Saturday, February 22, 2020

Causation Rears Its Ugly Head Again

Car crash videos are illuminating, but often not as their authors intended.

When I was a kid, they taught a course in "defensive driving".   Well, I wasn't a kid, I was a young adult, and I took the course when I got too many speeding tickets and they wanted to sober me up.  It took quite a few more years, but I realized I was driving like a jackass - presuming that other people would be 100% accurate and alert all the time, understand the rules of the road, and never make any mistakes.   It was an asinine way to drive.

In any system that involves human interaction, you have to expect very low efficiency.   As I noted before, human beings operate at a very low efficiency.   Robots never take bathroom breaks, worry about their mortgage payment, try to date (or sexually harass) the neighboring robot, or sit around and bitch about how awful work is.  Humans, on the other hand, have a litany of failings.   We all do, so just own up to it and plan on it as part of your life.

That is, by the way, why living "paycheck to paycheck" is a bad choice - and it is a choice.   I know because I lived that way for a good part of my life.  I bought "things" and services (like cable TV) and then wondered why I could barely pay my bills every month.   The credit card balances kept going up, and then one month, and "unexpected expense" (which was entirely expected) occurred and the whole apple-cart was upset.   It is a choice, not a mandate.

I am getting off-topic, but I saw an article online from The Guardian, who likes to publish articles about how awful it is to live in America, where there is no social safety net like in the good old UK!  The couple profiled both worked low-wage jobs and complained "We can't afford food!" and "had" to go to a food bank to get sustenance.   Of course, they showed a photo of the couple, and like most Americans, they were quite overweight - by 20-50 pounds at least (loose clothing is a godsend, ain't it?) so they were hardly starving.   And I wonder if "they can't afford food" at the same time they have his-n-hers smart phones (probably Apples, alas) and cable television and a car - maybe two.  "But everyone has these things!" of course, right?  No word on whether they had tattoos.

But getting back to cars, one of my guilty pleasures in life is watching Russian car-crash videos, as I noted in my previous post.  They started out in Russia, as people there quickly adopted dashcams as there were a lot of insurance fraud cases, I guess.  But now many people in the US have them (I have one - they cost $18 at Walmart, you'll spend more on the memory card) and there is proliferation of "North American" crash videos and motorcycle crash videos.  The latter are a little different as some cyclists like to put GoPro cameras on their helmets and then video the stunts they do - like going triple-digit speeds in heavy traffic (often with predictable outcomes).

And that's just it - these are predictable outcomes and yet many of these "cammers" claim that the other person is totally at fault, and that nothing they did was wrong.  Yet, in many cases - if not all - they could have avoided the accident by driving defensively and expecting the other person to have human failings.

What sort of things am I talking about?  Well here area few:

1.  One lane fast, one lane slow:   You are driving along and suddenly the traffic slows in the other lane.  Too bad for them!  Your lane is open!  No need to slow down, right?  Just keep going 70 mph while the other lane is at a near halt.   This can happen when traffic backs up at an exit or when there is an incident in the other lane. 
In these car-cam videos, the inevitable happens.  Someone decides to pull out of the slowed lane and into the faster lane.  The "cammer" who is doing the speed limit, can't stop in time and plows into them.  Or, if it is an exit lane backup, someone in the fast lane slows down to merge into the backed up exit lane (and no one will let them in).  The Cammer plows into them as well. 
If you see one lane slow and the other lane fast, you should expect that traffic will want to flow to the faster lane, just as gas seeks its own equilibrium. Acting shocked that someone wants to merge into your lane is infantile.  Slow down when you see traffic slowed in the other lane, and keep a keen eye out for someone trying to merge.   You should expect this to happen, as it usually will. 
2. I'm not letting you in!   We see a lot of these videos where the "at fault" driver is trying to change lanes.  They got into the wrong lane and now need to change lanes to get to an exit or make a left turn or whatever.  They screwed up - they are from out-of-town and don't know the roads, and the roads and lanes are poorly marked (a pet peeve of mine - often turns for Interstate on-ramps are not marked until 50 feet from the actual turn - try crossing four lanes towing a trailer sometime!  You end up going past and then trying to turn around - which is even worse!). 
In these situations, you see the "cammer" actually speed up to "cut off" the person trying to change lanes, who already has one wheel in the lane, or their turn signal on.  "You're not going to get ahead of me!" the cammer seems to be saying.  The person trying to merge is either castigated for being "an idiot" or an actual collision occurs - one that could be avoided if the aggressive driver simply let the guy merge or change lanes and moved on with life. 
3.  Blind Spot Driving:   You see a lot of these videos where the car ahead starts to "crowd the lane" and you can just sense the guy is going to change lanes.  I see this all the time on the road.  Not a problem, unless you are riding his blind spot.   Staying in that 3/4 zone at the rear of someone's car is a recipe for collision.  When they change lanes, you get hit. 
Even worse are the situations where the driver sees the person changing lanes and doesn't bother to slow down, honk his horn, swerve, or take any other action to avoid the collision.  He simply lets the other guy plow into him.  Was the driver on the phone?  Staging an insurance claim?  Just a shitty driver?   Probably a little of all three, mostly the last. 
4.  The horn is for warning, not punishing:   In many videos, you can see this shit going down - someone running a red light or turning left, or changing lanes or whatever, and the driver does nothing to prevent the accident.  A simple "toot" on the horn would warn the other driver and avoid the accident.   But they never do that
Instead, after a "close call" they lay on the horn for a full minute and then flash their lights, offer the middle finger, or worse yet, chase the "offending driver" for blocks.   What is weird about this, is the person chasing is often driving like they are in a hurry, yet they have fifteen minutes out of their day to chase down an "offending" driver and start a road-rage incident.  Then they post this on YouTube as if they were the road avenger - enforcing the nation's traffic laws, one incident at a time! 
It is nonsense.  Use the horn to warn - if someone doesn't see you or if you think they don't see you.  Let them know you are there.  If you have a "close call" it is tempting to honk in frustration, but try to avoid it - and avoid the long "hold down the button" honk - that isn't accomplishing anything. 
5. Speeding through intersections:  Many of these accidents involve intersections, which is to be expected as most car accidents occur at intersections.   Knowing that, you'd think most people would slow down at an intersection, wouldn't you? 
The problem with intersections is multifold.   First, you have red-light runners.  We hate to be "first in line" at an intersection, as the first car to go after a green light is the most likely to be broadsided by a red-light runner.  These accidents are particularly gruesome, as the red-light runner often speeds up to run the red light - and the "victim" car is broadsided, hitting the most vulnerable part of the car. 
While it is clearly wrong to run red lights, it happens all the time.  Watch for it and when the light turns green, don't be focusing on the light, but rather the cross-traffic, and make sure there isn't a speeding car coming in either direction before you lurch out into the intersection. 
Left turns are also a problem - and the cause of many accidents, particularly when cars hit motorcycles.  Just avoid making them, if you can.   But at any intersection (or where people are trying to turn into a business) expect people to turn left, badly.  Actually, there is no other way, left turns just suck, period. 
The person turning left misjudges your speed and distance and since you are going very fast through an intersection, you can't stop in time and a collision is preordained.  This is particularly true for motorcycles - it is hard for a motorist to judge speed of a bike, and motorcyclists like to go really fast.  So they turn in front of you, assuming you are going 30 mph and they have plenty of time, but you are "Joe Ninja" and going 70 because you have "fast reaction times" - or so you tell your friends at the hospital or they inscribe on your tombstone. 
6.  The "scootching" or "let 'em in" scenario:  On thing that annoys me when driving is when people decide to make up new traffic laws on the fly.  So, for example, you arrive at a four-way stop sign.  There is already a car there, to your right, so they have the right-of-way times two.  Just a refresher, but the first car to arrive at a four-way stop has the right-of-way, and if two arrive at the same time, right has right of way
But some people will have none of this.  They make a "scootching" motion with their hands to be "courteous".   "You go first!" they seem to be saying, as if this were some kind of kindness or generosity.  The problem with "scootching" is that the rest of the world isn't aware of this new arrangement of traffic laws that they've created.   So you take the right-of-way, and some other clown plows into you, because they assumed that normal traffic laws were in effect. 
Where this is a real problem is in heavy traffic.  On a four-lane road in an urban area, traffic is backed up at the light.  Someone coming the other way is trying to turn left into a gas station.  Good Samaritan Sam in the left lane decides to "let them in" and makes the "scootching" motion.  "Go ahead!" he seems to say, "the coast is clear!" 
Maybe in his lane, but the right lane has cleared up, and Mr. Dash Cam is speeding toward the intersection, hoping to make the green light and get to work on time.   Yea, it is partially his fault for speeding and not watching out and not getting up ten minutes earlier.   The left turner turns in front of the "scootcher" but can't see traffic in the right lane, and the cammer plows into him.   We see this scenario go down on dashcam videos nearly as much as intersection collisions.
In a way, this is a variation of the "one lane stopped, one lane moving" scenario outlined above.  When you see one lane stopped and one lane "open" you should assume something is about to go wrong - people don't just stop in traffic for the hell of it, and if you speed down the "open" lane, you'll probably run into someone, if not just have a "close call".
* * *

These are just a few of the patterns we see from the dashcam videos, so in a way they are very instructive - if people are willing to look at them objectively and not try to find "fault" on the part of only one driver.  But as I noted in a previous posting, causation is a problem for young people - and sometimes the old. They want to find scapegoats for everything that happens in their lives.   Everything bad that happens to you has to be the fault of someone else.   You are a victim and innocent as the driven snow.  "But for" the actions of others, nothing bad would ever happen to you!

It is an irrational idea.

And yes, there are some accidents in these videos where someone else was clearly at fault and moreover there was nothing the other party could do to avoid the accident.  But those are few and far between.  Acting shocked that someone wants to merge at an onramp, or turn at an intersection, or get out of a slow lane and into a fast one, is just juvenile thinking.   Acting shocked when others drive badly is similarly idiotic - we all make mistakes on occasion - actually, most of the time.

Sadly, "causation" ends up causing a lot of people to squander their lives, tying to blame others for their woes rather than looking inwardly and wondering whether anything they did could have affected the outcome differently.

In financial matters, this is particularly the case.  People posit that they are "victims" of banks, Wall Street, the 1%'ers or the Federal Reserve.  But you can't be a "victim" of a loan agreement that you never sign.   You can't be a "victim" of an investment scam you never sign up for. People who invested with Bernie Madoff, for example, are as much to blame for their losses as he was.  They handed over huge sums of money to a man promising outrageous rates of return, and never bothered to ask themselves why and how he was making this kind of money, and if he was able to do so, why he would bother investing their money and not just his.  If someone has a recipe for making huge amounts of money, they won't share it with you, that's for sure!

And yes, there are situations in finance where people are innocent actors and victimized by others.  But those are the exception to the rule.   In most cases, had people been a little more astute, a little more skeptical, a little more cautions, financial calamity could have been avoided.

The man who thought he could "buy and flip" houses back in 2006 never bothered to wonder why anyone would pay more to buy than rent - and assumed the housing bubble would go on forever.  Who's to blame?  The bank that kept loaning him money?  The real estate agent who egged him on?  Or is he at least partially to blame for his own greed and inability to "do the math" on this?

The fellow protesting his student loans - is he a victim of greedy banks, or the overpaid dean at his college, who never even tried to cut costs, but instead just padded the tuition bill again and again?  Or is he even slightly to blame for not thinking about where a college degree in useless studies was going to take him?  Or not "shopping around" on price, cutting his own expenses, or even working part-time to pay for school?  In my mind, it is kind of hard for me to feel sorry for kids who took "spring break" vacations to Florida and got shitfaced drunk every day - at school.   That's their real beef - the party is over, and someone has come to collect on the bill.

And so on, down the line.   The major mistakes in my financial life - and there are many - are mistakes I made and continue to make, as I am only human.  It isn't the fault of the merchant or bank, because I willingly entered into these purchases and financial arrangements, to my benefit or detriment.

Honking your horn and holding down the horn button after the incident really doesn't help much, does it?