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Two Drivers Argue On California Freeway About Collision And Get Deadly Struck By Passing Car, Providing Somber Lessons For AI Self-Driving Cars

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at September 22, 2021

Two men argued themselves to death.

That phrasing is not meant to be pejorative but serves somberly as a sad indication of what can happen when you remain on the freeway while in or near active lanes after a car crash has occurred.

Here are the details as per the recently reported news story.

Two cars collided while driving on a major freeway in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the vehicles was a Chevrolet Malibu and the other was a Dodge Durango. For those of you that are familiar with the Northern California freeways, the incident occurred on the I-80 near the Berkeley area.

Both of the cars were stridently damaged, though the drivers and passengers seemed to survive the crash without any substantive injuries. That’s something to be thankful for.

To me, any car crash that you can walk away from and not have to immediately go to the emergency room is a cause for relief. Sure, there will be a hassle about the insurance and getting your car repaired, but that pales in comparison to severe injuries or outright fatalities.

Anyway, the drivers of the respective two cars decided to argue about the crash. Their banged-up vehicles were still in an active lane, plus the resultant mashed together mangled mess extended into an adjacent lane. All told, two lanes of this active freeway were now entangled in the collision aftermath.

I’m sure that you must know that the advice by the highway patrol and nearly all motor vehicle agencies is that you should get out of the active lanes as soon as practical. If you can safely move your cars, that’s certainly welcomed. On the other hand, even if the cars are unmovable, at least ensure that you and any passengers step clearly out of the active lanes and seek the safety of the shoulder.

This is sound advice that is repeatedly hammered away on the driver licensing tests and that is oftentimes displayed on billboards bordering the freeways. The thing is, sometimes the shock and unnerving reaction to a car crash can cause people to not think fully about what the best course of action might be. Whatever they might have been prior trained on or perhaps previously exhorted to do is not at the top of their minds.

They become fixated on the matter at hand.

In this case, a bit of road rage ensued. The male driver of the Chevrolet Malibu and the male driver of the Dodge Durango opted to argue about the crash. They could have readily gone over to the shoulder to argue to their heart’s content. Unfortunately, in the heated passion of the moment, they stood in the active lanes, nearby to the wrecked vehicles.

One supposes that it is readily possible for someone to assume that wrecked cars would be a sufficient form of forewarning to other traffic. You might be looking directly at the battered vehicles and believe that nobody could somehow fail to see the morass. Furthermore, it is conceivable that you might believe that the meshed steel and vehicular parts are a sturdy barrier, such that even if some wayward car comes along and strikes the now-stalled vehicles, you would be protected from harm.

Let’s be totally frank about this.

Do not ever assume that other drivers will notice your shattered vehicle.

That type of assumption is a surefire recipe for disaster. You see, there are plenty of drivers on the roadways that are driving while distracted, such as watching cat videos when they should be watching the traffic. Some drivers are intoxicated. They might see the wreck and yet do absolutely nothing to avoid it. And so on.

We can add to the aforementioned advice.

Do not ever assume that your car wreckage will act as a shield and protect you from oncoming traffic.

I know it seems like a logical idea that a smashed vehicle would seem like a useful and sturdy barrier, but this is faulty thinking. You’ve got to realize that the oncoming cars are moving at high rates of speed. If one of those oncoming vehicles strikes your ball of steel, the odds are that all heck is going to break loose.

By breaking loose, I mean to suggest that the seemingly unmovable wrecked car is bound to be pushed around like a soccer ball. The velocity and impact of a car moving at say 65 miles per hour are tremendous. It can easily scoot that wreck a hefty distance. You must also consider that the steel entanglement is likely to splinter apart, shooting shards in every direction.

Your human body is going to be completely exposed to all of that horrendous and killer-like fragmentation. To recap, you will either get struck by the steel ball that is pushed into you, or you will get splatted with sharp pieces of steel and glass, or you will get run over by the car that has rammed into the car wreckage.

All of those are unpleasant outcomes.

Period, full stop.

I trust that any of you that were otherwise unconvinced are now convinced that the best bet involves getting out of the active lanes. Try to find a safe spot on the shoulder. Admittedly, standing even on the shoulder can be dangerous, especially if you do so within just a few feet of the wrecked cars. Look around and find the safest nearest spot that allows you to remain at the accident scene and yet does not imperil you.

Some people feel guilty about their wrecked vehicle being in an active lane. They worry about other cars ramming into it. Not so much because of their own car getting further busted, but due to a genuine concern for their fellow humans.

This is admirable.

It still does not though justify standing in an active lane. If you can somehow wave or flag oncoming traffic while being safely on the shoulder, yes, this is likely helpful. Generally, you ought to be trying to call for emergency roadway assistance that can come and set up flares or will place their emergency vehicles in a posture to block off the wreckage.

Let the professionals do what they do daily.

Now that we’ve covered those overall aspects, I have some rather unsettling aspects to tell you about this particular incident and the two arguing men. Maybe skip the next paragraph or so, if you don’t want to know the dreadful results of what happened.

A driver in a Mini Cooper came upon the wrecked cars and tried to avoid hitting the wreckage. In so doing, the driver swerved in such a manner that he struck both of the arguing men. Both men were killed. As an aside, per the news, apparently, there was no intoxication involved on the part of the Mini Cooper driver. The follow-on crash of the original crash was seemingly an unfortunate domino effect, as it were.

We can reasonably speculate that if the arguing men had taken refuge on the shoulder, they would still be alive today.

Shifting gears, suppose that the cars involved in the initial crash were not being driven by humans. I know that seems like an odd concept. Anyway, under that scenario, there wouldn’t be two human drivers that got out of the vehicles, and nor would there be those two standing in an active lane and arguing about the crash.

What I’m referring to is AI-based true self-driving cars.

Note that there isn’t a human driver involved in a true self-driving car. Keep in mind that true self-driving cars are driven via an AI driving system. There isn’t a need for a human driver at the wheel, and nor is there a provision for a human to drive the vehicle. For my extensive and ongoing coverage of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and especially self-driving cars, see the link here.

Here’s an intriguing question that is worth pondering: What can the news story of the two arguing men inform us about the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars?

I’d like to first further clarify what is meant when I refer to true self-driving cars.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And Crashes On Active Roadways

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can.

Why is this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?

Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.

With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about the facets of driving. Driving and all that it entails will need to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.

Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.

First, it is important to realize that not all AI self-driving cars are the same. Each automaker and self-driving tech firm is taking its own approach to devising self-driving cars. As such, it is difficult to make sweeping statements about what AI driving systems will do or not do.

Furthermore, whenever stating that an AI driving system doesn’t do some particular thing, this can, later on, be overtaken by developers that in fact program the computer to do that very thing. Step by step, AI driving systems are being gradually improved and extended. An existing limitation today might no longer exist in a future iteration or version of the system.

I trust that provides a sufficient litany of caveats to underlie what I am about to relate.

Probably the most obvious aspect to first address is the ongoing and utterly ridiculous claim by some pundits that self-driving cars will be uncrashable. As crazy as it might seem, there are those inside and outside of the self-driving industry that believes there will never be car crashes involving self-driving cars.

Nutty thinking!

I’ve repeatedly covered instances of self-driving cars that have gotten into car crashes. It happens. It will continue to happen. See my explanation and exhortation at this link here.

Some assert that once we have our roadways filled with only self-driving cars then we will never have car crashes. Well, that’s wishful and falsely fairytale conjecture. In their envisioned Utopia, all self-driving cars will communicate with each other, likely via V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communication, and adroitly share our highways and byways. This coordination and cooperation will ensure that no car crashes ever occur again, they contend.

That speculation can be poked full of holes, quite easily. Let’s assume that V2V is implemented, doing so for all self-driving cars (no exceptions). You still have the possibility of a self-driving car that suffers a sudden tire blowout. Unless the self-driving cars nearby have kept an appropriate distance, they will get caught off-guard. A car crash could ensue.

Dreamers seem to forget that cars are cars. They have tires. They have mechanical parts that can falter or fail. Etc. Those same dreamers also forget that roadways can have all kinds of misfit actions take place. A boulder topples from a cliff onto the highway. A chair falls off the back of a truck. Zillions of things can go awry.

We also need to consider the practicality (or impractical notion) of somehow having only self-driving cars on our roadways. There are about 250 million conventional cars in the United States today. Those human-driven cars are not going to be summarily and overnight junked when self-driving cars come along. In fact, we don’t know that human driving will be brought to a halt. Some resolute drivers insist you will take away their driving privileges the day that you pry their cold dead hands off the steering wheel.

I don’t want to wrangle any further herein on this zany proposition that there won’t be car crashes involving self-driving cars.

There will be self-driving cars that get into car crashes.

I would tend to agree that this is more likely to happen in the entanglement between a human-driven car and a self-driving car. For example, the somewhat common instance nowadays is that a human driver rear-ends a self-driving car. This can occur because the human driver is following the self-driving car in too close a manner.

It can also happen when a human driver gets exasperated with a self-driving car, which is generally programmed to follow the speed limit and obey the rules of the road. A human driver that is behind a self-driving car is tempted to go around or otherwise try to inspire the self-driving car to get going. For my analysis of how human drivers are bullying self-driving cars, see the link here.

Go ahead and assume that we will have self-driving cars that get into car crashes with human-driven cars. Set aside the matter of which vehicle is at fault. That’s a different consideration and one I’ve covered elsewhere in my columns.

We might first contemplate what the status of the vehicles involved in the car crash consists of. Consider these two distinct circumstances:

·        The human-driven car might be movable or might be unmovable due to being severely damaged.

·        Likewise, the self-driving car might be movable or might be unmovable due to the damages incurred.

For the human-driven car, a human would need to get into the car and try and drive it out of the way. This is the customary way of doing things today. In the case of the self-driving car, there is unlikely to be any human driver accessible driving controls inside of the autonomous vehicle. This means that no person can simply get into the self-driving car and directly drive it away from the impact zone.

If the AI driving system is still intact, you could potentially try to convince it to move the self-driving car. This is bound to be problematic. You might not have any means to communicate with the AI driving system, assuming that the audio input capabilities got smashed or that the electronic communication via your smartphone is no longer functioning.

You might try contacting the fleet operator that is responsible for the self-driving car and ask them to help out. They too though might not be able to electronically communicate with the crashed self-driving car.

The overall odds are that a self-driving car that has gotten into a car crash is going to be unable to readily self-move itself along. Chances are that the autonomous vehicle will need to be towed or somehow dragged or pushed out of the roadway.

I am about to ask you a simple question and I am hoping upon hopes that I already know your answer.

If you were a passenger inside a self-driving car that got into a car crash and the wrecked autonomous vehicle was stuck in an active lane of traffic, would you stand outside next to the self-driving car?

As per the same advice about a conventional human-driven car, the answer ought to be that you would not stand next to the wreckage and would instead find a safe spot off the freeway and entirely out of the peril of the active lanes. I realize a smarmy person is bound to argue that there might be some rare instances that justify remaining with the self-driving car, including staying inside the vehicle, and though I grant that there probably are some arcane situations warranting this, it is not a viable general rule-of-thumb.

One thing to make abundantly clear is that people can still do things they shouldn’t do, albeit during an era of self-driving cars.

For example, let’s reuse the arguing men scenario in an updated fashion. A human-driven car rams into a self-driving car. The driver of the conventional car gets out and confronts the passenger that was inside the self-driving car, for which the passenger also gets out and earnestly seeks to confront the human driver.

The passenger of the self-driving car and the driver of the conventional car decide to heatedly argue about the collision. They both stand next to the wrecked vehicles.

What could happen next?

A human-driven car could come along and smash into them. Or smash into the wreckage which then smashes into them.

I’ll add a twist that will make your hair stand on end.

A self-driving car comes along that smashes into the arguing humans. Or the self-driving car strikes the wreckage which smashes into them.

I know that this last suggested scenario will immediately be rejected by some pundits. They would exclaim that no self-respecting self-driving car would ever ram into wrecked vehicles on the freeway. Nor would the self-driving car ever strike humans standing on the freeway.

Sorry to say that those pundits are once again entirely out-to-lunch. There is a demonstrative chance of the self-driving car striking the wreckage or possibly directly striking the humans. It all depends upon how fast the self-driving car is going, the roadway conditions at the time, the timing of when the car crash occurred, and so on.

I would be willing to concede that the odds are likely less than the equivalent odds of human drivers that are subject to human foibles such as driving while drinking, driving while distracted, and the like. Those kinds of faulty forms of driving would not be something an AI driving system is going to imbue.


There are a lot more twists and turns on this topic.

Space limitations allow me just a few final remarks for now.

We could have two self-driving cars that crash into each other. I purposely chose earlier to focus on a human-driven car that crashes into a self-driving car. That’s a more likely possibility. Nonetheless, there is also a chance of two self-driving cars colliding with each other.

I’ve got something to say that will undoubtedly raise your eyebrows.

Imagine that there are passengers in each of the two self-driving cars. You would kind of assume that the passengers of the respective vehicles would not try to argue with each other. I mention this because none of them were driving the two autonomous vehicles. We can kind of see the logic of why a human driver wants to argue about a car crash, but the matter of passengers arguing seems nonsensical since none of them had anything to do with the driving itself.

With a heavy heart, I must point out that humans are humans. They often argue. They argue when it might not be sensible to do so.

I can readily envision the passengers of the two self-driving cars deciding to stand outside of the wrecked self-driving cars and have an impassioned and heated debate. Perhaps they are arguing about which self-driving car is at fault. They might be arguing about which of them has the more severe injuries.

They might be arguing about nothing in particular and just darned angry about being in the self-driving cars crash.

My hope is that they would have enough presence of mind to get away from the wreckage and retreat away from the active lanes. This does bring up a potential new feature for self-driving cars.

It would be handy to have a feature built within self-driving cars that tries to warn any humans to step away from a wrecked self-driving car. This might consist of an Alexa or Siri kind of vocalization, telling you to find a safe place to wait for assistance.

Obviously, this feature might have gotten damaged and won’t function when the time comes for it to do its thing. I’d wager it would still be handy to have available and ergo be usable in some minor fender benders.

Yep, AI ought to do more than just driving the self-driving car. We should be devising AI to be an all-around aid to preserving and protecting mankind, including telling humans to stop arguing when they are neck-deep in peril.

Let’s hope the humans would pay attention.


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