Thursday, June 09, 2016

Driving under the smartphone influence: changing my bicycling style and changing laws

Emily was waiting to turn left when she was rear-ended. Our Subaru survived with injuries, the distracted driver’s car was badly damaged. At the body shop she was told their rear-end business used to be seasonal, but now it’s year round.

That fits with what I see driving and bicycling, and with my city’s one a day pedestrian and cyclist toll. Humans were never good at driving, but smartphones have made us much worse. Computers are indeed having mixed effects on our economic productivity.

As usual the fix for a technology failure is more technology. One day, maybe twenty years from now, autonomous cars will drive us (until they demand the vote). Today automatic braking systems reduce rear-end collisions 40%. These braking systems should be mandatory on all new cars; but they should also be required to recognize bicycles waiting in a line for a light to change.

That’s because I’m not as tough as our Subaru. If I’d been on my bike, instead of Emily in our Forester, that distracted driver would have killed me. If she couldn’t see a car with a blinking turn signal she definitely wouldn’t see me.

Smartphone-impaired drivers have changed the way I ride my bicycle. Bicycling with cars has always been a matter of calculated risk, and now those risks have shifted. A few years ago it often made sense to move into a line of cars, particularly when turning left or straight but sometimes even when turning right.

It’s still risky to be on the curb side at a light, or to pass stopped cars on the right, but now being the car line is newly dangerous. There are too many impaired drivers on the road.

So I’m changing my strategy. I’m shifting to the curb side more often, moving in front of a car line only when rear-end risks are relatively low. Really I should shift to running the red light when cross traffic is clear — that eliminates much of the rear-end and right turn risks. Unfortunately that angers drivers too much to be a great idea.

We desperately need new approaches to deal with our transition period before the AIs take over, a period when humans are much worse drivers. We need mandated collision avoidance systems that detect pedestrians and cyclists. We need more segregated bike lanes. We need to eliminate right turns on red lights (sorry fellow drivers, we’re the ones with the substance problem). We need to drop speed limits. We need panopticon traffic cameras to automatically cite drivers who violate crosswalk and intersection laws. We need ongoing “sting” operations to generate thousands of traffic citations, because nothing motivates drivers like a ticket.

We’ve got a lot of work to do.

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