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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Thoughts to ponder

Readers regularly send me ideas, pet peeves and questions pertaining to driving.  At times, I have answers to those inquiries, but other times I simply reply, “Good question!”

One of those good questions that warrants pondering came from R.H. who wrote, “I find the idea of self-driving vehicles intriguing and perhaps even desirable in terms of the increased safety they promise over their foolish, distracted human counterparts. But, I have yet to understand how these technological marvels will be an improvement when (not if) the software systems fail for any reason. Software has a habit of getting scrambled with alarming frequency, as most people know who sit in front of a computer screen for any length of time. Where do you think the term ‘crash’ came from in the computer world?”

He is correct that discussion of computer crashes and how they may affect self-driving vehicles has been mainly omitted from reports on the technology.  While it’s implied that there will be foolproof perfection in computerized cars, we have all had experience suggesting otherwise.

R.H. supplied an imagined scenario to such failure, wondering, “What do self-driving vehicles do when their brains get scrambled? Do they have a redundancy feature that takes over and moves the vehicle to the side of the road? And will owners discover they can proceed to their destination only after having the artificial intelligence modules replaced — almost certainly at exorbitant expense?”

As I said earlier, “Good question!”

I’ve had many people ask, “Why aren’t cars and trucks, given safety concerns related to vehicle speed, mechanically “governed” to adhere to speed limits?”  That seems like another good question.  I suppose one of the things negating that notion is the immense enforcement revenue gained from ticketing speeding drivers.

Reader R.L. professed, “Cars over the speed limit are illegal. There is no valid reason I know of that a car on the highway should be doing 100, 120 or 150 mph.  Governors (speed controls) have been available for years and should be standard equipment on all cars. I have seen reports of chases of 100+ mph. A few of these were local some other places. One report today of a car clocked at 171 mph.”

What do you think?  Should vehicle speed be mechanically restricted?  Self-driving vehicle programming is currently proposed to obey the posted limits — should human operators be similarly governed?

And here’s a quandary with an answer.  M.M. explained, “There are any number of crosswalks at stop signs on the South Hill where a car must stop in the crosswalk in order to see if there is a car or bicycle coming. I do not know if there is some sort of sight line mandated for intersections but if there is, it is not being enforced. Most of the time, if there is a pedestrian at the intersection, I can wait until they cross if I see them but many times, there is no way to avoid stopping in the crosswalk.”

M.M. is right that there are many intersections where stopping at the designated line does not allow a position for checking cross traffic.  In those cases, to be legal, a driver must make two stops:  one (at the stop line or at the crosswalk) to conform to the law, and another (possibly within the crosswalk or past the stop line) to check traffic before proceeding.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at