Unsafe at any speed!

Ralph Nader, where are you when we really need you?

Its all very well when our tech-friendly giant Google says that their self-drive cars are safe, and the only accidents happened when human beings are behind the wheel.

However, I happen to know more than the average person about how the electronic packages; which control the braking, the parking and, most importantly, the steering; are actually manufactured, tested and supplied to car manufacturers around the world.

Imagine, if you would, a production line staffed by people who have educational achievements equal to, or more usually much less than, basic pass results at a Secondary school. Imagine also the fact that they are paid the minimum wage, with the prospect of doing a mind-numbingly boring job for the rest of their miserable working days; and then examine the following. What motivation is there to excel at their jobs? None! Where is the urge to help your employer grow, and avoid mistakes? Nowhere to be found.

So your minimum wage worker, who not only doesn’t know, but also doesn’t care; occasionally inserts, for example, a diode, a small electronic component, the wrong way round on a circuit board, without either thinking or noticing. Because of the need for speed on the product line, very few components are actually tested before your component, and probably hundreds if not thousands more like it, are sent out to major car manufacturers the world over, from Germany to China. The manufacturers’ production staff then fit these ‘safety-enhancing’ components onto their vehicles during assembly, and, again partly because of the need for speed, and partly because if the component is activated prematurely, many of the components needs to be renewed; nothing is ever tested correctly. Thousands of cars, all over the world, are then driven to dealerships and customers, all with a basic flaw already built-in to the ‘safety-enhanced’ vehicle.

And then ponder on what you get. Do you, like the GM executives, wonder if the reports coming back to General Motors about an ignition switch defect are correct, and if so; do you hide those same reports from top management? Do you hurriedly recall 2.6 million vehicles and accept total responsibility; or do you fight these lawsuits through court action until the full extent of your criminal conspiracy is unveiled? Do you, like the Japanese airbag maker Takata, which crows on its logo of ‘Love & Safety’ wait until six deaths and more than 100 injuries force the largest recall in automotive history? Or in the case of which I write, do you wait until at least ten people die because they relied on lane-following sensors, for example, to work correctly before recalling ten thousand cars fitted with components which do not work?

13 comments for “Unsafe at any speed!

  1. Bucko
    June 4, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    Aren’t printed circuit boards made by machines and each one tested individually by computer as it comes off the production line?

    Correct me if I’m wrong.

    I would never set foot in a driverless car though. There are too many variables on the road for a computer to figure out and besides, it takes all the fun out of it.

    • June 4, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      I guess it depends on volume…

      But yes, components are fitted by pick-and-place machines, the boards wave soldered and then electronically tested on the production line before being assembled into ‘things’…

      …it would only be in very low volume applications where workers fit diodes manually and solder them…

  2. June 4, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    “Aren’t printed circuit boards made by machines and each one tested individually by computer as it comes off the production line?”

    In China or Japan, probably a majority; in Britain, the machinery keeps breaking down, so they revert to the Spanish attack; e.g. Manuel Labour

  3. Ed P
    June 4, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    Working in the electronics industry, I know all safety-critical PCBs are 100% tested by automatic equipment. Obviously, nothing can be 100% in practice, as humans are involved and can cut corners, miss stages, etc., but the automotive industry demand failure rates of much less than 10ppm, i.e. 1 in 100,000 units.

  4. Stonyground
    June 4, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    How safe do driverless cars have to be before they become safer than people? I’m a very safe driver, in forty years the only mishaps that I have had have involved my being the victim of rear end shunts. Other people may not have such flawless track records and their safety record could well be improved by using a driverless car, it only has to be less inept than they are.

  5. June 4, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    OK, I’ll bite; if these cars are production cars modified only at the driver control level (e.g. accelerator input default to drive computer, theoretically overrideable by driver) what manufacturing faults would be more dangerous for a computer driver than a human?
    And echoing Stonyground, have you seen how bad the average human driver is?

  6. Errol
    June 4, 2015 at 10:44 pm

    Given the choice between a computer and a human driver, I’ll go for the computer.

    For a start, it has no ego. It will obey the law. It won’t try to push in, won’t deliberately tail gate, won’t try to run you off the road so it can speed over a bridge.

    A computer is infinitely better than a human.

    • June 6, 2015 at 2:48 am

      Infinitely better? Would you let one ‘take care’ of your missus tonight?

  7. richard
    June 5, 2015 at 8:08 am

    Yes, it will be safer. Yes it will drive you to the cop-shop if someone phones in a complaint, or to work if you call in sick then try to go to the beach.

  8. Mudplugger
    June 5, 2015 at 8:34 am

    Those promoting driverless cars have not done the maths.
    Currently, private vehicle use is limited by some key qualifications – those who are too young, too old, too disabled, too blind or too thick (or any combination) are disqualified from driving – that’s about half the population.
    The advent of driverless vehicles would mean that members of all these groups are now able to use a personal vehicle, as there would be no need for any pre-qualification.
    Now work out the consequences of that on road-congestion…….
    Still favour driverless cars?

    • Ed P
      June 6, 2015 at 1:19 pm

      Ultimately driverless cars will utilise road space much better. As we all know, when traffic lights turn green, the queue of cars start one by one. Driverless cars will all be able to move off within milliseconds of each other, due to radar sensing between them. Thus the “2 second” car-spacing rule may also be reduced, so road capacities will be increased, in some cases more than doubled.

      • Mudplugger
        June 7, 2015 at 9:02 am

        But on your planet with its strangely-coloured sky, you wouldn’t even need those traffic-lights (or even any lane-separation) because that ever-so-clever software would always keep all vehicles moving smoothly, in a seamless, incident-free progress, all managed and monitored by Big Traffic Brother In The Cloud – and whenever it does ‘crash’, as it surely will, you just switch it off and back on again to re-boot Windows2050.

        Apart from lacking credibility, freedom it ain’t.

        • Ed P
          June 7, 2015 at 11:23 am

          Indeed, it’s a horrible dystopian vision – I merely considered the technical feasibility. Your scenario is stage 2.
          Stage 1 would be autonomous cars with radar links (which are under development now). When joining a main road the car would lock into a vacant slot, similar in a way to Ethernet data packet streaming, thus becoming part of a road train until the time to turn off the highway. But this would prepare for your Big Traffic Brother In The Cloud and the inevitable program/real crashes. 🙂

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