Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Why you'll never see real government-mandated safety or public automation for cars

I've got an idea that I'll share that I'd like to try and bring to the market sometime in the next few months. Basically, it's a series of IR sensors you attach to the exterior of your car (via magnetism or something sticky) and they wirelessly send a signal to a controller inside that will make a buzzer go off if a sensor detects something too close. I hate backing out of parking stalls and not being sure how much room I have left behind me, and I don't want to wait until I hit someone's car before I find out, so I often find myself doing a few reverse-forward-reverse-forward cycles before being on my way. Rear-view cameras solve this problem too but are expensive.

Anyway, I was thinking "The government already mandates basic safety and pollution requirements for cars, why don't they mandate real safety like forcing a max speed through the radio?" Almost every car has an antenna, it seems like through the use of cell blocks or radio waves or something the government could easily send out a signal to cars in a certain area that they cannot exceed speed X and force manufacturers to install the limiting device. After a few years of improvements that can even lead to fully automated cars. For older cars, do the same they did with the recent digital shift in television: give out free vouchers for the mechanism to limit your car's speed.

What about people that disable the mechanism? If you catch them speeding, you criminalize them with some high punishment (more than current speeding tickets do). Problem solved. This also helps the police by enabling them with tools to override a radio signal and stop a car they're after, since most runners aren't hardened criminals that would have previously disabled the device.

But automation in cars isn't going to come around any time soon I think. Why? Look at the money. Here's some facts (that aren't sourced, so take as you will) that show the speeding ticket industry of cops is a billion dollar practice, and insurance especially is a multi-billion dollar business. There's a lot of money in simple speeding that forcing automation isn't likely. Except for the military, which is where the only research grants are right now for such things.

There's an argument I usually favor: if I buy something, why can't I modify it if I want? Well, a car isn't your computer, it's a very deadly piece of equipment that claims the lives of many people each year. For the same reasons you can't modify a semi-automatic assault rifle into a fully automatic one (and then go use it), you can't modify your car to be able to break the speed limits (and then go speed). Ideally the speed limit would be variable and can even be removed entirely in remote locations and long stretches of empty road or mountainous terrain (though you wouldn't speed in the mountains). I don't have a problem with my car being forced to behave a certain way; I'm endangering lives if it doesn't whereas loading Linux on a PS3 isn't harming anyone.

Anyway, hopefully I'll be able to write more about my IR sensor idea in the near future.

Update: Google recently showed off some of their work with cars that drive themselves, and it's looking pretty good. If anyone can upset the established industries, Google can. But don't expect any help from the government. The point of this post is in the title: government could push very hard in the direction of automated vehicles for civilians, but it doesn't, and it won't. It will be forced on it like the internet, or they'll be able to catch it in time and put enough legal blocks that it will remain a fantasy (or reality for other countries).

Posted on 2011-02-14 by Jach

Tags: cars, government, safety


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