Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bicycles and aging motorists - help is on the way

"I didn't see you..." she said.

It was easy to see why she didn't. Aged eyes, dark wrap around sunglasses, a sunny day with long shadows -- all would make it hard to see me and my bicycle. She forgot her turn signal too, so perhaps there were other things going on.

She was a better driver once. After 60, even good drivers were better once, and she was well passed 60.

Happily, she was moving slowly towards sidewalk parking. All I had to do was slam on my brakes and move right and she missed me. It really wasn't that bad; I've had much more dangerous misses from the young and the fast.

The elder problem will get worse though. Rising gas prices and aging boomers will mean more car/bike collisions. Wisconsin has had a terrible year for bike fatalities due to driver error. The risks will rise.

There are things we can do. In the Minneapolis-St Paul region bicycles are increasingly separated from cars on major commuter paths. I was on a mixed roadway today, but it was striped for bikes and that extra space made my escape easy.

We need to continue that trend. That's another reason not to vote GOP; the GOP is aggressively cutting federal support for bicycle trails.

Looking forward, smarter cars will help. Cheap video sensors and improved image recognition algorithms should allow cars to recognize bicycles, even in the absence of an active transponder system or mobile phone GPS broadcast. A lot of lives will be saved when a car notifies drivers of a bicycle ahead, and sounds an alarm when a driver passes too close -- optionally sending a "driver error" message to the insurance agency that's subsidizing the bicycle/pedestrian detection system through auto insurance discounts.

Between improved car/bike separation and smarter cars we should be able to make elder drivers at least as bicycle safe as today's middle-aged drivers. I'm looking forward to it. I'm terrified of the day an 80 yo John Gordon drifts into a bicycle rider ...

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