Figuring out priorities, fixing technical issues and finding transit alternatives are the tools being used by cities now to combat congestion and improve road safety. The future is the focus of Lesson 3 in our Crash Course in Road Safety. Looking down the road a bit, we see advanced driver assist technology and city planning playing major roles. We are still a long way from a world where humans are completely off the hook for road safety.
Building better urban infrastructure
Canada is among the most urbanized countries in the world. Seven in ten people live in urban areas today. According to Statistics Canada, our population is expected to reach 40 million by 2030. Most of that growth will be in large metropolitan areas.
Expanding transportation infrastructure is critical. Improving pedestrian and cyclist safety, and minimizing congestion are part of designing for city growth. Some may also try e-bike programs and urban logistics plans to consolidate deliveries and reduce pollution.
Driver assist smart cars are superhuman solutions
‘Smart’ self-driving cars and driver assist systems can surpass human capabilities. Machines have 360 degree vision, endless attention spans and can multi-task. Response times are faster. Developments are coming from tech, auto parts and digital imaging companies like Texas Instruments, Robert Bosch Gmbh, Magna International, and Fujitsu.
Cars have superhuman senses; they see further and react faster than humans can—Bosch Mobility Systems
Driver assist systems are grouped by sensor technologies like RADAR, ultrasonic, and LiDAR (laser light sensors). Ultrasonic sensors cost less and are effective in the dark. Video in 2D and 3D help with near and long-range vision. These should all help both drivers and driver-assist vehicles see pedestrians better at night.
Giving us a glimpse into the future, some of these driver assist technologies are available in 2019 vehicle models:
adaptive cruise control
adaptive front lighting
automatic emergency braking
blind spot detection
forward collision warning
lane departure warning
tire pressure monitoring
Expect rapid growth of driver assist systems over the next decade. New mandatory vehicle safety standards begin in two years. Consumer demand is also fueling the market for enhanced vehicle safety features. According to a Market Research Future study, the market for driver assist systems could reach US $112 billion ten years from now.
That’s a whole lot of new safety technology. But is it enough to augment reality of road safety and reach Vision Zero?
Man and machine must make tough moral choices
We know human drivers are increasingly distracted. Driver assist or driverless vehicles are not faultless either.
Technical challenges regarding malfunction of these advanced driver assistance systems are a cause for concern and represent market restraint—Market Research Future study.
Building in backups in case one system fails, and security to prevent hacking into connected vehicles are some of the ways this will need to be addressed. Testing must be rigorous in real-life spaces, not controlled labs. Fusing all these technologies together is the future of driver assist, and potentially driverless vehicles.
One thing we cannot lose sight of is potentially life-altering decision making. Problem is in the programming. Azim Shariff, a University of British Columbia researcher notes moral choices machines are programmed to make in life or death scenarios for self-driving cars:
Algorithms that have to be explicitly programmed well in advance of the situation…they have the responsibility —Globe & Mail Oct 25, 2018 Matters of Morality Self Driving Cars Face a Cultural Obstacle
Research at the MIT Media Lab tested people’s choices with an online game called the Moral Machine. Deciding what to do in a random series of car crash scenarios, participants have to make split-second decisions to minimize harm. After the game was played more than 40 million times, researchers concluded North Americans and Europeans tend to make choices which save the most individuals. They are more likely to let the vehicle stay on course, protecting occupants over others on the road.
Visual aids: we see you, do you see us?
Lighting designers at Volkswagen are working to address a key factor in pedestrian collisions: lack of eye contact with drivers. High performance LED headlights are cheaper than laser, and have up to 30,000 light points.
For the first time, these micro-pixel HD headlights will project information directly onto the road, further improving safety–Volkswagen AG
Pedestrian visibility is another area where we are seeing technical improvements which can be done cost-effectively.
Reflective appliqués and accessories on clothing are a clear way to improve pedestrian visibility. Flashing LED lights are now small enough to clip on a zipper, shoelace or helmet.
Making a bigger impression, Canada Goose has created raincoats with material which has reflective fibres woven right in. The black coat suddenly shows a birch bark pattern when illuminated by headlights. The whole coat glows.
One day a perfect utopia of smart cities, sidewalks, vehicles and wearables may be in our future. We see driver assist systems are able to minimize human error, but cannot eliminate it quite yet.
Lives are at risk, technology can fail. For now, humans must continue to be personally responsible when using the road. Our backup plan is to insist we must all BE ALERT.
Our 3-part Crash Course in Road Safety revealed the facts history and today and possibilities of tomorrow. Prevention will be part of the best solution. We encourage cities, companies, engineers, designers, researchers and programmers to keep working at it. In the meantime, join in now to help keep the most vulnerable road users safe.