Autonomous Vehicles
October 8, 2019

Study Shows Semi Autonomous Vehicles Can’t See Pedestrians

Image: Carscoops.com

It was only a few years ago when semi autonomous vehicles were the shiny pennies pledging to undertake all the  pesky logistics of driving. But as reported in The Verge.com things are not quite as touted, even with the Automatic Emergency Braking Systems. These vehicles are testing out as unconscious killers of vulnerable road users, who are being slaughtered at an increasing rate on roads in North America.

The most important aspect for any vehicle on the road is the ability to recognize and avoid vulnerable road users, those pedestrians, cyclists and other wheelers that are using the street without the protection of a vehicular steel shell.

It appears that while car companies fill their vehicles with toys (I have already written about the huge dashboard reader screens) the technology is still not reliable to keep everyone safe on the road. That’s the nice way of saying that today’s semi autonomous vehicles are murderous for other road users despite the fact that they have been portrayed as being logically smarter and safer than human drivers.

This report by the American Automobile Association (AAA) looked at the automatic braking systems of semi autonomous vehicles from different makers when confronted with a pedestrian (thankfully they used mannequins).  Four different 2019 model vehicles were used~a Chevy Malibu, Honda Accord, Tesla Model 3, and Toyota Camry.

Unbelievably  the vehicles hit the dummy pedestrians a horrifying sixty percent of the time-“and this was in daylight hours at speeds of 20 mph/30 km/h”. When child sized dummy pedestrians were used on the roadway, they were hit eighty percent of the time, 89 percent  of the time if between cars.These findings also occurred at higher speeds and at night.

Pedestrian fatalities were even worse if the victim had their back towards vehicles. The Truth About Cars writes “The researchers tested several other scenarios, including encountering a pedestrian after a right-hand turn and two adults standing alongside the road with their backs to traffic. The latter scenario resulted in a collision 80 percent of the time, while the former yielded a 100 percent collision rate.”

Thankfully in their conclusions  of the study AAA states that the high-tech detection systems are inadequate, with none of the various vehicles tested being able to detect an adult walking on the roadway at night. Only one vehicle was able to detect that an object was even in front of the car, but it still did not brake.

As Allison Arieff writes in the New York Times –while over 80 billion dollars has been spent in the last five years on “smart” or connected cars and AVs supposedly to make them safer, “investing in the car of the future is investing in the wrong problem. We need to be thinking about how we can create a world with fewer cars.”

In 2018 6,227 pedestrians (that’s the population of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia)  were killed in the United States.That’ is an increase of 4 percent from 2017. Canada is also in the club, being one of only seven industrialized nations in the world where pedestrian deaths are increasing.

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I have been writing about how SUVs and trucks which make up 60 percent of all vehicle purchases have been responsible for a 46 percent increase in pedestrian deaths.

Never doubt the power and strength of the motor vehicle lobby. A SUV  (sport utility vehicle) is a vehicle built on a truck platform with a “high profile” on the street. Statistics show that SUVs with the high front end grille are twice as likely to kill pedestrians because of the high engine profile, but this information has not been well publicized. In the United States a federal initiative to include pedestrian crash survival into the vehicle ranking system was halted by opposing automakers.

It was the City of London England that banned a certain type of truck when the city realized that it was responsible for 50 per cent of all cycling mortalities and over 20 per cent of all pedestrian deaths. Of course there was pushback, but the Mayor of London just said no.

Laura Laker  in  the Guardian  now asks the question~is it time to ban SUVs from our cities? SUVs are heavily marketed and are highly profitable for car companies, but they are also deadly. Drivers have an 11 percent increase in the chance of fatality in them, as their size and bulk is connected with more reckless driving. They are also killing machines in the conventional sense. In September a SUV driver in Berlin lost control of his vehicle and killed four people on a sidewalk, a grandmother and grandson and two twenty year old men.

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Dean A recommended this piece in the New York Times:

Among the safety measures proposed by car companies are encouraging pedestrians and bicyclists to use R.F.I.D. tags, which emit signals that cars can detect. This means it’s becoming the pedestrian’s responsibility to avoid getting hit. But if keeping people safe means putting the responsibility on them (or worse, criminalizing walking and biking), we need to think twice about the technology we’re developing. …

 

Peter Ladner was motivated to write this response with respect to our bike routes:

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Rod King has a different perspective about  building separated bike lanes and his point is well taken. The head of a British organization advocating for reduced road speed,  King asks why we build great quality separated infrastructure for cycling when the real problem is the speeds that drivers travel at. The higher the vehicular speed, the more problematic any cycling and walking interaction is. He notes that the “The cost of infrastructure is largely the cost of driving at speed and are not costs of cycling and walking.”

In Great Britain “utility cycling” refers to daily biking to work, shops and school. It’s well documented that there are enormous benefits to cycling which includes increasing physical and mental health as well as reducing congestion and increasing air quality. The British Social Attitudes Study found that only five percent of people cycle at least weekly, leading to the question of what is the most impactful way to increase “utility” cycling.

King’s answer? Slow the streets.

The “20 is Plenty” website writes that “Traffic speed and volumes (are) inversely related to walking and cycling levels” and cites the The World Health Organisation’s studies that  20mph (30 km/h)  is the maximum safe speed to reduce catastrophic  conflicts between cars and cyclists. “Safety fears are what people say most puts them off cycling. Cycling casualty rates fall 20-40% with wide area 20mph limits.”

In Britain signing side streets at 20 mph (30 km/h) resulted in a 300 percent increase in cycling to school in Edinburgh. Setting vehicular speed limits of 30 km/h on direct routes can maximize cycling gains.

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From Ian W:

Any of the already mentioned parking entrances, designed decades ago when design guidelines did not prioritize the pedestrians, are all much safer than the intersection of Main and Union.

That intersection, the closure of the west block of Union, and addition of the bike lanes, dedicated and shared, alternately protected and not, islands lost in the middle of nowhere, two lanes turning onto the viaduct with one ending within a car’s length, non-orthogonal bike lane, unclear direction and movements and bizarre light sequencing, make the intersectio much more dangerous than probably all the ramps mentioned, combined! I’m sure ICBC’s and the ER reporting statistics will back than claim up in spades.

That bikeway and intersection was configured in the last decade with cyclists and pedestrians as a priority. It has also been showcased by CoV as a great example of “mobility improvements”.

OK, so it’s not downtown and it’s not a sidewalk but if you’re going to point out bad design, let’s start with the worst and most unsafe, not just the car-centric.

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From RLittlemore:

Turn south from (Dunsmuir at Pacific Centre) and you’ll find that it’s worse yet on the east side of Howe Street.

The entrance and exit to the same parkade dominates nearly the whole length of the block between West Georgia and Robson – a disruption that completes a pedestrian nightmare that begins as you try to get around the obnoxious driveway to the Four Seasons.

 

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From the ever-insightful Guest:

Two places that are worse:

– Robson Street (north side) just west of Richards outside the Jinya Ramen restaurant, where Jinya has a patio railing (and a line-up), there is a washroom kiosk, a new digital sign has been installed, and the Telus garden office building has a glass sidewalk which some people avoid walking on.

 

Granville Street (east side) just north of Robson where Cafe Crepe has a patio railing, there is a poorly placed bike rack , often a sidewalk vendor with a table and a metal Canada Line ventilation grill in the sidewalk that some people avoid walking on.

 

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We live in a time where simple solutions to problems are often overlooked for technological answers. It’s no surprise given that many people perceive technology as helpful, and in many instances it is. But it’s always important to figure out what the problem is that a technological answer seeks to solve.

Take a look at this installation at a traffic intersection in Singapore that allows a senior citizen (who has the requisite senior citizen’s card) to “swipe” the pedestrian crossing button to get up to thirteen seconds extra crossing time on a busy street. The “Green Man Plus” system was introduced in 2009 for seniors and “those with disabilities” to be allowed extra crossing time. As ABC reporter Stephen Dziedzic stated on Twitter

“At some Singapore intersections you can swipe your Senior Card and the crossing light will stay green for a little longer, giving you extra time to reach the other side of the road. I find this very touching.”

 

While the Twitterverse thought this was indeed a very good idea to enhance equity, the question really is who is equal here? And instead of installing hundreds of these pedestrian installations that require a card to activate them, why not increase the crossing time on the timing of the light cycle in favour of all pedestrians, no matter who they are or when they are crossing? If people using the sidewalks and crosswalks are truly the most valued and most vulnerable users, why not treat them that way, and allow everyone a longer crossing time without a card to ask permission?

Locally, another example of technological invention also focuses on the wrong end of the problem.

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Has anyone at City Hall (hello, Transportation Advisory Committee) said anything about the wave of electric scooters that are starting to wash over Vancouver?

Here’s an example from yesterday on the Seaside at English Bay.  Notice the speed differential; the scooter on the bikeway is going faster than any vehicle on Beach Avenue.

Download video: Scooter at English Bay

We still have time to deal with the issues that have already emerged in other cities – notably San Diego, as reported here in the New York Times:

Since scooter rental companies like Bird, Lime, Razor, Lyft and Uber-owned Jump moved into San Diego last year, inflating the city’s scooter population to as many as 40,000 by some estimates, the vehicles have led to injuries, deaths, lawsuits and vandals. Regulators and local activists have pushed back against them. One company has even started collecting the vehicles to help keep the sidewalks clear. …

San Diego’s struggle to contain the havoc provides a glimpse of how reality has set in for scooter companies like Bird and Lime. Last year, the services were hailed as the next big thing in personal transportation. Investors poured money into the firms, valuing Bird at $2.3 billion and Lime at $2.4 billion and prompting an array of followers. …

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