Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hit and run homicide in Minneapolis and near future prevention

I quoted Garrison Keillor recently on the tragedies of inattention in a powerful vehicle. A train driver caused a lot of harm in Los Angeles, but far more people bicyclist and pedestrians die each year because of a moment's inattention.

I thank Chance every day that, so far, I've never harmed anyone while driving. A few days ago an inattentive driver in his 30s (was he talking on the phone?) killed a bicyclist on nearby popular riding street. If he's a decent human being his error will haunt him for the rest of his life. I know it would devastate me.

On the other hand, there are the hit and run homicides ..
Bicyclist injuries up sharply in metro area:

Rodney Scroggins was riding his bicycle to work when he was hit by a motorist....

... Jimmy Nisser, 65, of St. Louis Park, was killed when he was struck by a vehicle Sept. 11 while riding on Excelsior Blvd. near 32nd Street...

... there have been 47 hit and run accidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles in Minneapolis this year. Police are still looking for the drivers who hit Nisser and Scroggins....
So about once a week there's a significant, reported, hit and run car-bike "accident" in a modest metro area. Across the nation there must be at least one an hour. I suspect most are never solved.

The only fixes I can see are more sophisticated automotive sensors. Standard proximity radar, IR sensors, visible light sensors -- at tracking people, bicycles and motorbikes -- sensors that track direction and motion and anticipate impact, slowing a car, triggering the car horn to warn both driver and pedestrian of pending impact, alerting the driver with sound and light.

The least intrusive aides would be active windshields that use sensor data to enhance images corresponding to pedestrians and bicycles. The bicyclist dimly seen out of the corner of one's eye is now a bright spot on the windshield surrounded by a 8 foot diameter circle.

Finally, sensors that detect an impact and then send the last available imaging along with the vehicle ID directly to the police. Then, when an accident is reported, finding the killer is a trivial task.

We have the technology to do all of this. We've invested a lot of money to make the inside of the car safer. Now's the time to require technologies to make the outside of the car safer too.

Update: see also.


Anonymous said...

I think all of your points are valid regarding driving. But I work in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I think the bicyclists here, at least, are often as much or more at fault at the driver. We have bike lanes that are often not used or used the wrong way. We have bicyclists that run red lights, cut off cars, drive the wrong way on one way streets, do what appear to be Olympic time trials on sidewalks and ignore pedestrian crossing signs, lights and road marks. My favorite was a woman riding her bicycle in the bike lane on the wrong side of the street, sans helmet, on her cell phone, carrying a puppy.

JGF said...

Even if a bicyclist is wearing a blindfold, headphones, all black clothing and riding on the wrong side of a highway I think it's fair to say that most of us would prefer not to kill them.

At the very least the bicycle might mar the paint.

Ok, I'll dial back the sarcasm.

The point is that anyone who's studied human error seriously, in aviation, health care, or driving, knows that education doesn't work.

We can train drivers to be more alert, but really most drivers don't REALLY want to kill anyone.

We could train drivers to use more discretion in following the rules. Drivers who won't safely cross a "solid" middle line to give a bicycle more space are being foolishly correct.

We could train bicyclists how to ride more safely, but they seriously don't want to get killed.

We could work on driver and bicyclist anger management issues -- that's always a good background process.

Really though, progress comes from:

1. Law enforcement of the behaviors that kill people - including stings to catch drivers who don't follow the MN 4 foot law, who don't follow MN crosswalk laws, (eg. most drivers) and who make right turns without attention to pedestrians.

2. Reducing distractions (cell phones and, for bicyclists, headphones).

3. Changing road design. The local Summit Ave death was on a badly designed road entrance. Even a pause/merge sign would help there. It's a curse of humanity that we only fix these things when people die.

4. Improving automobile sight lines (may require regulation).

5. Invest in studying the feasibility of the kind of technical fixes I described, then decide when mandates are indicated.

JGF said...

Oh, I forgot. As my boomers like me get old, grody, blind and inattentive, we need to be tested with serious q 2-3 year driving exams starting at least by age 65.

Jon Udell said...

"Finally, sensors that detect an impact and then send the last available imaging along with the vehicle ID directly to the police."

I want one of those for my /bike/ too.