This is not a case of Nissan software engineers writing emissions test defeat code. Rather, this is some Nissan factory workers faking internal emissions test results that are done on every completed car. Only about 1,000 cars were affected, and almost all of these cars still met regulatory emissions limits - the targets they were trying to meet were Nissan's stricter internal standards.
Good catch. This comment should probably be higher, because I don't think the majority is reading the news that way.
More like, "I don't think the headlines are written to portray the news that way"
I put the blame, always, on sensationalist clickbait headlines from dishonest news organizations. They are competing for your attention and clicks, so the headline is often flat out wrong.
(As an aside I'm starting to opine that posting WSJ articles here may be bad form for this very reason.)
In reality, Nissan's internal workers were caught falsifying an internal test. That might seem like a small point but it's quite an important difference - the difference between a live malicious data breach and an internal audit failing.
The bigger point is that Nissan would be committing fraud on its customers by quoting false specs for the products they are selling.
For example, in DC there is fraud in the first degree and fraud in the second degree, as well as false promise to future performance: https://code.dccouncil.us/dc/council/code/sections/22-3221.h...
>(a) Fraud in the first degree. — A person commits the offense of fraud in the first degree if that person engages in a scheme or systematic course of conduct with intent to defraud or to obtain property of another by means of a false or fraudulent pretense, representation, or promise and thereby obtains property of another or causes another to lose property.
>(b) Fraud in the second degree. — A person commits the offense of fraud in the second degree if that person engages in a scheme or systematic course of conduct with intent to defraud or to obtain property of another by means of a false or fraudulent pretense, representation, or promise.
>(c) False promise as to future performance. — Fraud may be committed by means of false promise as to future performance which the accused does not intend to perform or knows will not be performed. An intent or knowledge shall not be established by the fact alone that one such promise was not performed.
Because outspoken HN readers assumed this was something to do with government?
Because it does not provide it's readers with an understanding of what happened, purposefully, to create a more sensationalist headline to generate more clicks and likely more revenue through advertising and subscriptions.
> Because outspoken HN readers assumed this was something to do with government?
First, this is needlessly insulting. Second, it is common knowledge that emissions standards are government regulations (because they are), so titling an article about a car manufacturer about failing emissions standards points _almost everyone_ in the wrong direction.
>First, this is needlessly insulting. Second, it is common knowledge that emissions standards are government regulations (because they are), so titling an article about a car manufacturer about failing emissions standards points _almost everyone_ in the wrong direction.
As insulting as assuming the motivations of an author? I don't think so. Emissions standards are also builder specs. What came first: builder specs, or government specs?
>titling an article about a car manufacturer about failing emissions standards points _almost everyone_ in the wrong direction.
I disagree. The title was factually accurate. The current title is arguably inaccurate now, as I doubt Nissan even used the word 'internal' in their 'admission'.
Boring, I know.
I see you've had to respond to this one at least twice, and that doesn't seem unusual from what I see here. Multiply it by a couple dozen articles that are on/near the front page per day, and...
You should keep a log and see, I suspect it's a larger fraction than you realize. It's not a positive benefit for the community discussion either.
The interesting question is why. It can't just be about titles; those are too trivial to bring out that kind of emotion.
An accurate headline is like parking in a parking spot. A misleading clickbait headline is like backing into the same parking spot.
This is the only place where we have any control over that, every other social media venue we're stuck with the flashing lights and beeping noises.
Thanks for your vigilance.
Engineers have a code of ethics. If you were to knowingly build an unsafe bridge then you would be liable for the damage and injuries it caused if/when it failed. This is true even if your boss told you to do it. You not only have a moral/ethical obligation to not build that bridge, but also a legal one.
As we write software we need to keep these things also in mind. We are writing things that affect peoples lives. That could kill people. That affect the environment. We need to hold ourselves to the same moral obligations as other engineers. We have a duty to prevent harming people when we write our software.
If you have no stand to refuse to do the work then it is your duty to report such actions. First up the chain, and if that is rejected, then to the media. It is also your duty to report it if you have refused and you see it still happening. There are whistleblower rights in place to protect you.
Being a "professional" legally means that you're given exclusive rights to perform some economic activity and in return for this (usually) lucrative right, you have a great number of obligations - being responsible for your work (ie, facing the possibility of never being able to perform said economic activity legally again), an enforceable code of ethics, an dispute / resolution process etc, steep fees, continuing education, an accreditation exam, etc.
Software engineers by and large do not want the obligations and restrictions of being a real profession, so no, they don't have any special ethics or rules to report or do anything in these cases beyond what a designer or secretary would do.
In law school, we were taught that a professional has obligations that go beyond his or her own self interest. Unlike a real estate developer or a widget manufacturer, an attorney has an obligation to do what's right for the client even if that causes the attorney to lose money or imposes a competitive advantage. Attorneys, for example, can't engage in the kinds of advertising speech that would be entirely lawful if done by a car dealership or furniture store.
This traditional definition is hundreds of years older than the bar exam or ABA code of ethics, and older than formal graduate law school (a 20th Century American invention). All of that came later, after lawyers understood themselves differently.
I would encourage people who write code -- software engineers, developers, coders, hackers, however one chooses to describe this work -- to think of themselves as professionals with obligations that go beyond their own self interest.
Every single design, bridge, etc is certified by a Professional Engineer. Your ass is on the line. I don't mean just being fired from your job - but jail time.
Per the website:
"A century ago, anyone could work as an engineer without proof of competency. In order to protect the public health, safety, and welfare, the first engineering licensure law was enacted in 1907 in Wyoming. Now every state regulates the practice of engineering to ensure public safety by granting only Professional Engineers (PEs) the authority to sign and seal engineering plans and offer their services to the public. "
I suspect, and hope, software used critically have the same. Yes it's more bureaucracy and overhead...but being in software, I know any joe schmoe can walk on and develop code without oversight.
I'm not saying if you're making the next twitter, that you need a PE. Or that every developer needs to have a PE license - but like other industries there is one PE per X amount of non-PE engineers.
Due to the Threac-25 incident (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therac-25) there are standards for medical software (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEC_62304).
I'm not in medical so I don't know how widely adopted, or how strict it is adhered to. But it might be IEC 62304 needs to be branched out.
The qualifications of the people developing the code are somewhere down in the process-stack; there are no specific requirements .
In general, to follow "Current Good Manufacturing Practices" (a term of art in the FDA design controls regulation), qualifications for the people on the team have to be documented and a paper trail kept up-to-date, to be able to answer questions of the nature "was person <X> qualified to be working in this role? How do you know?" with objective evidence.
It's up to the judgment of the engineering management of the project what they state the requirements of the role to be. If you say that it takes a high-school diploma or better to be able to develop life-safety-critical medical device software, you may pass a process audit since you document and track that requirement, but if there is an "adverse incident" I would think whoever signed off on that decision might be exposed to liability.
 My specific knowledge about this is ~5 years out of date so this may have changed, but I doubt it
In part yes in part no. PE's will be held to a MUCH higher legal standard but every engineer is taught to hold themselves to a high ethical standard. That you are not supposed to do something dangerous even if you think you won't get in trouble for it. Even if it isn't directly your responsibility you are supposed to report something that looks dangerous. PE's do the final sign off and their ass is on the line much more than the engineers that actually did all the building and designing. But the code of ethics is supposed to be there all throughout the chain.
So what I'm saying is that in software we are part of that chain. And therefore the ethical obligations should still hold. They should hold at every part of that chain. At no point in the process should anyone say "well it is someone else's ethical obligation or concern". If you touch something, if you see something, then it is part of your ethical obligation. At least as an engineer, but I would argue that it is also if you write software.
I think the biggest problem they had was that despite having the exam, not many states actually issue Professional Engineer licenses in the Software Engineering discipline. Because of this, I don't see why anyone (in those states) would bother taking the exam if they can't actually get a license and use the title "Professional Engineer".
So if you're a doctor you're given exclusive right to perform the economic activity of doctoring. In return you have a steep set of obligations, which include being truthful, ethical, not refusing service, etc.
What you said is a part of these "obligations", which definitely put you at an economic disadvantage, but that's ok, because you have exclusive rights to that activity. A doctor's obligations do impose costs on them, but not compared to other doctors.
The critical bit I'm trying get at is enforceability. If a doctor acts unethically, they can be challenged in front of their board by a patient and if they lose their license they can never practice medicine again. Having your livelihood at stake is a great incentive to act properly.
A software engineer such as myself, OTOH, has no little incentive beyond my own personal ethics. In many cases, being ethical will place you at an economic disadvantage compared to other software engineers. Actually, the whole notion of "ethics" is hand-wavy and ill-defined, because there's no professional organization.
Anyway, we can wish for good things and that'll party work and it's better than being cynical, but it'll only get you so far.
Professional, as in professional engineer. Think civil engineers, for example, who need to be registered with the board of engineers in order to provide engineering services (eg. approving plans for construction, supervising construction).
Other countries also have specific legal statutes that regulate the title of engineer, such as Canada.
1. A person, who is a member of a professional body due to the education qualification and follows the prescribed moeal and prefessional code of conduct.
> PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT 'Behavior different from what is prescribed in the moral, ethical and professional code of conduct'
For example only uses definition 1.
So how would software developers/programmers/etc create something equivalent to that? Seems to me some critical mass of that industry would need to lobby state and/or federal government for the creation of a board who then produces a standard and certifies members conform to the standard under penalty that if they do not police their own members that the state can revoke the franchise/monopoly on that certification.
Why does Saul Goodman come to mind.
Are you sure about that? Because I've seen some really sleazy advertising by lawyers. Personal injury lawyers in general, but Jim Adler, the Texas Hammer especially comes to mind.
IANAL but one could certainly imagine 1A challenges to any attempt to enlist the state in the enforcement of a cartel like that of the lawyers or the physicians. In that sense it's no more likely that programming would ever become a profession than e.g. that writing would become a profession.
Attempts to form a set of software standards to be used in a similar way has proven elusive. Software is too malleable, and languages and "state of the art" architectures come and go like clothing styles (often without merit in my opinion). Physics and the human body don't change very often. Software approaches do.
Nonetheless, being an ethical human being is just a good idea.
Search for, "Member grade". The only path for a large portion of all people being called "software engineers" would not even be considered for 6 years.
Those 6 years would probably be the most formative in educating them of their ethics and responsibilities. A service I am not sure IEEE really prioritizes anyways.
Or if I want to pay them to get a certification no one cares about, I can. https://www.nspe.org/resources/education/exam-review-and-pre...
The system in that regard is broken.
If computer programmers or other developers want to refer to themselves as engineers, then it behooves them to also step up their game in the ethical field.
Too often people want the "engineer" title because of its social cachet but don't strive to leave their mediocrity behind.
Take these car manufacturers gaming the emissions test, for example. I find it very easy to imagine management making a series of requests for changes to the software that seem innocent but allow for this exact outcome: changing the way the system performs when being tested for emissions. They may have asked the development team to add some kind of a switch so that they could toggle the behavior on and off in order to assess how overall performance was impacted.
That sounds innocent enough to me that I wouldn't be eager to risk my job (and perhaps the ability to get work in the future) over suspicions. Certainly it's not enough that I'd try to get law enforcement involved.
This idea that software developers (or engineers, if you prefer that term) should be responsible for the entire system, even though they likely only work on one component, sounds to my ear like nothing more than setting those developers up to be easy scapegoats. If you wanted to get me on board in any way, I'd need to see some system where all code is signed and, perhaps, stored in some tamper-proof write-only storage system managed by a third party. I'd need to be able to verify beyond any doubt that code a particular developer wrote hasn't been tampered with before I'd be willing to send that developer to prison, or at the least, ruin their career.
Management is at fault for requesting the feature that enabled them to game the system. Management should pay the cost, I see no reason to cast any blame on developers. I have yet to see any compelling evidence that the developers knowingly added code specifically to game the system. If evidence of that is out there, I would be super interested in reading it and would appreciate any links anyone might have.
Off the top of my head, I've written many pieces of code that 'game the system' but are used only for testing purposes. I know full well that if those pieces get into production they could be hazardous, but there is nothing ethically wrong with me creating them. If a superior takes that code and uses it, that's not my fault.
It would be supremely easy for management to put in a bunch of requirements for the VW emissions system that are blatantly dangerous, but 'for testing purposes'. The developers need to be able to trust the higher-ups and certainly shouldn't be held responsible for their decisions.
In engineering only a PE really has the legal obligation. Their on the hook if something goes wrong. But at the same time everyone involved has an ethical obligation to ensure that best practices are being followed and nothing is being done that would result in harm. This is even if they wouldn't get in any legal trouble.
Or that a doctor has both legal and ethical obligations. Their ethical obligations can many times supersede their legal ones.
I am not arguing that we who write software need to be held legally accountable, but that we need to think about any potential ethical concerns with what we write. And if you are saying "well yeah" then we're in agreement. And I think this should be pervasive. I think we should frequently talk about it.
But we are in high demand right now. Many of us have the leverage to say "I don't agree with this" and go work somewhere else. If you personally have that ability I think it should be used as well. But I understand not everyone has that leverage.
I worry that a feature meant to circumvent or break the law will not be easy to spot. Many projects are broken into smaller pieces that interact, many times the laws or rules change from state to state. Even in regular day to day work I'll see a feature request that effectively undoes another request. Often developers are working in areas in which they are not subject experts.
I think it's easy to write code that could (or even will) be misused; it may not look troubling until it's interacting with the larger system.
We have to be aware that the things we create aren't always going to be used for what we intend them to be used for. So you frequently have to ask yourself "how could this be abused?" That is something that engineers frequently ask themselves. I don't understand why developers can't be asked to do the same.
My concern really revolves around the scapegoating and protecting developers from situations where there is more grey than black or white. But that is not a sheild from personal responsibility or moral obligation, the questions you raise are important in their own right.
But because of that I'm not calling for legal obligation. But I'm calling for more people thinking about the abstraction and how what they write could be abused. But it is no easy matter. Ethics are hard.
This is a bogus comparison though. A bridge has one obvious use and can't be picked up and re-used in many other bridges. An OS (particularly an open source one) has nearly unlimited uses beyond the realm of the author's control.
Let's not put Linus in prison when a kernel panic results in a Tesla slamming into a wall.
On a more discouraging note, there was normally single digit attendance out of triple digit enrollment in the particular course I took. I'd say average engagement was ~6 hours total over the course of the semester... Including a movie. I don't know anyone that didn't get an A. There were a few from that class that went onto big names, and they weren't among the regular attendees.
I think the general point stands though that for everyone calling for ethics classes -- a lot of CS and CS related degrees like CE already have them. Furthermore many companies already have various code of conduct types of annual training. The solution has to be something else than "education".
In the end if things go sideways the company won't have your back. That boss who told you to cheat (verbally of course) will suddenly have "no recollection" of the conversation.
It's well documented that people will often defer to authority, even if it's to do something they feel uneasy about 
Indeed, in my own experience as a younger engineer I had a manager sitting over my shoulder once dictating what I should but into an estimate, under my name. Indeed it was fairly innocuous stuff, and I'm sure he meant well, but still ...
In a business environment where you have all sorts of contractors, graduates, people floating through and a management culture of "getting things done" there are so many ways that this kind of thing can happen.
The reason why this works in civil engineering is because the boss or the company cannot overrule the engineer. If the engineer declines to sign off some thingy as acceptable because X, Y and Z must be addressed, then that's it - the company can't proceed until the issues have been resolved; the management can't sign off by themselves, and they can't really even fire the engineer and get someone else to sign off for that because a complaint from the fired engineer about that would result in the process getting an independent review, (assuming the issues are real) the process getting stopped anyway, and the unethical engineer who agreed to sign off despite these flaws losing his/her licence - so that even if not signing gets you fired from one place, it's still the better choice than signing and being unable to ever work in that profession again. "Ethics standards in a profession" mean the standards that the profession imposes on its members even if they and their employer want to violate these standards.
Without effective enforcement, however, the whole process would be useless.
That said, I'm sure there would be lots of complaints if software had a similar system given that it would likely come with specific educational and other specific requirements.
Though Lawsuits are not uncommon in civil engineering. When I worked as an EIT (passed the state engineering exam, on way to becoming a Profesional engineer), our office did an analysis on someone else’s slope stability calculations, because the slope wasn’t stable and they wanted to figure out if it was done properly.
Civil engineering designs have a clear paper trail and the buck stops with the engineer who signed and stamped the drawings.
"So you want to spend 100 million dollars on a bridge that you're only using for testing purposes. And you want to put this bridge right where it would be really useful to put a real bridge to handle rush hour traffic. And you have a deal with the city to collect toll payments for this 'test' bridge for the next 50 years. Yeah, I don't think we're going to be cutting any corners for the 'test' bridge."
"You want me to take 2 hours to add in a test feature that can be conditionally compiled in for testing purposes? Also I talked to John in testing and they actually want this feature for testing. Seems legit."
Two months later. "Hey, I found this test feature that would allow us to cheat on the regulations. All we have to do is set this compile flag to true. The programmers even made this neat UI that allows us to change the build configurations without having to talk to them."
Of course, assuming that they are unaware of how their user / client / employer will actually use the software, they should be fine.
It's kind of hard to disagree...
Employer: Do this vile thing.
Me: No, that would be unethical.
Employer: Oh, you're right, of course. Train Steve instead.
[later] Me: Steve is trained.
Employer: Great. You're fired. Steve, do this vile thing.
Employer: Oh, you're right, of course. Train Steve instead.
Me: No. <quits>
Besides that, some people will need to continue working as they search for another job, and training Steve could be parlayed into a rudimentary supervisory position on the resume. That helps if you ever intend to jump over to the developer-manager track.
Q: "Have you ever had anyone under you?"
A: "Yes. I was in charge of a trainee once."
Q: "How did that work out?"
A: "Great, until they gave him my old job, then fired me. Maybe we had a budget problem?"
"The program is formatted to recognize employees who contribute ideas, or those who raise questions about safety issues before they become bigger problems. Call it an internal whistleblower program."
Some states do have "social benefit" corporations as a thing, where their charter expressly states how they are to benefit society not merely make profit. But no state makes this kind of incorporation mandatory.
So I am wondering where an ethical standard could help in that chain. If you build international products its kinda hard to know every law on this planet and refusing to build something, just because someone could use it in a country where it is illegal to use it, could become very complicated very quickly.
I think the simplest solution would be to improve the test methodologies and maybe increase the penalties.
This isn't like the wrong shape steering wheel, or accidentally too small wing mirrors.
This was a deliberately programmed system for cheating on emissions tests.
No we're not. We don't have societies that put any such responsibility and restrictions in place, along with benefits, for what we do. Whatever the company does with the code is the sole responsibility of it.
Like you said, other engineers have LEGAL obligations, what makes an obligation moral or not is extremely debatable and always subjective to the point of uselessness.
The emissions software needs to be able to turn things on and off because the emissions requirements for certain jurisdictions and applications can be mutually exclusive. It just so happens that manufacturers flip switches they souldn't in order to fake compliance.
I've worked on software that can be used to make it much easier to drop a bomb on you. The main purpose of the contract was a software package for defensive applications (i.e. making it much harder for a car bomb to surprise a checkpoint). Should it have not been built because it has the potential to do things you or I might not agree with?
But I will add that another thing to help is to encourage it within your social sphere. This can easily be done by just asking your colleagues about their ethical concerns. You can also encourage this by talking about things that aren't your software. This helps everyone get in the frame of "I need to constantly think about ethical implications". Other people are talking about fear of being fired. While I think that has to come down to you and your ethical code/leverage, it is much harder to fire and replace a team. So I would actively encourage this kind of talk. Having worked as an engineer I can tell you that we constantly did talk about ethical implications of things that we worked on, things that our technology could be used for, and if other companies were doing ethical things. It's hard to draw the line sometimes, but the best thing I can think of is to constantly be talking about it and being aware that you have power.
No no no, I didn't take it that way. I was just remarking that I may find myself out of a job if regulation similar to civil engineering existed in our field due to the fact that I don't hold a degree. Nothing beyond that and it wasn't a response to anything you said.
I've argued to (and with) my coworkers on more than one occasion that we _should_ be personally liable in certain situations (we already have the FDA watching over us at a high level.) For example, if I were complicit in fudging the results of an inter-system repeatability test in my current position.
It’s hard to imaging that people working on emissions cheating would have been less likely to work on this, had they only taken the CS ethics class.
I've never understood the point of computer science, I can produce a perfectly functional BASIC program.
So saying you don't understand the point of ethics classes, as if people are ethical or are unethical, is like saying you don't understand the point of teaching logic or debate as if people either pop out of childhood with an innate conformance or resistance to one kind of logic or debate, no other kinds exist and there are no arguments.
If you took an ethics class and don't understand the point of it, then I'd argue it wasn't a good ethics class.
High and mighty ideals, but come on.
If you're working on software for a medical device, then yes.
But on another post today it was pointed out that crypto currencies are burning more electricity than Iceland.
That's straight out environmental vandalism. Is everyone involved in crypto expected to down tools, cos ethics?
In the case of VW, I highly doubt those software engineers were told plainly what they were doing. While I agree they have an obligation also keep in mind speaking up would probably be career suicide.
The liability is on the executives that make take these illegal actions.
edit for the downvoters: in this exact case, the executives of the companies hacked the system, their lawyers probably approved of it, and the strategists who conceived of it likely used to work as investment bankers. And yet, the software engineers are the ones expected to take the high road?
Literally every one of those professions are governed by legal ethical requirements. Software engineers/devs are not, which is kind of the whole point.
Law has them, but in a strange twist, their ability as lawyers make it so that they don't matter. And medicine is too complex for me to really comment, but from my vantage point, it looks like they're free to be scumbags so long as they claim they won't be when they get their degree.
But every one of these are largely just regulated by the idea that if you're too big of a scumbag, the feds will nail you for wire fraud. That seems to be the only real rule of law or code of ethics we have in the professional world. And software engineers have to obey it as much as everyone else.
PE sure, I probably should have noted I know little about that, but when you talk about banking you're now going from "have no ethics laws" to "well, they exist, but they're not effective in my opinion."
>Law has them, but in a strange twist, their ability as lawyers make it so that they don't matter
Lawyers get busted on ethics violations all of the time. My mother is a lawyer and for a short time I worked as a pseudo legal secretary in a mid sized city. I recall numerous lawyers being disbarred for ethics issues. I have no idea what the real numbers are, but I don't think you do either.
>And medicine is too complex for me to really comment, but from my vantage point, it looks like they're free to be scumbags so long as they claim they won't be when they get their degree.
So you don't really understand the issue, but you've heard some stuff on the news and maybe from friends, so you write the entire things off.
How about civil engineers who are personally liable for their work?
>But every one of these are largely just regulated by the idea that if you're too big of a scumbag, the feds will nail you for wire fraud. That seems to be the only real rule of law or code of ethics we have in the professional world. And software engineers have to obey it as much as everyone else.
Again, moving goalposts. If you don't feel the current regulations wrt doctors, lawyers, and bankers are enough, fine, many would agree, but that's not the issue here.
Oh, if we're going to be pedantic about what exists, then software engineers have them. There are computer hacking laws! And software IP and copyright rules. See, we're regulated, too. I thought we were operating on the premise that the existing structure was insufficient or irrelevant to any meaningful end, but since it technically exists, I'm not sure why you're arguing that we need to create them.
Honestly, your entire reply seems like you're going out of your way to miss the point. When you made a mistake about PE, I didn't concoct some strawman to try to embarrass and highlight your ignorance, so I don't know why you're trying to do that to me. A software engineer's counterpart isn't some ambulance chaser getting disbarred. Biglaw associates are the professional counterparts to software engineers. And in medicine, I've seen tens of thousands of extra opioid deaths and hundreds of billions in insurance/medicare scams attributed to the medical industry to have a bit of an opinion at least.
If you think the argument that industry-specific regulations don't matter, and that the only regulations that matter are federal fraud laws is a goalpost change than I don't know what to tell you. My argument is that the industry codes don't matter, and that any semblance of actual regulation takes place at the federal fraud level, so putting an unnecessary step of internal regulation is pointless.
What stinks seems to be the way the regulations are being implemented moreso than what sort of detours the manufacturers can take to avoid them.
I won't be surprised when we see more auto makers added to the list, however I wonder if anyone will criticize the regulations instead of shaming auto manufacturers.
Here's a non paywalled BBC article: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44763905
Sure. Since the VW incident, many cars from several of the big automakers have been found to fail emissions tests.
> I wonder if anyone will criticize the regulations instead of shaming auto manufacturers.
It's telling that the automakers have chosen to cheat rather than call out the tests for being unrealistic -- or build a slightly less powerful car.
By doing so, they forfeit any possible sympathy from me. You don't get to cheat on a test, brag about how you passed, and then if you're discovered, claim that the test was too hard. Too late.
The skeptic in me should have known better. One manufacturer was blowing everyone else out of the water? German engineering? A seriously nifty gearbox? Are those enough to explain the difference? Apparently not.
Maybe VW isn't the origin of this, they could have seen another manufacturer doing something similar, decided to join in and took it too far.
I forget if it was VW or Mercedes, but one of them branded theirs as "blue-tec" or something that doesn't sound like you're handling piss bottles. Let the mechanic worry about that.
There literally wasn't any dealer or provider that could do anything before it hit 20 MpH limit, and the truck wound up being flatbed-ed (luckily the manufacturer picked up the bill, but still).
This definitely makes diesel vehicles less reliable, more expensive to maintain, and likely reduces their lifespan. If I purchased a truck I'd go gas.
Not sure if it would work on that vehicle, but it generally clears emissions codes and the like, even on fairly recent vehicles. Its possible it might have let the car drive another 50 miles or so.
Granted, it tends to get a "boy who cried wolf" feel to it as they've always done it, but they absolutely raised a stink about the constantly rising regulations.
“It’s sort of a case where the dog actually caught the bus,”
Gillis told me. “Now what’s it going to do?”
Referring to American car manufacturers' anti-CAFE wishlist being adopted by Scott Pruitt's EPA. The wishlist was submitted as a sort of bargaining piece, the idea being that industry demand something extreme expecting the incoming administration to meet them halfway. Except Pruitt just accepted it without reservation, and the industry was caught flat-footed. So now they're actually _repudiating_ some of their arguments.
The dirty little secret of the car industry is that efficiency and safety regulations help drive the upgrade cycle. When every car from this year has feature X, then all used cars instantly become out-dated and even unsafe in the minds of consumers. And the timelines set out by the regulators help to coordinate competition in a way that would be illegal otherwise. For example, if a new efficiency or safety standard is still 5 years out, then everybody knows to a high degree of certainty how each competitor will time and stage their rollout (not too early, not too late). The benefits may not exceed the overall costs of the regulation, but the industry is built around the system and pulling the rug out creates chaos.
 I guess this was a case of the Trump administration taking industry's rhetoric literally and not seriously.
If you then pretend to meet those requirements even though they were too high, you get zero points.
They do that, too. You can probably imagine the response the HN crowd would give, which is pretty much the same response the news media would spin it with... money-grubbing rich companies trying to escape from beneficent, unambiguously good laws so they can make more dirty, polluting money. It doesn't play well, so they don't make this argument in public. But if you live in Michigan, you can find plenty of engineers who grouse about the standards in various ways, and not just "they're hard". (Believe it or not, engineers have families too, and like them and their families to not die in the cars they quite likely drive themselves.)
Between the media's drive to drum up antipathy towards the automotive companies for both their own ideological reasons and simply because stories about big corrupt companies sell, and the ever-present and unavoidable politics (of all kinds) involved in any sort of standards setting, there's so much noise that on those occasions where literally impossible regulations are created, the system is not very good at dealing with it. I am speaking neutrally here, because in the real world, balancing between costs and benefits of regulations is a very hard problem and I'm not really yelling at any particular party here for not getting it perfect. It's a systemic problem.
I rather strongly suspect that if we could get a perfect judge that the current set of regulations is probably already impossible to comply with at all; failing that it probably can't be complied with economically. I seriously doubt emissions are the only problems, they're just the ones people are motivated to test. I bet if Consumer's Reports or a similar organization set up a full legal compliance suite they couldn't buy a single car from a dealership lot that complied completely with everything. I think they'd be close on most measurements. But I bet every vehicle would fail something, and there'd be a non-trivial number of rather substantial failures.
(For an example of the latter, noise regulations on how loud cars can be as they pass you at various speeds are really easy to fail on a specific car. A particular bit of trim that came loose during shipping or something can fail you out very easily. Now, this one is less important in the grand scheme of things than emissions, but it's an example of a regulation that could pass at the test site but fail on many or even most cars in the field.)
It's not like that late 1970s and early 1980s when cars became smaller and had anemic engines in order to meet with new regulations.
You are assuming away the very question I'm asking, though; are those cars actually in compliance? If not, you don't have a point. (I don't mean "you are wrong"; I mean, you literally wouldn't have a point to your post.)
It is the competition that pushes you to such extremes. If others are doing it, then what is to stop you.
Too much regulation and court procedures are preventing others from coming out and blowing the whistle on themselves.
If the reg's were never put into effect, and companies never given citations, it is institutional failure. And very unfair to all entities who are suddenly scolded at not meeting the criteria.
VW presumably started it. Other companies eventually competed. And all of a sudden everyone is now in violation.
It is like cheating on a test. One kid starts it. Teacher does not care. Kid does not get scolded. Competition gets intense. Rest of kids start cheating too. The axe falls, sometimes on the dull, slow kid, and then everyone falls in line. But then teacher goes back and sees who else cheated in the past, and the entire class is outed. How is this fair again?
"The penalties for murder are too harsh, so people aren't confessing to many unsolved murders."
Well, yeah. I would not blame "the system" for this, however.
For the record, there have been cases where criminals have come forward for crimes after statute of limitations expired. I am not sure it if was in particular to murder though.
You can compare it to "you are allowed to murder anyone you want, as long as you confess afterwards" and see that that's not the best public policy if your goal is to reduce murders.
What's wrong with the regulations? It seems that they're designed to prevent cars from spewing toxic shit into the atmosphere, something that seems to be an admirable goal.
I think we can agree that the goal is to reduce dangerous emissions, but if we're not going to have regulations that state a limit and perhaps a penalty for abuse, then how?
So "cheating" starts to look more and more worth the risk.
Granted, I don't think we are quite at that point yet, and don't take this to be implying that we should not have environmental regulations here, just that we need real information about what's possible and how, and there needs to be a 2 way conversation with the manufacturers to evolve the regs with what's possible.
That's not really a worry. Governments are well aware that people need cars that they can afford. Governments are ultimately elected by the people, and messing around with transport makes you unpopular (the recent backlash at the possibility that fuel duty will be unfrozen in the UK is an example).
These things are related. If the people think that they can't get the car they need because of the government this will turn in to loss of votes. See fuel duty example again.
> Look at the cost of safety features that have been implemented in cars the last 10 years; some for marginal benefit (rear-view cameras).
Regulations are rarely perfect. It seems from my searched that backup cameras are net better (~300 people killed, 18,000 injured in backup incidents) and that cameras will help drop some of those figures, but not by a huge amount. I guess we'll just have to wait and see how the figures play out in the future.
However, some regulations have had a significant effect, for example seatbelts.
> These features increase the cost, making it hard for lower income people to afford the cars.
The tech will come down in price, and the car companies still want to sell cars to lower income families and so will at worst absorb some or all of the cost at the price of a slightly lower profit.
And as someone else pointed out in a different thread, emissions from cars has a significant negative effect on people's health, particularly in urban and inner city areas where these lower income people are more likely to live.
we can reduce the emissions to zero by banning all cars, would you support that regulation?
Improvements to technology the lessen the dependency on those energy sources.
Regulations will not solve the problem, no matter how draconian you desire to make them. Regulations will just increase the cost of goods furthering the economic divide and harming the people that can least afford the changes
That's ridiculous, of course not.
> Improvements to technology the lessen the dependency on those energy sources.
> Regulations will not solve the problem, no matter how draconian you desire to make them. Regulations will just increase the cost of goods…
Regulations will drive technological solutions, and if it weren't for regulations around emissions then car manufacturers have proved that they will quite happily sacrifice the health of everyone in the search of profit.
> furthering the economic divide and harming the people that can least afford the changes
Oh please. Car manufacturers will always sell budget cars to people with small budgets, because there's a market for it.
I can't promise that there isn't some bias in one direction or another, I just found it interesting, and the conclusion is very pithy.
So buy second hand perhaps?
I bought my car for £5000 second hand (yes, I can afford a new car, but why bother, they depreciate so fast in the first few years it hardly seems worth it) and it's a nice car. It's way more than I could have paid for a perfectly serviceable second hand car. I checked, £700 was the cheapest of the same manufacturer as mine, and it's 5 years newer too.
>>> quite happily sacrifice the health of everyone in the search of profit.
> All yes, the evil for profit corporations...
Wait, so it's OK to pump shit into the atmosphere as long as you make a profit?
Is the bar really so low for communism that believing that we shouldn't be poisoning large amounts of the population gains you membership?
Corporations and companies are optimised for one thing, profit. They do this at the expense of the climate and the health of people. Hell, this is a comment on an article about how a car company cheated emissions tests so they could sell more cars. Emissions that kill people.
Do you really believe that we would have the current emissions levels if there was no regulation?
> Well comrade
Oh please drop this shit. Resorting to name calling just suggests that you don't know what you're talking about or have no real point.
> show me all the innovations that regulations directly have inspired. I would be interested in the that list.
If you lower emissions limits over time car manufacturers will have to innovate to meet those targets, right? I mean, car companies aren't going to do this themselves are they, see cheating on the emissions tests, again.
> I always forget how must support for communism there is here in HN circles...
I'm not a communist.
In constant dollars, the average cost of a new car from the beginning of the emissions & safety-regulation era (say, 1970..) has about doubled. This is a nontrivial chunk of income. As a brit, you might live someplace where cars are optional. Many Americans have no such choice...
Likewise, the low-hanging fruit has already mostly been picked. A new 1964.5 Ford Mustang, with the engine turned off, sitting in a garage, releases more toxins than a modern car does while traveling at highway speeds. The 90/10 rule absolutely applies, as it does to safety. We're coming close to having to install catalytic converters inside the engine itself to minimize the lightoff time, which is about the only place you can find NOx/VOC emissions to clean up nowadays.
Not only were there upfront costs to recover for emissions & fuel economy, there were the knock-on effects on performance and reliability that took the better part of two decades to solve.
I always forget how libertarians think that anyone who holds views that don't completely conform to their ideology is necessarily a communist (or "collectivist").
NOx gas emissions from cars cause and worsen respiratory diseases, especially in urban areas where it is especially concentrated, thus ALSO harming people that can least afford it.
I'd also note there are plenty of cheap vehicles that do meet these regulations.
The regulations were ineffective because the EPA is unable to do its job. They test cars on a dyno in a climate controlled room instead of in the real world. They are embarrassingly vulnerable to defeat devices because they don't actually try to find defeat devices. Shitty nominees, corporate lobbying, and frivolous lawsuits have neutered the EPA from the inside and outside.
Realistic regulations are good because they prevent resource rich companies from externalizing their failures onto others.
Unrealistic regulations cause industries to give up on things that our population needs to survive.
For example, in the past if you got bit by a coral snake you could get antivenom. In the present, over ambitious regulation says that you die when you get bit by a coral snake. Because the alternative to death (using under regulated antivenom) is apparently worse?
If you want to you could regulate that cars run off of happiness and that their exhaust contains no pollutants. But the result would be that either everyone cheats on the tests OR that there would be no more cars. Including the trucks that bring us food and other useful products.
So I don't really see the point of the coral snake thing, interesting though it is.
> If you want to you could regulate that cars run off of happiness and that their exhaust contains no pollutants. But the result would be that either everyone cheats on the tests OR that there would be no more cars. Including the trucks that bring us food and other useful products.
Well, I'm not suggesting that at all so again, not really relevant.
I'm suggesting that the emissions regulations that we have are fine. Cars can and do pass these without cheating so they're clearly not unrealistic.
If anything, widespread cheating shows the importance of regulations. It shows that companies are willing to lie to both regulators and the public. For something that is extremely difficult for the consumer to test themselves like emissions, it shows that an independent regulator is required to keep companies honest.
To test cars made before 2009, they put a probe in the tailpipe. It's like the regulators have sold out, and gone full capture.
The whole point of regulations is to go against what the market will buy without them. If people bought low emission cars without any outside forces then you wouldn’t need any regulations. Of course, in reality that path leads you to smog-choked cities and lots of dead people.
Low-emission might not be a priority, but people still think of it, and some governments measures target the most-polluting vehicles to discourage their use.
If we want companies to follow the law, then those that violate emissions standards should face harsh punishments. For example, they could be banned from selling vehicles in the US market for one year, all of their lineup should need recertification under more strict oversight, and they be required to fix or buyback the offending vehicles. And personal liability for senior executives.
The major problem the US has with all automotive regulations is GM and Ford get their lobbyists to write the laws with loopholes that cater to them. For example, CAFE standards that are based on vehicles footprint and are different for passenger cars vs. "light trucks." While the regulations are "fair" on paper, but in practice, they are much more lax for the types of vehicles domestic automakers sell.
You forgot the two biggest factors - cost and efficiency. Most people doesn't want big or necessarily fast cars. Most people want cheap cars that go a long way on a little fuel. However, it's difficult to make cars that are cheap AND fuel efficient AND environmentally friendly.
People might want big, fast and safe cars, but they don't get to have them at the expense of the health and wellbeing of everyone else.
No it doesn't. Driving a car faster is less safe, all other factors being equal, but simply making a faster car doesn't make it less safe. Look at Mercedes's performance cars, which typically lead the market in safety features. An example off the top of my head is the carbon cone built into the front of, I think, 2000-era SL500s. They could dissipate a tremendous amount of energy, making that fast car significantly safer than most other cars on the road at the time.
(Of course when you push the limits of the car, all bets are off again.)
We do have racetracks, and people want to drive regular cars fast on those racetracks.
that's to say, if emission testing was done differently, maybe we would have caught these cars earlier. Now it seems likely every single non-electric car on the market is polluting more than advertised/allowed, which begs the question if there is a systemic issue here. I tend to agree that there is.
I don't think criticism of regulations should replace shaming of auto manufacturers, but it might be more effective.
> One way to reconcile these seemingly contradictory statements is the following.
The actual programmer & designer of the software is the supplier of the engine control units (ECUs), in most cases Bosch. The software that they supply actually already contains these cheating routines. These routines are delivered as a part of the software packages, and can be turned on/off with some flags.
It is up to the auto company how to set these flags.
Well, they do.
Here's a list of some car manufacturers who do or did emissions cheating:
- General Motors
(Which pretty much sums up to "all car manufacturers")
In EPA terminology, a defeat device.
Everyone was cheating in Europe, because European emissions rules were/are weak and you could get away with a defeat device provided it was for "engine protection".
The difference with VW was that they tried to pull the same thing in the USA, which had much stronger rules and a clear prohibition against defeat devices.
Also, yes, regulations should be better matched to real world performance.
Yes, EV's have higher energy and emissions numbers embedded in their manufacturing, but that gets more than offset by the much lower emissions of fuel. Breakeven is the first 6-18 months, depending on battery size and emissions makeup of your local grid. Even in "coal-powered car" country.
> EVs are powered by electricity, which is generally a cleaner energy source than gasoline. Battery electric cars make up for their higher manufacturing emissions within eighteen months of driving — shorter range models can offset the extra emissions within 6 months — and continue to outperform gasoline cars until the end of their lives.
As for waste, there is battery recycling, but the more interesting part is second-life storage use. Battery may not have the energy density required for transportation, but you can still use them fine as a cheap powerwall-like product. Cheap because the cost of the batteries was already paid for by the first owner of the car.
Emissions regulations have made great progress in cleaning up auto emissions, but now politicians keep squeezing the numbers without realizing some of the limits are becoming impossible. So everyone starts cheating, because otherwise we would have no combustion powered cars.
Insane irony is that ships and even some buildings burn horrifically impure "bunker fuel" or wood, and with car emission limits so low these sources are the vast majority of harmful emissions. Its like cities in Cali forcing citizens to make drastic changes to conserve water, when over 90% is used by farmers.
There's another way of looking at this, and that's that maybe diesel just isn't clean enough for consumer cars?
But at this point the limits are just politicians pulling levers. There's not enough science involved to debate which pollutants we care about and what the lowest realistic limits are.
yes, this is a common process by which private costs are offloaded onto the public so as to increase the private benefits of exploitation of public goods.
it's legalized theft.
The numbers may have been accurate _for an engine with the 'limit emissions' mode enabled_ but it's still fraudulent if you do not make that explicitly clear.
For VAG this wasn't a case of the test not being quite the same as regular driving, it was VAG deliberately detecting a tests and altering the way the engine worked to avoid failing.
Intent matters. You can’t set out to cheat a test, succeed, and then say that it’s legal because you succeeded, any more than you can steal from a store by hiding an item under your coat and then say that it’s legal because you disguised it well enough to fool the guard.
If you think the test is bullshit, then you make that case separately. You don't lie about how you're passing it and then when caught say 'but it's the test's fault!'.
I'd encourage you to watch that, and still see if you say that it wasn't fraud.
VM gamed the test in order to produce results that were not achievable by consumers, with the intent to deceive people.
VW built their car to produce a specific test result to get buyers to buy the car. It fits the description at the link below all too perfectly.
Also, the government regulation on emission is going to get tighter and tighter due to incentives to push for EV adoption. So arguing emission test method is a moot point.
“The engine will fundamentally perform differently when you’re testing it because it will detect the test” is not common sense and is not a reasonable interpretation of how to comply with the rules.
I agree that a better method would be to attack sensors to a random (and ideally, concealed from OEM) sample of cars and charge automakers per unit of detected emissions. That would force them to optimize for real world driving, which is much harder to game.