After 40 years of biking with cars, and almost as long driving with them, I cannot avoid the obvious.
Humans cannot drive cars safely around anything smaller than a Honda Civic.
This is not a matter of rules or training. We could make violation of the three foot passing rule a capital crime and cars would still pass too close to pedestrians and cyclists. Even without benefit of age, smartphones or alcohol human drivers will signal left and go straight, open driver side doors into oncoming bicyclists, and do rolling stops through pedestrians. Human drivers will continue to not see motorcycles, pedestrians, or bikes.
Our evolutionary history didn't prepare us for the job of driving cars. Non-armored road travelers need the Google driverless car; within a few years of its affordable introduction friends won't left friends drive. Shortly thereafter human drivers will become uninsurable. (Shortly after that humans may lose the right to vote, but that's another post :-).
Alas, fully autonomous cars are probably twenty to thirty years away -- changes on this scale take much longer than enthusiasts imagine. Happily, we don't have to wait that long. Both Volvo and Volkswagen are developing pedestrian and bicycle avoidance systems. We need to make these mandatory in cars sold after 2018. In the same time period smartphones can be broadcasting increasingly precise location information to nearby vehicles, augmenting visual detection systems.
We should accelerate the effective Dutch-inspired trend of segregating bicycles from cars. We should continue to study bicycle and pedestrian accidents in detail and apply lessons learned. We should get blinking red lights on the backs of all bicycles, and the unarmored would be wise to wear eye searing colors. Some sting operations or video monitors to enforce Minnesota's largely ignored and often unknown crosswalk laws would not be amiss.
There's a lot we can do while we wait to celebrate the end of the human driver.
- Seeking Cheaper Insurance, Drivers Accept Monitoring Devices - NYTimes 11/12: They will be obligatory in a few years, and once they incorporate computer vision near misses of pedestrians and cyclists will dramatically increase insurance rates. I would not be surprised if driving becomes unaffordable for many under 25 and over 55.
- Will driverless cars solve our energy problems — or just create new ones? Wonkblog 3/13: Unpredictable consequences.
- Drive On: Volvo invents bicycle detection system 3/13: "The ability to avoid hitting cyclists will be added to a system aimed at avoiding accidents with pedestrians."
- Drivers With Hands Full Get a Backup - The Car - NYTimes.com 1/13: Volkswagen Passat computer vision system watches for pedestrians and cyclists
- In Minneapolis, Reducing Bike Crashes by Studying Them in Detail - Eric Jaffe - The Atlantic Cities 1/13: "Bicyclists sustained some type of injury in nearly 9 out of 10 car-bike accidents, while the city found no record of motorists being injured at all...". 1/5 car/bike accidents are hit-and-run (hit and drive really).
- Dedicated Bike Lanes Can Cut Cycling Injuries in Half - Emily Badger - The Atlantic Cities 10/12
- Police Stings for Drivers Who Don't Yield in Crosswalks: Does It Really Work? - Sarah Goodyear - The Atlantic Cities
- Car and bike: Observations 9/11 - drives me crazy than you can't buy lightweight ultra bright yellow wind pants.
- Bicycles and aging motorists - help is on the way 8/11
- Mobile phone and automotive GPS collision avoidance for pedestrians, bicyclists, tricyclists, skaters and pets 5/2009
- Hit and run homicide in Minneapolis and near future prevention 9/2008 - we're a lot closer to the measures I described then.
- Life in the post-AI world. What's next? 9/11
- Welcome to the 21st century: The primary themes 1/13 (not particularly relevant, but I think it deserves a link :-).
- Bicycle light donation - a selfish way to give 7/12