Driverless vehicles will likely be too cautious around humans, giving them the right of way in every circumstance, possibly creating new traffic problems.
The benefits of driverless cars have been discussed repeatedly: road safety, a decrease in traffic, and the ability for those with disabilities to get around more easily, just to name a few.
But as with most emerging technologies, there are often unintended consequences. And as John Adams, Professor Emeritus of the University College of London, outlined recently, pedestrians and bicyclists are a big impediment to self-driving car success.
No, autonomous cars will not mow down unsuspecting individuals out for a stroll or morning cycle. Instead, the problem is driverless vehicles will likely be too cautious around humans, giving them the right of way in every circumstance, possibly creating new traffic problems. Jaywalkers can stop driverless cars without fear; just stand in the street, if you want.
I mention the “without fear” factor because I used to have a college roommate who would accelerate when he saw a jaywalker defiantly meandering across the street. He wanted to see the miscreant scramble. A driverless car will probably not even beep at such a transgression.
Then there is the bicyclist road hog. If I’m driving, I’ll cross the double yellow lines to pass, a manuever that a driverless car is presumably programmed not to make. Will they just toodle along at a snail’s pace behind those on bikes?
Autonomous cars will function optimally on expressways, but even they are not always free of pedestrians. There was a powerful biking community in the SF Bay Area that used to create a traffic jam “event” every month called Critical Mass in order to “challenge the use of city streets and the domination of cars and oil in our transportation system.” More recently, Black Lives Matter and other protestors have walked onto the Bay Area expressways.
There is proposed legislation in North Carolina that would protect drivers if they run down protestors who block traffic, especially on freeways. The bill, HB330, has already passed the House. Would this protect autonomous cars, too? Probably not, except maybe in North Carolina.