Bad drivers should have their cars driven by robots (now with link)

A while ago I had one of those “Someone on the Internet is Wrong” arguments with the authors of an article arguing that we would need massively more evidence before we could conclude that autonomous cars are safer than those driven by humans. Rather than dig back to find those arguments again, I thought I’d <a href="http://I thought I'd link to this Bloomberg piece and, in particular the following passage”>link to this Bloomberg piece and, in particular the following passage

GM’s autonomous test cars were in 22 accidents in California last year, according to data from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles … In a November interview, GM President Dan Ammann attributed the accidents to testing in a dense urban environment and noted the company’s cars weren’t at fault in any of the incidents.

Suppose that in any crash between autonomous cars and humans, each is equally likely to be at fault. What is the probability of seeing 22 crashes caused by humans and none by autonomous cars. Obviously, it’s the same as that of a fair coin showing 22 heads in a row, which is 2^-22 or about 1 in 10 million.

Of course, the drivers involved in the crashes aren’t likely to be a random sample of the population. As is standard in such things, the 80/20 rule applies: 20 per cent of drivers are responsible for 80 per cent of crashes and traffic infringements. THe 80/20 rule is derived from a Pareto distribution, and we can apply it a second time to say that 20 per cent of the remaining 80 per cent of drivers are responsible for 80 per cent of the remaining 20 per cent of crashes. That is, 36 per cent of drivers are responsible for 96 per cent of crashes. On that basis, it’s perfectly possible that the remaining 64 per cent of good drivers are as good as autonomous cars or even better.

It might also be argued that autonomous vehicles may fail in defensive driving, that is, in reducing harm in a crash caused by the failure of another driver.

Still, it seems pretty clear that autonomous cars are a lot better than the drivers responsible for most crashes and infringements. It isn’t that hard to identify a lot of these drivers before they kill themselves someone else, since prior driving record variables, particularly a driver’s prior traffic citation history, are the most consistent and powerful predictors of subsequent accident risk. Now that cars don’t need steering wheels or pedals any more, there’s no obvious reason to put people with bad driving records back in charge of them. Bad drivers should have their cars driven by robots.

40 thoughts on “Bad drivers should have their cars driven by robots (now with link)

  1. @ChrisH

    I have advocated better public transport as have others on this blog. There’s a difference between the underclass and the criminal underclass. Remove inequality and then if some still turn out recalcitrant or criminal socially they still have to be restrained in some ways from damaging others.

  2. @Ikonoclast
    So answer my point. People who lose their licences may not do so for dangerous road behaviour. Poeple who have lost their licences for whatever reason may later get licences again.

    Should they be prevented from ever driving again, because they once drove while disqualified?

    Should they be prevented from ever driving again, if they ever did something dangerous? (Like, say, speeding, for which so many who are not underclass lose so many points every year?)

    ‘Better public transport’ is not an answer to how transport works if most people become permanent non-drivers. It is no better an answer if it is the underclass who are singled out for non-driver treatment for offences which leave the comfortable protecting their points but paying their fines and still driving.

  3. @ChrisH

    “Should they be prevented from ever driving again, because they once drove while disqualified?”

    Yes, on a sliding scale, unless they can demonstrate extenuating emergency circumstances requiring their driving on a public road. Being caught three times drives disqualified without extenuating circumstances should certainly result in a life ban from driving if alcohol or other function impairing drugs are involved even once. An automobile can be a lethal weapon.

    “Should they be prevented from ever driving again, if they ever did something dangerous?”

    It depends how dangerous obviously. If they deliberately tried to run someone over, yes they should be banned for life. If they repeatedly drive under the influence they should be banned for life.

    Don’t forget people who die from these recidivist people. The person who dies gets a death sentence. Their surviving extended family get a life sentence of grief. Don’t cry me a river for seriously dangerous drivers. It has nothing to do with the underclass issue. That is classic misdirection.

  4. @Ikonoclast


    Underclass my arse.

    I have checked Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, and there is no right to a driver’s licence for habitually dangerous drivers.

  5. So Ikonoclast thinks someone who drives while disqualified should, yes, be prevented from ever driving again…on a sliding scale. So, no.

    So Ikonoclast thinks at a sufficiently dangerous driving record someone should be banned for life. That could be just one thing, if it is very and deliberately dangerous; or it could be an accumulation of things, making them a ‘seriously dangerous driver’ forever.

    What has this to do with Whittall? He had a lot of, unspecified, offences. Well, he was an opiate addict on methadone. There’s no list of offences showing he had many, or even any, dangerous driving offences. He had been disqualified as a driver, served his time for that, and requalified for a licence.

    How does an accident, where someone went onto the wrong side of the road, go to his account only when the police refuse to say who was on the wrong side of the road?

    How does the accident repeat a history of dangerous driving, when we know of no such history and we don’t know who or what caused the accident?

    Perhaps Smith should start with another Thomas Paine work: Common Sense.

  6. @ChrisH

    A bigger issue is being discussed here. You are the one who tried to derail it by talking about Whittall. No poster before you mentioned Whittall by name. It was you who introduced the red herring and then you complain when others won’t take the red herring as bait.

    You ask “What has this to do with Whittall?” Well, nothing. His legal case, if any, is still in the future. This is about decided cases. Events that have occurred. Real evidence that it is in for many cases. A driver’s licence is privilege not a right.

  7. I responded to Smith’s post. Which instanced Whittall. By name (misspelt).

    Smith instanced Whittall to make a wider case. He argued that unlicensed drivers are the most dangerous and he, like you, went on to make a version of the ‘never allow to drive again’ case.

    Apparently pointing out that the claims against Whittall are unfounded, and that someone who has been caught driving unregistered might reasonably do their suspension, serve their penalty, and then be able to qualify for a licence and drive again, is to ‘derail’ your claims.

    So it is.

    Apparently pointing out that a much higher driving qualification means a much smaller pool of drivers and a much changed transport system is to ‘derail’ your claims.

    So it is.

  8. @ChrisH

    Perhaps it might be useful to consider instead a case where the claims of habitual carelessness have been substantiated? Like this one in Aotearoa where a truck driver has now run down and killed two cyclists. Both, of course, accidental “never to be repeated” incidents.

    How many people should he be allowed to kill before he loses his driving privileges?

  9. This is the same problem of anecdote swamping discussion.

    The truck driver had an accident thirteen years ago. He was dealt with for his driving offence. He was suspended and returned to driving. I have no more idea than you how many kilometres he has done since, with what safety record.

    Now, was he at fault in this latest collision? Will he lose his licence, be imprisoned, or what will the consequences be? You don’t know and neither do I. Yet you ask ‘how many people should he be allowed to kill’, as if his responsibility for this latest death were established. You say that his habitual carelessness has been substantiated. Yet you have no basis to say so.

    I distrust the ready answer ‘ban drivers forever for being involved in a fatal accident’. I think people can be kept off the road for a while, required to requalify to be on the road, and perhaps be subject to limitations, depending on circumstances and depending on their real driving faults and correction of those faults.

    But if a ban’s what you want, and regardless of fault or circumstance, then we have to discuss the consequences. Those consequences are keeping many banned people from their only transport option, and perhaps from their employment, or providing a very different transport system in which driving is not required by most people or for most heavy transport.

    The original post posited the very strongest version of autonomous vehicle: the one in which the vehicle does everything and no passenger can override (else there is no solution to the problem of the dangerous driver, who may still intervene dangerously). We haven’t got that available yet and may never have it (for social as much as technical reasons). If we had it, we would still need to have a transport system that made this available to all or pretty much all the population.

    There are people who fail to learn. We find this out when they show they failed to learn. A system where any error (of this or that kind) denies any opportunity ever to relearn and ever to requalify is like our crime factories, ever larger even as crime continues its substantial long decline. Done time? Banned forever from an ever-increasing list of jobs; and in practice put permanently to the bottom of the list of applicants from those jobs for which there is no formal ban.

    I am a long-term commuting cyclist myself. I hate being monstered by other vehicles, and by heavy vehicles. I know that overall other vehicles are very likely to be the cause of any accident involving a cyclist. But for any particular accident the other vehicle may not be at fault. For any particular accident the fault may not be great (however serious the consequences were). For any particular accident the driver may face serious consequences and may have to requalify to drive. Automatic exclusion from driving, forever, based on a particular consequence (a death) or a particular offence (driving disqualified), regardless of circumstances of the event, is likely to be unjust and likely to apply unreasonably.

    How many straw men from particular driving incidents make a good argument? I think none do so.

  10. @ChrisH

    Yes, you’re right, we can’t use a single anecdote to generalise so the outcome of that case doesn’t matter. What we can do is take your “overall other vehicles are very likely to be the cause of any accident” mis-statement and look at the actual data. It would help if we looked at all crashes rather than only accidents, because it’s very rare to be able to prove intent or wilful negligence in a motor vehicle crash (and few law enforcement agencies are willing to try*). But those statistics show, per the OP, that a few very bad drivers cause a disproportionate amount of harm. Those drivers are also often identifiable by the trail of minor offenses they accumulate before they get caught doing/do something dramatic.

    I think that it’s quite reasonable to say to someone “maybe you are just unlucky, but there’s a limit. Sorry about that”. If that means that someone can’t drive who is genuinely blameless, they can join the long list of other people whose lives have been screwed up by government policy. We do, IMO correctly, make laws on a utilitarian “greatest good” basis a lot of the time, and practicality also supports that approach. For example, we don’t require proof for criminal conviction, just “beyond reasonable doubt”.

    Specifically in the context of us paying 1000+ lives a year to have cars on the road, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to look into ways to reduce that cost. If we can come up with a strategy that trades off a little bit of liberty for a great many lives why would we not do that? It’s no worse than continuing to run Don Dale despite knowing that even if it worked as designed, it wouldn’t work very well.

    * “mens rea” is the original thoughtcrime in that respect.

  11. Not being worse than Don Dale, or any other part of our crime factory system, is a pretty low bar.

    Facts are just what’s needed. The crash stats are a good place to start.

    But the number of minor offences, and what offences qualify, is a problem. What offences show unfitness? What are the stats, too, on people returning to requalify as drivers after a period of suspension or other inactivity? These are worth looking at and thinking about.

    ‘Ban them forever on suspicion’, or for a single bad-outcome event for which they aren’t shown to be responsible…that’s like the Minister for Immigration (Ruddock) who decided it was right and legal to deport a victim of wife-bashing for failing the character test: she was associated with a wife-beater.

  12. Simply requiring drivers to re-qualify after having their license “suspended” would probably solve a lot of the problems, because I suspect many would fail. More would likely not even try, but either way, further offending would hopefully face a much more skeptical system. “you can’t pass a driving test, yet you kept driving”… at some point it will become criminal rather than merely naughty.

  13. I mention Don Dale to show that your “this must be exemplary” is not the standard used by Australia, or Australians, when evaluating proposed laws or adjustments to the legal system. Even “must be morally defensible” is more of an aspirational goal.

    I agree that ideally we should aim for laws that are just, reasoned and moral, but sadly such laws are very difficult to write and even harder to pass through parliament. Aotearoa’s nuclear free legislation, for example, was very unpopular even with countries that agree with the ban on developing and using nuclear weapons. Obviously Australia didn’t oppose the ban because it was unjust, immoral or unreasonable… which is my point.

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