a single statistic. It’s absolutely true that the number of Americans killed by motor vehicles is unacceptably high: 32,675 in 2014, according to the feds. It’s also true that even as Americans drive more and the number of Americans grows, the rate of American driving deaths has declined. And deaths caused by motor vehicles is influenced by many factors: seat belt use, speeding, time of day, day of week, time of year, make of car, alcohol use, etc.

My point: cars with self-driving features may make driving slightly more safe at some times and a lot more safe at others. It’s also likely true that greater enforcement of traffic laws, greater fines and punishments for traffic violations and lower speed limits would also make driving more safer — right now. No waiting for new technology needed.

•If self-driving autonomous cars are going to be safer, they’ll probably also have to be slower. Speeding was a factor in 28 percent of motor vehicle related deaths in 2014. Will slower self-driving cars appeal to those accustomed to driving impatiently? Stay tuned on that one.

•I’m unaware of any real-world evidence that driver-less cars with a “computer guidance system” that operate on demand will be any more efficient than an on-demand vehicles with a human driver.

•I think another major reason that cheap taxi companies are so bullish on autonomous vehicles is that they get rid of one of their major costs: employing a human being to drive the car. Cheap taxi companies such as Uber and Lyft only keep a small percentage of the fares generated, perhaps the reason that the companies are not yet profitable.

•Will the number of single-driver cars decline on the streets in the future because of self-driving cars? Hard to say. We do know that the number of registered vehicles and licensed drivers in the U.S. has grown steadily over time, although the number of drivers per capita has lately been flat. I can see cheap taxis plus improvements to transit/walking/biking reducing the number of single-driver cars in the denser parts of some cities.

But…let’s also remember that it may be possible to reduce the number of single-driver cars on roads while the overall number of vehicles increases due to population growth.

We also know there’s something called the Law of Unintended Consequences. Which could mean that self-driving cars make cars even more popular, lure more teens into getting licenses and make driving a lot more appealing by making it safer (or seem safer) and removing some of the tedium of sitting in traffic.

Self-driving hype doesn’t reflect reality (Wall Street Journal) 

In this op-ed, WSJ tech columnist Christopher Mims debunks some of the claims that vehicles with no drivers are right around the corner. Rather, he argues that is possibly decades away.

In the meantime…

In the near term, “self-driving” cars will resemble Teslas, with their “traffic-aware cruise control” that can maintain a safe following distance, change lanes and stop in an emergency. Then we’re likely to see vehicles that don’t require drivers but can only operate on a fixed, well-mapped route in cities with fair weather, such as from the airport to the Las Vegas Strip.

Thanks for that reminder: self-driving technology seems likely to make cars more expensive. Although I think most people are willing to pay for it in the same way they’re willing to pay for smartphones that do more than old, cheap, plug-in-the-wall phones.

Which reminds me of another point I’d like to make on a related subject: what exactly does getting rid of a bus operator accomplish?

Absolutely nothing, in my view. The average city transit bus is perhaps the safest vehicle on the road due to its size and speed. And having a bus operator means having someone who can keep an eye on passengers, help physically-challenged passengers and answer questions.

Phone makers could cut off drivers. So why don’t they? (NYT)

In short, they’re afraid of losing customers to other phone makers. Not a shocker but slightly shocking to read Apple has patented technology that could cut off phones in moving cars.

Helpful advice: make it a habit of putting your phone in airplane mode while driving. You can still play music and podcasts but avoid phone conversations — I don’t care if they’re hands-free — that are distracting. You can find out what you’re honey-bunny is wearing when you arrive at home/office/cheap motel.

Commentary: how the first skyscrapers proposed for the Arts District will change the neighborhood (LAT)

Credit: Herzog & de Meuron.

Credit: Herzog & de Meuron.

Architecture and urban planning critic Christopher Hawthorne takes a look at the massive 6AM project proposed for the corner of Alameda and 6th Street (right across street from a Metro bus yard!). If you’re into numbers: the project would have two 58-story towers, cover 14 acres, include 1.92-million-square-feet of residential space and have 3,400 parking spaces.

If approved, I’m guessing it will increase the pressure to build a presently unfunded Red/Purple Line station on the edge of the Metro subway yard. In any case, looks like the developers haven’t received the memo from the self-driving car advocates that car ownership/single-driver cars will not be needed so much in the future.

But my eye honed in on this sentence in the LAT:

In height as well as bulk it would dwarf its neighbors, and the project would require a zone change and general-plan amendment from the city.

I think 6AM is an intriguing development — and I tend to think the more residents in the Arts District, the better it will get in terms of overall livability. But geez…once again we see developers doing city planning instead of the city.

Attentive Source readers know the reason: the city of L.A. has had an immensely difficult time modernizing its community zoning plans. The problem with zone changes and general plan amendments: it means that far too much of the city’s planning is governed by politics. It may work out well, but it also may not.

Garcetti signs Measure M resolution (Eric Garcetti Facebook page)

Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. on Measure M (Laura Nelson Twitter stream)

A higher tax for better transportation in L.A. County? (KPCC)

The mayor signs the L.A. City Council’s recent resolution supporting Measure M, Metro’s half-cent sales tax ballot measure. But homeowners in Sherman Oaks — a part of the city of L.A. in the SFV — say they won’t support M.

In the KPCC segment, reporter Saul Gonzalez talks to Metro CEO Phil Washington and Carson Mayor Albert Robles about Measure M.

Here’s the Measure M web page on I especially recommend that voters look at the list/timeline of projects and programs (scroll down).



9 replies

  1. I envision that self-driving cars will be regulated and certified by the Federal Government in much the same way that the FAA certifies commercial aircraft. There must be universal regulations and not different regulations in each state. This should include an FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) that address every potential failure, its potential impact, and identifies the redundant systems that prevent a catastrophe. All vehicle safety systems should be designed to be fail-safe and to safely park the vehicle should an insurmountable failure be encountered.

    Would anyone want to fly on an aircraft that was designed to differing safety standards in the various states?

    Because self-driving cars will have to obey the posted speed limits, they should be slightly more efficient, In addition, I suspect too that they will preclude “Jack Rabbit starts” that also burn more fuel and sometimes burn rubber.

    Finally, they will most likely not do as many drivers do and continue to press the throttle pedal and then step on the brakes at the last minute when approaching a red traffic light instead of merely coasting. This should also increase the lifetime of the brakes.

    Remember, unless the DMV rules change, a licensed driver will have to be at the controls at all times the vehicle is moving. No texting or even phone calls while the vehicle is in motion. These restrictions may even be programmed into the computer to prevent this.

    As for proof testing of the auto-guidance system, the acid test would be for a fleet of vehicles making several round trips from San Bernardino to Santa Monica and return in the Friday afternoon rush hour using a variety of freeways and not necessarily the most direct routes. For example, the westbound trip could be via the I-10, I-605, I-210, RS-134, and I-5 to San Fernando, and the return trip via the I-405 to Orange County and the SR-55, the SR-91, and I-215. to San Bernardino. Similar tests would then be performed in other major US cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, New York, etc.

    While these test are in progress, various upset modes, such as heavy congestion, accidents blocking a lane, a last minute route change, etc, would be imposed. This would simulate what may be on a traffic advisory message board at any time.

  2. Presumably self-driving cars would be designed to obey speed limits?
    And what would happen to car parks with self-driving cars? Especially ones which are expensive to use? Wouldn’t people get their cars drive away to park somewhere cheaper?

  3. 6AM is pretty far from any metro station to be that tall in my opinion. I know Old L.A. was okay with building above 30 stories with no tube or rail, but this one looks a bit ambitious.

  4. WHEN, IF EVER, will your IT staff fix the Facts About Measure M link on your Measure M web site? It yields the infamous 404 Error,

    This problem has persisted for at least a couple of weeks or more DESPITE my bringing it to your attention several times.