Saturday, June 01, 2013

What pedestrians and cyclists can do while we wait for the end of human drivers

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.

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