The other day, a Volvo driver, showing off his “self driving” car to a bunch of journalists, drove straight into them not realizing the car’s auto-brake function only detects vehicles, not people. As a driver, passenger and occasional bystander myself (hopefully not at the same time), such “AI cars gone mad” stories are the least of my concerns, however.
Let’s start with Takata’s exploding airbags, already tied to at least 6 deaths and 64 injuries. (See some of our earlier coverage here.) The good news is that the company finally issued a recall for its 34 million U.S. vehicles – the largest consumer product recall in history. The bad news is: there aren’t nearly enough replacement parts. Consumer experts say it will take at least five years to fix them all, and no one knows if the replacements will even work! Other experts say that more than a quarter of these defective cars will never be repaired, leaving 10 million cars with exploding airbags on the road. (Looks like the U.S. House will be holding hearings on June 2.)
Moving onto General Motors. Now, 107 deaths, 12 serious injuries and 179 other injuries are determined to have been caused by GM's defective ignition switch, and “approved” for compensation. While substantially more than the 13 deaths for which the company initially took responsibility, writes the Detroit News,
4,342 claims were submitted by the Jan. 31 deadline, including 474 death claims. A total of 374 claims are still under review, including 28 death claims. A total of 2,163 claims have been ruled ineligible, including 253 deaths. Of the claims, 73 have been submitted without documentation.
Georgia attorney Lance Cooper said in an interview last week that some cases are being denied because there is not enough proof the ignition switch defect caused a crash or the injuries or fatalities. His firm has had 20 denials from the fund, including 11 death claims.
“Unfortunately, GM is benefiting to a certain extent from the fact that a lot of these crashes are so old that lots of the evidence is gone,” he said. “And therefore it’s hard for an individual to prove that the ignition switch defect caused their crash and their injuries.”
Meanwhile, the likelihood GM will face criminal charges seems probable. The likelihood the company will end up with a criminal record - questionable. The likelihood any criminal sanction will have much impact on the company – doubtful.
Trucking companies seem to have been emboldened by their success last year in getting Congress to temporarily suspend parts of a Transportation Department regulation meant to give truck drivers at least 34 hours of rest. That rule was meant to ensure that truck drivers got at least two consecutive nights of rest after working 60 hours in seven consecutive days or 70 hours in eight days. …
The language in the House appropriations bill will forbid the Obama administration from fully reinstating that rule unless a study shows that the rule resulted in a “statistically significant” improvement in safety, work schedules and driver fatigue, health and longevity. That is an impossibly high bar to meet and, if enacted, the measure will surely result in more tired and sleepy drivers on the road.
They have got to be kidding.