Self-driving cars and simple errors

Some recent news stories -

A man is seriously ill in hospital after a car crashed and ended up embedded in a house in Suffolk. The red Audi TT left the road and crashed into the home in Long Meadow Walk, Lowestoft, at about 01:45 GMT.

Note that in this case it was ‘the car’ that crashed, ‘leaving the road’ all by itself. The driver was a mere passenger.

Sgt Bob Patterson, of Suffolk Police, said investigators had been at the scene to assess how the accident happened. “At this early stage we could not speculate as to what has caused the crash,” he said. A police spokesman said it was “far too early to say if the crash is weather related or not. This will all make up part of the investigation.”

‘Weather related’.

Audis seem to make a habit of driving themselves; in another recent case, an Audi chose to drive through a red light, killing two passengers (but not the driver, who, curiously, was already disqualified from driving).

Two men have died following a police chase in north London.

The pair were killed when their Audi jumped a red light, clipped a van and hit a bridge in South Tottenham in the early hours of Friday, police said.

To be fair, sometimes it isn’t the car that’s responsible. Sometimes, like in this case from Ireland, the driver makes ‘a simple error’.

A BEAUTY therapist who “catapulted” a cyclist into the air leaving him with catastrophic injuries has avoided a jail sentence. Sinead King (29), a mother of two, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing serious harm on Monastery Road, Clondalkin, Dublin, on October 16, 2010.

She was given a 12-month suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

King (29), of Riverside, Clondalkin, didn’t de-mist her car windows that morning before setting out on her drive to work. She accepted she couldn’t see out properly and later told gardai she had no idea she had knocked someone over.

She said she noticed four children playing on one side of the road and then heard a loud bang. She noticed her windscreen was broken and assumed her former partner, who she had difficulties with in the past, had attacked her car.

So she saw some children playing, heard a loud bang as she crashed into something, and just assumed it was her partner attacking the car, rather than her driving over a human being. Fair enough.

King drove on, leaving Peter Vaughan, a retired English man visiting his son in Clondalkin, on the side of the road with his leg broken in three places, a broken eye socket and mild brain damage.

Mr Vaughan told gardai he had taken his son’s bicycle to the local shops and “was catapulted” into the air. He had seen no cars around and thought at first it was a gas explosion.

King had one previous conviction for failing to give a breath sample and was banned from driving for four years in December 2010.

Paul Comiskey O’Keefe, defending, said his client had “made a simple error” but one with serious consequences.

Judge Patrick McCartan told King she had made a dreadful mistake because she didn’t have the patience to properly defog her car windows.

“She did a very foolish thing to get up and drive to work in an urban area when she could not see out,” before he added that she compounded her wrongdoing by driving away.

He accepted her remorse was genuine and said he didn’t believe anything would be achieved by sending her to prison. The judge then handed down an 12-month suspended sentence and banned King from driving for 10 years.

Even when you don’t de-mist your windows, people on bicycles can be awfully hard to see, especially if they have the temerity to wear dark clothing in the middle of the day. It can take as much as 30 seconds to spot them, and even then that’s not enough. Apparently.

A WOMAN accused of causing death by dangerous driving after killing a cyclist will stand trial on July 22. 

Victoria McClure, 37, of Chiltern Drive, Charvil, pleaded guilty to killing Anthony Hilson on the A4 near Twyford on September 16 when she appeared at Reading Crown Court on Wednesday.

She claims Mr Hilson’s death was caused by careless rather than dangerous driving as she was not distracted at the wheel. Richard Clews, defending, told the court the cyclist may have been stationary at the time of the collision and that he was wearing dark clothing, making him less visible. 

He said: “The evidence has to meet the high threshold for the dangerous driving conviction. I suggest that the evidence is not sufficient under the circumstances.”

Thankfully Mr Clews’ absurd notion of where the threshold for ‘dangerous’ should lie was not accepted by the Judge.

Charles Ward-Jackson, prosecuting, called on evidence from an expert who estimated that when driving at 40mph to 50mph, which is what McClure claims she was doing, it would take 22 to 27 seconds to travel 500m. He said: “In this case we have an empty, open road with exceptional visibility where you can see 500m, which is about as far as you can possibly see on an open road.

“A jury is entitled to ask themselves what on earth caused this defendant to collide with the bike?”

Judge Zoe Smith said: “Although the defendant has accepted her driving falls below the test for a competent and careful driver, the facts are that at around 10.40am on a Sunday morning a collision occurred on the A4.

“Mr Hilson was on a bike and, even accepting that he was stationary on his bike, it would appear that there should have been some 500m in which the defendant would have been able to see him.

“It is said that he was wearing dark cloth but the fact is that the defendant did not see the cyclist until the point of collision itself. She was unable to take any diverting action.

“You could consider that she was driving along that stretch far below the standard of a competent and careful driver. I conclude that a jury could convict for dangerous driving on the facts of this case.”

Finally, it seems that even Health and Safety consultants with exemplary driving records find it hard to avoid crashing.

HEALTH and safety consultant Brian Hampton has formally denied causing Jade Clark’s death on the A31.

At his second appearance at Bournemouth magistrates court, the 58-year-old entered a not guilty plea to causing the 16-year-old’s death by careless driving.

He did not enter a plea to the other eight charges – three charges of driving while disqualified, three charges of driving without insurance, one of failing to stop at an accident and one of failing to report an accident. 

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10 Responses to Self-driving cars and simple errors

  1. paul gannon says:

    It would be funny were it not so serious and so common. I recall an article a few years ago in the Camden New Journal about a ‘killer bollard’. The absurd headline was justified by the comments of a magistrate who blamed a bollard for killing a motorcyclist. The biker had been going too fast, on a bend on a 30mph road, and overtaking a car; the car driver had not checked his mirror nor indicated before turning right. But neither man was to blame – rather it was the nasty, council-installed bollard.

  2. Yes, there would be an awful black humour to it were it not so serious. If it had been posted yesterday you’d have thought ‘haha, who blames the weather?’. Since millions of people drive in the snow without driving into houses, how come this one person did drive into a house? Perhaps it was the house’s fault for wearing dark clothing!

  3. livinginabox says:

    I am of the view that should the consequences of any act that could reasonably be foreseen to result in the exposure of third-parties, i.e. members of the Public to physical harm, the the act must be automatically considered to be dangerous. Those who expose others to danger, or cause third parties to be harmed must be held accountable for their actions.

  4. Samuel says:

    This always annoys me. In both the press and the courts:

    The driver makes a mistake or has a momentary lapse. The car drives itself. The weather is responsible – not the driver’s failure to adjust to the weather.

    Whereas it is always noted that the cyclist was not wearing hi-vis or a helmet – regardless of whether those items would have had any effect on the outcome.

    It is only the driver who has ignored his legal obligations, but this is glossed over as understandable. I think it’s the product of a society where almost all judges, jurors and journalists drive, but relatively few cycle.

  5. livinginabox says:

    It is notable that the flying Audi, featured embedded in the house, the road shows no signs of skid-marks, which would seem to indicate that the drive took no avoiding action – no braking certainly. The distance ‘flown’, the height achieved, and the damage to the hedge, three cars and the house would seem to indicate a speed substantially in excess of 30 mph. The car was being driven at a tangent to the curve in the road, which means that the driver was most probably distracted through phone / drink and or drugs and had wandered across the road.
    i47.tinypic.com/17afcm.jpg

    From Google street view http://goo.gl/maps/APFE6, it’s clear that the driver’s path took him onto the wrong side of the road

    There is a light dusting of snow in the photographs. This might have limited the available grip and reduced the skid marks, but seems unlikely to have prevented any obvious trace.. On the other hand one wonders at the thought processes of a driver who drives at speed in such circumstances.

  6. Amanda O'Dell says:

    “King had one previous conviction for failing to give a breath sample and was banned from driving for four years in December 2010.”

    So she shouldn’t have been driving at all then?

    • The incident took place in October 2010, so it looks like she was banned two months afterwards, for a separate offence – I’m assuming that’s the failure to provide, although it’s not clear.

  7. rdrf says:

    Well done on presenting these instances of violent crime.
    The crucial point is the way the motorist is absolved of responsibility by the powers that be: and of course this is the story of how the road safety establishment operates (and always has done), particulalrly highway and vehicle engineers. The fault is always something to do with the environment the rule/law breaker finds themselves in.

    The result is persistent idiot-proofing which produces yet more idiocy.

  8. rdrf says:

    Note the comments about the bollard above.

    Some years ago I worked as a transport planner in a south London borough, installing Sheffield cycle stands. The chief engineer was trying to find out if we needed Traffic Orders to put them in – I replied that they were an unnecessary bit of bureaucracy. Surely the Council wouldn’t be sued if we put one in and, say, someone jogged into one and hurt themself?

    He recounted why he wasn’t so sure that wouldn’t happen: he had just had a case where a motorcyclist had been seen behaving erratically by the police and then sped away from them at high speed and went off the road into a bollard on the footway. He was found to have been drunk and had committed the other serious offences of speeding and refusing to stop for the police.

    Yes, sure enough his family sued the Council for having put the bollard in the wrong place…hence my boss’ concern. (BTW, the Council managed to – just – avoid having to pay out.)

    I think he killed himself, the “road safety” lobby would say the bollard did.

  9. 3 yr old was killed in Croydon just the other day in a cul-de-sac when a gust of wind blew her buggy into the road and was hit by a van reversing. Local and national media reported that the girl “had become the latest victim of the harsh weather conditions”

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