The Self-Driving Dilemma: Safety versus Freedom Car Wreck

A new study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute examines the difference between regular automobiles and the new “self-driving” models. According to the study (commissioned by an admittedly self-interested party, Google) humans behind the wheel crash 4.2 times per million miles, self-driving cars only 3.2 times per million miles. And the self-driving era is in its infancy. As the new cars improve, pass regulatory scrutiny and gain wider adoption,   tens of thousands of lives could be saved every year in the US alone.

But even assuming the validity of the study’s findings, self-driving cars are not necessarily without their problems. Given government’s growing interest in controlling how and where Americans travel, they could become just another piece of our ever more pervasive surveillance state.

Above and beyond immediate, local situational awareness — staying on the road, keeping track of the distance from and speed of surrounding cars, etc. — self-driving cars need constant awareness of the larger environment: Where they are on the map, what turns to make to get where they’re taking you, and whether or not there are accidents, traffic jams or road repairs ahead.

While any single piece of this information might be available from a number of sources, it’s easier to get everything from one source: A network to which the car either remains connected at all times, or connects to frequently when driving. And this is a two-way street (pun intended!). The car requests information from the network … and  takes instructions from the network too.

This fact creates all kinds of opportunities for abuse by government agencies with command influence over the network.

Something going on your government doesn’t want you to see? The network says there’s been a train derailment and routes all traffic so as to detour around the area.

Someone your government DOES want to see? When she gets in her car to go to work, the doors lock, she finds that she cannot turn off the engine, and she’s driven straight to the nearest police station.

I’m sure you can come up with other dystopian possibilities.

Widespread, even universal, adoption of self-driving cars is probably inevitable, and probably a good thing. It’s important that we don’t lose site of priorities other than safety and convenience, though. The market should demand, and government should be powerless to forbid,  a driver prerogative of assuming manual control of his or her vehicle at any time, for any reason.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


2015: A Look Back at the Center’s Work

Our primary mission at the Garrison Center is to produce libertarian op-eds and place those op-eds in “mainstream” newspapers and non-libertarian political publications. We are, in that sense, an outreach project for the libertarian movement.

So, how well did we do our job in 2015?

The first Garrison op-ed was published on January 29, 2015, so our “first year” was effectively 11 months long. During that time, we placed, as best I can tell*, 545 op-eds in those other kinds of publication. That’s 1.6 op-eds per day, every day, seven days a week, for 11 months.

Based on our “blue sky” budget of $250 a month***, that’s a per-placement cost of $5.05. And since placements trended upward over the course of that 11 months, the per-placement cost is actually coming down.

Personally, I’d say that’s VERY cost-effective outreach. If you think so too, I hope you’ll support the Center’s work.

How can you support the Center’s work? Well, we’re not a 501(c)(3) organization that can accept tax-deductible donations. In fact, we’re not an “organization” at all as such. You support the Center by supporting its authors. And since I pay other authors an up-front fee when they submit op-eds that are published under the Center’s banner (an occasional thing that I’d like to do more of!), the easiest way to do that is to support me. You can do that from the sidebar at my personal blog, KN@PPSTER. Thanks in advance!

Now, the notes on those asterisks above:

*  I haven’t found any good WordPress plugins to let me keep track and count of “media pickups.” I track them down, note them at the bottom of each column, and keep count of them “by hand.” At the end of 2015, I went through the 140 or so Garrison Center posts one by one, totaling up the “pickups” as I went. I did that three times. Each time I ended up with a different number. The lowest number was higher than 540; the highest number was lower than 550; and one number was, in fact, 545. So that last is the number I am reporting to you. There are likely more “pickups” out there which I never identified; some small newspapers do not put their print content on the web even today. I would say 545 is slightly low, but I didn’t want to be dishonestly high. And of course you are free to go through all those columns and verify the “pickups” for yourself it you don’t trust me 🙂

** $250 per month is my personal funding goal for running the Garrison Center and other things (including my blog and my weekly podcast). For nearly a year, an “angel donor” has funded me at that amount while I try to ramp up crowd-funding to the $250/month level. At some point, the “angel” will let go and I’ll sink or swim (as will the Center). Currently, crowd-funding comes to right at $50 a month. So once again, I’d appreciate your support, which can be delivered via Patreon, PayPal, Bitcoin or Litecoin from the sidebar at my blog, KN@PPSTER.

Yours in liberty,
Tom Knapp
Director and Senior News Analyst
The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism

Disband and Defund the Touchy, Stealy Administration

A TSA officer inspects a piece of luggage. Source: Wikipedia

“Inappropriate.” “Invasive.” That’s how Kevin Payne of San Diego, California describes a Transportation Security Administration employee’s “patdown” of his daughter Vendela at the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina airport. He’s unduly kind. The “patdown” — which Payne captured on cell phone video — was a sexual assault which, in any sane society, would have ended with the perpetrator’s arrest.

The TSA’s response? The assault “followed approved procedures.” Turning every airport terminal in the US into the functional equivalent of one of Uday Hussein’s “rape rooms” is apparently a feature, not a bug, in America’s post-9/11 “security” software.

It’s time and past time to permanently disband TSA and let airports and airlines go back to providing for their own security.

After 13 years of operation, with an annual budget of nearly $7.5 billion, the TSA has yet to demonstrate its usefulness in stopping terrorism aboard airplanes. It routinely fails tests in which inspectors smuggle weapons past its security checkpoints. So far there’s been not a single verifiable instance of TSA foiling a terror plot. And it’s invariably local law enforcement, not TSA, which  effectually responds to security incidents at airports (as in the 2013 LAX attack, in which a TSA agent was killed before local airport police shot the gunman, and the 2014 New Orleans incident in which a deputy sheriff shot a man who was chasing a TSA agent with a machete).

The only thing the organization appears to be any good at is empowering its employees to ogle and feel up travelers and steal goodies from travelers’ luggage.

As for the costs, that $7.5 billion budget doesn’t even begin to touch them. According to the US Bureau of Transportation statistics, there were 685 million airplane passenger boardings in the United States between October 1, 2014 and September 2015. Assuming an average wait time of 10 minutes to get through the TSA’s screening line, that’s 1.1 million hours of lost time for passengers — hours they could have spent working, or shopping, or getting to where they were going, instead of waiting to find out whether or not they’d win the TSA lottery to have their genitals fondled or their laptops swiped from their checked luggage.

Yes, I get it. 9/11 was a horrible day and the urge to “do something” to prevent future attacks is entirely understandable. But the Transportation Security Administration is clearly not up to the task. It doesn’t make us safer. It just inconveniences, assaults and steals from us.  Let’s end this nonsense.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.