Monday 14 April 2014

The medical defence: we can use it too

Last month, the topic of "the medical defence" was covered -arguing that anyone who uses it is claiming that they aren't safe to drive.

Today Arthur Page of Worlaby, Lincolnshire, gets off a Death by Dangerous and a Death by Careless by doing exactly that "The lorry driver told the court he had been diagnosed with sleep apnoea - a condition which causes the sufferer to stop breathing while they sleep - following the collision."

Unless prosecutors are trained to exploit this admission of unfitness to drive, until the DVLA is hooked up to the courts, using this defence in court isn't going to lose your license.

that is, unless someone reports you through the DVLA web page -which we have just done, and which they have just accepted

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Mr Page used the defence if "he had been diagnosed with apnea" as a defence in a trial of causing death by dangerous driving.

The fact that he crashed into a stationary HGV is evidence that the condition is affecting his driving

As such, he is declaring that he is not medically fit to drive unless and until this condition has been addressed. 

We'll never know if this gets acted on. But in absence of justice in the legal system, this is all that is left.

Thursday 10 April 2014

White Vans and their costs

the RAC foundation have an analysis of the White Van.,

This also includes Tipper Trucks, bringers of death to the city.

  • 53% of vans are private; of these 45% of km driven are used for commuting, 17% personal. 1% for between jobs , 23% for collection and delivery. 
  • 47% company, 32% commuting and 3% personal. Presumably these journeys constitute a taxable-in-kind benefit and taxed as any other company car.
  • Of the company cars, 35% for goods, 19% between jobs. 
  • 99% of private owners are men. You knew that, right?
  • 39% of LCVs are less than 25% full. When you consider the percentages of vehicles used for commuting and personal use this is unsurprising. A lot of these vehicles are used as substitute for corporate or personal cars.
  • The majority of LCVs are diesel. You knew that too.
Selected quotes from page ix
  • There is evidence that LCVs have been used to substitute for HGVs
  • A key factor is pay – an LCV driver might earn £15k, an HGV driver £25k
  • Regulation will have an influence; vans, their operation and their drivers are less heavily regulated than HGVs
That page also predicts a doubling in size by 2040, even though page viii showed that vehicle registrations make it clear that demand is elastic: when the economy is in trouble, less vans. Therefore their growth estimates contain implicit estimates about economic growth.

The safety details on p.xi are relevant. 
  1. Overall collision rates are down
  2. peak collision hours are 8-9 and 5-6. These are also peak commuting hours, so vehicle use may be highest at this time.
  3. 50% of vans fail their MOT first time round
  4. 89% of vehicles pulled over are overweight. This contrasts with the percentage-full numbers, implying that a specific set of LCVs aer massively overweight. Tipper trucks?
The report (p.14) implies that LCVs are only in 5% reported RTCs, despite being 14% of traffic. What is not looked at is what the percentage of KSIs arise in those RTCs. Tipper trucks have a justified reputation for being lethal in London. meaning even though their percentage may be down, their damage is significantly higher.

LCVs and personal use.
Any LCV used for commuting and personal use is a taxable benefit. Yet as the paper notes,  "Although Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs record personal LCV usage for tax purposes, this is somewhat unreliable and not a true representation.". They get more detail F2F -which means that van drivers under-report their personal usage. 

LCVs and working hours. P17
only 44% of drivers know the legal limits on hours, which is ~ten working hours excluding commuting. If a driver commutes 1 hour a day each way -that's 12 hours on the road.

LCVs and Costs
The paper implies that the highest operating costs of the vehicle are fuel, at an approximate maximum of  £3,600/year. Yet the salary of a driver is a higher factor in the operational costs of the vehicle -as noted when the paper discusses how a motivator for LCVs is their reduced salaries than HGVs. 

The cost saving of switching from HGV driver to an LCV driver covers the entire annual fuel bill of the vehicle

HGV and LCV safety 

The paper highlights that the staff cost savings are a key factor driving a switch from HGV to LCV. Yet that cost saving comes at the expense of training -HGV drivers have to pass more tests. When you consider how dangerously HGV drivers can drive, how so many of them appear to be on the phone when you look at them on the motorway (try doing this from a coach, you get a better view), the fact that the driving qualification requirements of LCVs is less than HGVs is important.

When the "staff cost savings" of switching from HGVs to LCVs are mentioned, it really means "it is cheaper to employ staff without the stricter qualifications of HGV drivers"

Tipper Trucks
The article includes tipper trucks in this class -clearly part of the EU designation.

This implies 
  1. that the qualifications to drive a tipper truck are less than for an HGV
  2. assuming the knowledge is spread across all vehicle categories, only half the owners of tipper trucks know the working hour limits for driving LCVs.
  3. Assuming the MOT failure rate is spread across all vehicles, 50% of tipper trucks are not in a condition to pass an MOT.
These are things to consider in any road safety discussion. It is also highly likely that these are the vehicles found to be overweight. One does not observe an overweight white van, but a full tipper truck is visible -and this could lead to the higher success rate on VOSA searches.

To conclude: the numbers here show the trend towards the LCV becoming a ubiquitous vehicle in the UK cities. While safer vehicles than HGVs, the fact that the driving standards are lower may increase risk, especially for the larger vehicles, the tipper trucks in particular.


People may whine about the cost of fuel, -but only the VAT-deductible cost of business travel is relevant. Commuting costs are not a business expense unless the owner is lying to HMG about personal use -and even trying to claim VAT back on those journeys. 

Monday 7 April 2014

The ethics of autonomous cars

This paper on ethical autonomous cars asks whether or autonomous cars would have ethics -essentially prioritise the risks of one participant in a collision over another.

Whoever wrote that is fucking naive.

The whole SUV trend is prioritising the risks of others over that of the owner -or at least appearing to. If you look at the safey ratings of cars they all highlight their passenger safety -but nobody highlights their pedestrian safety numbers. Because if they started to do that, either their cars with awful figures -Jeep Cherokee, Audi TT- wouldn't sell. Or if they did sell, their owners might be slightly self conscious tht their toys were considered more dangerous than others. Though of course the sales figures of SUVs shows that few customers have ethics there.

Everyone who buys an SUV is saying "I don't give a fuck about the safety of others, I want something that bullies them out the way. And if pedestrians, cyclists or people in small cars die -tough".

Does anyone seriously think the owner of an automated SUV would want one that is prepared to prioritise the lives of others over themselves? Not a fucking chance.

But SUVs are about passive safety: the ethics of the situation are implicit in the vehicle, but they aren't implemented in the software. Write those decisions in code and all of a sudden the authors of the software are the one making conscious decisions. Which brings one word to the surface: lawsuit.

If anyone is in a collision with an autonomous vehicle, an immediate question is going to become "did the car make a conscious decision to crash with me?", or "what were its priorities in this situation?". And if it became clear that the collision was a result of explicit decisions in the firmware: google, Mercedes, Volvo or whoever are in deep fucking trouble.

That is: unless they can get the legal system set up to grant them indemnity.

Expect the car and computer companies to be talking to the politicans already, saying things like "Autonomous cars will improve road safety -but if we are exposed to lawsuits then those lives won't be saved", and the politicans to nod with them as they listen to the stories of a brave new world of cars that fend for themselves.

If an autonomous car really did have ethics, would it do the school run? Would it drive to corner shop? Would it refuse to work on a high-smog day? Because that would be ethical. Are we going to see that? Not a fucking chance.