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Google, Tesla etc. try to make 'self-driving' equal 'blameless'

One of the standard arguments for driverless cars is that most car accidents are caused by human error. Or, as some skeptics have put it, "Cars don't kill people. People driving cars kill people." Either way, the experimental technology is more and more frequently finding its way onto California roads. With industry leaders Google and Tesla Motors Inc. headquartered here, the Bay Area may soon be the world's driverless test track.

Depending on where the information is coming from, the autonomous vehicles may not have been involved in any accidents but there have been some near misses. Reuters reported recently that two driverless cars came close to colliding in Palo Alto recently. The vehicles were prototypes from Google and Delphi Automotive, and both were equipped with back-up humans who could take over in an emergency.

Dreaming of California this summer? Not while driving, please! p3

The Fourth of July is coming up, the holiday that many of us look forward to the most. If you aren't a fan of fireworks, perhaps you enjoy the chance to sit with friends, enjoying a relaxed, extended afternoon, sharing barbecue and tossing back a few beers -- or even a nice California wine. The key to maintaining the vibe lies in monitoring your alcohol intake if you're planning to drive.

You see, according to research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Fourth of July is the deadliest day of the year.

Dreaming of California this summer? Not while driving, please! p2

We are picking up where last week's post left off, talking about risks that California drivers face during the summer months. Summer presents its own set of challenges to drivers, even drivers who are sober and paying attention to the road. Some of them we have control over, but some of them we just have to watch out for.

  • Visitors: Many of the drivers clogging local roads may also be on vacation. Visitors may not be familiar with the roads or may drive erratically -- slowing down, turning with little warning -- as they try to navigate strange city streets and highways.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Kills 6 & Leaves 7 Others in Critical Condition

A 21st birthday party turned tragic when a deadly 4th story balcony collapsed in Berkeley, sending 13 people to the ground. 4 people were pronounced dead at the scene, and 2 more were pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Several more victims, both male and female, were sent to the hospital in critical condition.The collapse happened around 12:30 a.m., at the relatively new, 177-unit Library Gardens apartment complex, in Berkeley, California.

Dreaming of California this summer? Not while driving, please!

The Bay Area is settling in to summer. The weather has been cooperating; school is out or will be out soon, and family trips are in the works. This part of California has a reputation for being laid-back, but we know better. We may not be blue suit and red tie types, but we work hard. When summer comes around, we like to take a breather, to relax our grip just a little on our daily routine.

This is not the time of year, however, to relax behind the wheel. The summer months are notorious for being the most dangerous for teen drivers -- so much so that AAA has designated the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day as the "100 Deadliest Days." In 2013, the organization reported that more accidents involving teen drivers -- accidents with injuries and fatalities -- occur during the summer months. Since then, AAA has worked to raise awareness among young drivers, their families and their communities about the increased risk.

How fast is the fast track when the federal government is involved? p2

We are circling back to our May 21 post about the speed limiter rule that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration are working on. Before we continue, though, we wanted to share a short item.

When we were checking for new developments on this regulation, we saw a Detroit News story that supports what many say is the federal government's hurry-up-and-wait rulemaking process. The NHTSA has released the final rule requiring truck tractors and large buses to be equipped with anti-rollover technology … by 2019. The agency believes the technology could prevent 1,700 accidents every year. According to the article, Congress initially asked the agency to look into the issue in 2012.

Is liability less of an issue with driverless vehicles?

The easy answer to the question posed above is, of course, no. But driverless or fully autonomous cars are not yet widely in use on U.S. roads. As we have noted previously, California has passed laws that allow for the testing of computer- and sensor-controlled vehicles. And as readers are surely aware by now, some of those vehicles have been involved in accidents.

The companies developing the vehicles, like Google, stress that the accidents on record happened while the cars were under the control of human beings and no one was hurt. That may provide some level of confidence that autonomous vehicles may prove to be safer, as developers claim. But the crashes also serve as a caution that accidents have to be expected to happen.

How fast is the fast track when the federal government is involved?

If you suffer from high blood pressure, you may not want to continue. This is a story about the federal government's response to major safety issues, and some readers may find it frustrating, if not outright alarming.

In March, the Associated Press published the results of a study about the speed ratings of tractor-trailer tires. The researchers reported that most truck tires are built to handle sustained speeds up to 75 mph. The tires were fine as long as state laws stuck to speed limits of 65 or 70 mph. In the last few years, though, 14 states have raised the speed limits on major highways to 75, 80 and even 85 mph.

Deadly wrong-way crashes have CHP, Caltrans looking for answers

A South San Francisco man was among the dead in a recent wrong-way accident near Sacramento -- the fourth wrong-way crash in 2015. Three people in all died in that accident, bringing the total number of lives lost in wrong-way accidents this year to 14. Both state police and lawmakers are wondering if this is just an unusual cluster of crashes or a trend.

According to reports from the California Highway Patrol, each crash occurred after dark when the driver was alone in the car; in the three highway crashes, each driver entered from an exit ramp. In at least two of the four accidents, the wrong-way driver was intoxicated -- one registered a 0.20 blood alcohol content level, more than double California's legal limit. Officials suggest that dementia may be another contributing factor in this type of crash.

Share the road, survive the ride: May is Motorcycle Safety Month

If you missed the Bay Area Motorcycle Show last weekend, there is still time to attend Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month events in other California cities. The California Highway Patrol and the state Office of Traffic Safety have begun their own awareness campaign, too, with the motto, "Survive the Ride."

California has more motorcycles on the roads -- well, more registered motorcycles, at least -- than any other state. The 830,000 bikes are operated by an estimated 1.4 million riders.

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