Will Driverless Cars Interfere With Pedestrians’ Rights?


Written by Lloyd Alter

Emily Badger recently wrote in Atlantic Cities about work being done to develop an autonomous car, showing this amazing video:

We wonít need traffic lights at all (or stop signs, for that matter). Traffic will constantly flow, and at a rate that would probably unnerve the average human driver. The researchers have modeled just how this would work, as you can see in the animation below. You have to admit the patterns are mesmerizing even if the whole idea still seems far-fetched. The yellow cars pausing at the intersection in this simulation are old-timey human-driven vehicles that havenít yet caught up with the future.

David Alpert disagrees, and writes, also in Atlantic Cities: “But what’s missing from this diagram? How about… people?”

He suggests that this will lead to new conflicts between pedestrians and cars, even if the cars are smart enough to avoid hitting people:

If autonomous cars travel much faster than today’s cars and operate closer to other vehicles and obstacles, as we see in the Texas team’s simulation, then they may well kill more pedestrians. Or, perhaps the computers controlling them will respond so quickly that they can avoid hitting any pedestrian, even one who steps out in front of a car.

In that case, we might see a small number of people taking advantage of that to cross through traffic, knowing the cars can’t kill him. That will slow the cars down, and their drivers will start lobbying for even greater restrictions on pedestrians, like fences preventing midblock crossings.

He also complains that the video shows six lanes in each direction. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Other planners and designers have a completely different idea of where the car is going; at The Institute Without Boundaries, In their Beyond The Car project, the Autonomous Car might well be smaller, lighter and slower, which it can be and still get you there faster because you are not stuck in traffic or at red lights.

Libelium/Promo image

There is no reason that the pedestrian and the cyclist cannot be a recognized part of the transportation system either, like in the Libelium system where everybody knows where everything and everybody else is.

Having spent a bit of time as an advisor to the Institute Without Boundaries’ Sustainable Transportation Charrette, I think that David Alpert has taken an overly simplistic video and produced an overly simplistic response.

As a cyclist, I look forward to autonomous cars that actually pay attention to who is around them, that go at the speed limit and don’t make right hand turns without looking in the mirror. There are also some other side effects that will be so positive for cities and suburbs alike; as noted in Beyond the Car: Envisioning a New “Sustainable Mobility Vehicle”, they will likely be shared, smaller, lighter, slower, and there will likely be about a tenth as many of them. That is something that everyone can benefit from.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


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Top photo from F.Pamplona via flickr


Elisabeth T.
Elisabeth T.3 years ago

Not for me...

JK Bogdanove

This is the stupidest, most dystopian idea I have ever heard of. Trying to put this over in America, the spiritual home of the wild West, is even more ludicrous.

Kimberly S.
Kimberly S.4 years ago

If people took driving more seriously, and if we didn't have the problem of drivers doing dumb things like texting or reading a book while they're motoring along, this would probably remain science fiction.

Josh Meckel
Josh Meckel4 years ago

I will most definitely buy a driver-less optioned car, but not one that does not have a manual option. With slick double clutch transmissions today, i dream of when i can buy my sportscar that i can drive in a fun manner, but when i head off to work, i can kick it into auto pilot for the journey when i go to work at 7 or 8 in the morning and i am too tired to concentrate on driving, or when i am taking a boring road trip. I cant wait until auto pilot is available. I see this even possible with standard gearing manuals, just like cruise on them. You can click a button and auto will turn on for freeway driving, but when you get to lower speeds, you will be required to drive again. The bad part is that it will lead to additional weight on the sports car, but i think 50-100 pounds is worth the convenience.

Glenn Byrnes
Glenn Byrnes4 years ago

I favor it. This could revolutionize transportation.

Sarah M.
Sarah M.4 years ago

This is a ridiculous, dangerous idea that will never come to fruition. This is the last thing they should be thinking about--getting everyone off oil is a far more important and realistic priority.

Sheri P.
Sheri P.4 years ago

i doubt this will ever become reality...

Kathryn Pierce
Kathryn Pierce4 years ago

Hm. The lead-in to the video said the yellow cars were "old-timey human-driven vehicles", but I noticed while trying to follow some of them through the intersection that the cars changed color. That doesn't match with what the video was tying to show.

Kristina C.
Kristina C.4 years ago

An autonomous car is right now only a wish from Utopia - we have so many other things to worry about that I don't even want to waste my time on this one.
But thank you for an interesting view.

Linda Clarkson Pressman

not really sure how i feel about this