It was only a few years ago when 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 advanced as touted.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 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 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.
The OECD’s International Transport Forum looked at distracted driving and the lack of law enforcement (or penalty) for the dramatic increase. I’ve previously written about SUV’s (vehicles built upon a truck platform) being responsible for a 46 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities, and those types of vehicles as well as trucks representing 60 percent of all new car purchases.
We can’t outsmart or drive our way out of this issue, and indeed as Arieff suggests we are looking at the wrong end of the problem. Creating deserted streetways for autonomous vehicles to travel, putting RFID (radio frequency identification ) readers on pedestrians or cyclists is answering the wrong question. For livable places and for sustainability we need to encourage active transportation and good efficient connected public transit, negating the need for the automobile industry to recreate themselves for this century. They are doing a pretty bad job so far.
You can take a look at the test crash dummies flying on the autonomous vehicle research course track in this short YouTube video below.