Tesla Autopilot

Tesla Autopilot Car Crash Kills Driver

In the first crash of its kind, a Tesla automobile with its “Autopilot” engaged was involved in a crash that killed its owner. According to Tesla, “this is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated.”  While there are a lot of lessons to be taken from this crash, the first lesson to know and understand is that, in spite of the name, the Autopilot system does not make the Tesla an autonomous, self-driving car.

While the news about the crash was just released last week, the crash actually happened on May 7, 2016. The Tesla was nearing an intersection as a tractor-trailer was making a left turn. The Tesla failed to stop and drove under the trailer with the windshield impacting the bottom part of the trailer. Tesla engineers feel that the Autopilot’s brakes failed to engage because the camera failed to distinguish between the bright sky and the large white side of the trailer. Adding to the problem, the trailer’s height may have fooled the camera into believing the road was clear ahead.

The Tesla camera’s inability to distinguish white paint from a clear blue sky poses a major problem.  The camera is a black and white camera that can only distinguish between black, white, and various shades of gray. It has been suggested that, if the system had used Lidar (laser based radar) instead, the colors wouldn’t have mattered.

Tesla’s Autopilot system is actually a “driver-assist” system that includes, among other things, an active cruise control that maintains the posted speed limit and automatically applies the brakes when it gets too close to a vehicle ahead. The cruise control uses data from on-board cameras and road maps to maintain position and speed. There’s also a lane departure system that automatically keeps the car within its lane as long as the cameras can detect lane marking lines. The vehicle also has the ability to automatically parallel park.

Even when working together, these systems don’t make the vehicle truly autonomous or self-driving. In fact, the vehicle is set to manual driving by default and, when the Autopilot system is engaged, the driver has to acknowledge a message that says the Autopilot is an assist program and drivers must keep their hands on the wheel at all times.

There is evidence that the driver of this vehicle hadn’t been paying attention to the road and may, instead, have been watching a movie. If he had been paying attention and kept his hands on the wheel, he should have been able to stop the car in plenty of time to avoid the collision.

The name “Autopilot” may have fooled a lot of drivers and there are many examples on Youtube of Tesla drivers treating the Autopilot system as if it were a self-driving system. One Youtube video shows a Tesla driver asleep at the wheel in stop-and-go traffic.

Several vehicle manufacturers such BMW, Mercedes, and GM offer similar driver-assist features as an option in their higher end vehicles but it’s going to be a very long time before the systems are improved and tested enough to be considered fully autonomous. For now, these systems provide added safety but they still aren’t equal to the best safety feature of all; a driver who’s paying attention to the road ahead.

For more information, visit: A Tragic Loss

Summertime buzzed driving

Tips for Safe Summer Driving: Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving

As we near the Fourth of July holiday period, people are starting to make plans for their holiday celebration but unfortunately, many forget to plan for their alcohol consumption. Too many Americans feel that if they’ve only had a little to drink, they’re still capable of driving safely. They tend to forget or ignore the fact that buzzed driving is impaired driving.

In 2014, over the 4th of July holiday (6 p.m. July 3rd to 5:59 a.m. July 7th), 164 people were killed in crashes involving at least one driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher. Those preventable deaths make up 41% of the 397 people killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes over the 4th of July period.

Much of the tragedy from drunk driving can be prevented with a few simple precautions before going out to celebrate:

  • Plan a safe way home before the festivities begin.
  • Before drinking, please designate a sober driver and give that person your keys.
  • If you’re impaired, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation so you’re sure to get home safely.
  • Use your community’s Sober Rides program.
  • If you happen to see a drunk driver on the road, don’t hesitate to contact your local law enforcement.
  • Parents of teen drivers should make sure that teens don’t have access to alcohol and that any teen gatherings are alcohol free.

If you know someone who is about to drive or ride while impaired, take their keys and help them make other arrangements to get to where they are going safely.

Driving impaired is simply not worth the risk, no matter the level of impairment. Alcohol not only affects each person differently, it can affect the same person differently. The effects change based on your food consumption, chemical interactions with other medications and general health. Fatigue, after a long day in the hot sun, can also impact the effects of alcohol.

The consequences of driving impaired are serious and real. Not only do you risk killing yourself or someone else, but the trauma and financial costs of a crash or an arrest for driving while impaired can be significant. Violators often face jail time, the loss of their driver’s license, higher insurance rates, and dozens of other unanticipated expenses.

Don’t let this Fourth of July blow up in your face. Remember, Buzzed Driving Is Impaired Driving. Designate your sober driver before the parties begin.

For more information, please visit http://www.stopimpaireddriving.com/

Baby mirror

Baby Mirror: Safe Or Distracting?

A baby mirror to monitor the baby in the back seat of the car has become a popular gift at baby showers over the last few years and for good reason. The safest place for a baby in a car is securely fastened into a rear-facing infant seat mounted in the rear seat of the vehicle. That makes it difficult for the parents to see the child so, a forward facing baby mirror mounted over the infant safety seat is the best compromise. However, the question comes up, is a baby mirror a good safety tool or just another distraction added to all the other distractions that make driving so dangerous today? The answer is; it all depends on how it’s used by the driver.


Parents of a newborn baby love watching this incredible miracle that they’ve created but you can watch too much. If a driver is tempted to watch for the baby’s reaction while talking to her, he or she can take too much time from the critically important job of keeping his or her eyes on the road.

Studies have shown that most traffic crashes happen within three seconds of a driver distraction. If you take your eyes off the road to look at your baby for just two seconds while driving at 45 mph, your vehicle will travel over 130 feet. A lot can happen in that time and distance. If an emergency should happen in that space, it’ll take, on average, an additional 84 feet to bring your car to a stop. Good thing you have a good, safe baby seat.

To protect that precious bundle of joy, the driver needs to keep his or her eyes on the road at all times. Give the baby the same amount of attention that you would give to other vehicles in your rearview mirror. Just a quick glance every 10 to 15 seconds just to make sure everything’s OK. Make sure that your rearview mirror is positioned on the road behind and not aimed mostly at the baby mirror.

Safety Tool:

As long as you’re not allowing the baby mirror to be a distraction, it can be an excellent safety tool.

Babies are constantly exploring and learning new things. One thing they tend to learn, as early as 12 months, is that they’re capable of unbuckling their seat harness and crawling out of their child seat. One study showed that 75% of children who discover they can unbuckle their seatbelt were ages three and under. Once they make this miraculous discovery, it can be very hard to keep them buckled up. Checking to ensure that your child is safely buckled in is one of the best reasons for investing in a baby mirror. If your child is getting out of his or her seat, don’t panic and never try to deal with it from the driver’s seat while the car is in motion. Pull as far off the side of the road as possible, then get out and deal with the situation.

Baby Mirror Sleeping

Remember that the safest place to interact with your child is at home. While you’re driving, pay attention to the road so that you can both get home safely.

The biggest kept secret

The Best Kept Secret That Could Protect Your Baby

Most parents of a newborn child would do anything they could to protect that child from harm but there’s one critically important safety device that seems to be a well kept secret for most new parents.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a study of new parents who were taking their newborn child home from the hospital. The study showed that 93 percent of new parents made at least one critical error in placing or attaching their infant car seat for the first time.

Most new parents seem to know about using the seat belt to secure an infant car seat but, it seems that very few know about or use their vehicle’s LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system. The LATCH system has been required on all infant child seats and motor vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002. While the LATCH system may be there, it’s often difficult for parents to find and use.

The LATCH system consists of tether points (as in the photo above) located both on the seat itself and, for forward facing child seats, behind the rear seat. Latches built into the infant seat or seat base are designed to hook onto the anchor points located between the seat cushions.

LATCH Mechanism

These tethers, once they are latched and tightened, are extremely effective in holding the child seat securely in place during a crash.

When your child is old enough for a front-facing child protective seat, there’s an additional tether to prevent the top of the seat from flying forward in a crash. The point that it tethers to depends on the type of vehicle you have.

LATCH tether points

Follow the directions that came with your child seat when attaching the LATCH points. If the child seat user’s manual is unavailable, you can generally find a user’s manual online at the child seat manufacturer’s website.

If you’re still unsure about how to correctly install your child seat, you can contact the local child seat inspection station where a trained child seat inspector can show you how to correctly install the seat.

Always place your baby’s child seat in the rear seat but keep in mind that, in certain crashes, the front seat can break, fall back and possibly injure the child seated behind. If possible, always place the child seat behind an empty front seat or behind the lightest front seat passenger.

Another thing that seems to be a secret is that car seats have expiration dates. Plastic seat components exposed to the sun and heat in the interior of a car over long periods can start to break down and weaken. The expiration date is marked on the bottom of the seat. If a previously used seat is near or past its expiration date, dispose of it. Don’t be tempted to sell it at a garage sale where it could endanger another child.

If you’re in the market for a new car, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has information on the safest cars and those cars with the easiest to use LATCH systems.

Be sure to register your new car seat in case problems arise that require a recall. To check whether or not your car seat has been recalled, visit: Get Car Seat Recall Notices

For the sake of your child, and others, don’t let the proper use of child seat systems remain a secret; spread the word. For more information visit: Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) Restraint System

Car radio

Is The Car Radio Distracting?

In still more research on distracted driving, researchers in the United Kingdom looked at whether or not the car radio could be distracting to drivers. The researchers from University College Dublin, Ireland conducted a small scale study using 36 drivers in a full size driving simulator to test whether or not the car radio interfered with a driver’s attention enough to pose a danger. The data seems to support past research that has been conducted on the use of cell phones while driving.

The study was designed to test what’s known as the “perceptual load theory of attention.” That theory states that people only have a limited amount of attention to work with and, once they reach their limit, they can’t process any more information. In this case, the researchers wanted to see if information overload by one sense (hearing) could affect another sense (sight).

The subjects were divided into two groups; a “low attention load” and a “high attention load.” Those in the low attention load group were told to listen to the traffic report on the radio and to note when the traffic reporters switched from male to female, a task that didn’t require a lot of attention.

Those in the high attention load group were told to listen for traffic reports regarding a specific highway; a task that required a good deal more attention. While both groups drove over the simulated course, the researchers would randomly place a large gorilla or an elephant at the side of the road.

The researchers found that 71 percent of those in the low attention load group noticed the gorilla or elephant. In the high attention load group, only 23 percent noticed the large, misplaced animals on the side of the road. The high attention load group also had greater difficulty in obeying yield signs and maintaining proper speed and lane position to avoid hazards.

The fact that the high attention load group experienced difficulty while listening to the radio for comprehension parallels the results of a study conducted by Carnegie Melon researchers in 2008. In that study, subjects were tested first while driving over a simulated driving course and then, when driving over a similar course while carrying on a simulated cell phone conversation; all while their brains were being scanned by an MRI. The study was designed to show what areas of the brain showed the most activity while performing a task. In the first test, without the use of a cell phone, the area of the brain that controlled for spacial awareness (where your body is in relation to other objects around it) was the most active. In the second part of the study where subjects drove while carrying on a simulated cell phone conversation, the area of the brain that showed the most activity was the area that controlled language comprehension and the activity in the spacial awareness area was reduced by 37 percent.

That convinced the Carnegie Melon researchers that “multi-tasking” is a myth; the brain isn’t capable of handling two or more tasks equally at the same time. To concentrate on one task the brain has to rob attention from another control center.

For most drivers, listening to the car radio is a very low attention load activity. For most, listening to the car radio is just background noise. If the average driver were asked what song just played or what product was just advertised, he or she would be unable to say. Usually, the car radio isn’t a distraction at all but, when listening for comprehension, the brain has to shift processing power away from paying attention to the road to paying attention to the radio. If you’ve ever turned down or turned off the car radio while looking for an address or navigating through a strange city, you’re probably instinctively aware of this fact. Paying attention to a cell phone conversation instead of the road ahead is the same thing.

For more information, visit: Does listening to the radio make driving more dangerous?