Human Transportation - the dangerous journey from walking to self-driving cars
Ask my wife and she will say I am a walking accident waiting to happen.
I am one of those people with wonky ankles who can get hurt while moving, either by walking, skipping, jogging and climbing over objects. Wait a few minutes and down I go. Just the way I am. But if you search Youtube under “falling over” you will see other folks like me.
For most, walking is not really dangerous. But then add some potentially distracting technology. You can listen to music while walking. You can talk on your phone, check your email, text message, check your Fitbit steps, or use your GPS to see where that Starbucks is hiding. Or many of those at the same time. All nifty cool, but all these activities carry increased risk and if you are not very careful, the hospital visits are forthcoming. Technology is very nice, but it needs to be used in a responsible way and maybe that means for me, not while in motion.
What about bikes? Even after helpful technology like helmets, blinking lights, bells, I personally know of many very serious bike accidents. Broken bones, bandages, crutches, that sort of thing. Add a distracting technology like some mentioned above, and the crash rates are destined to climb. I am sure if humans could figure out a way to text while biking, they would do so and … back to the hospital.
But this is an EV car column - right? And boy, has both helpful technology and distractive technology arrived in the car world and more is on the way.
The first somewhat helpful technology was cruise control. You set a speed and the car, jerkily in the very early renditions and pretty darn nice in the recent versions. Cruise control maintains a constant speed while you “keep you eyes open, hands on the wheel and your foot near the brake”. A helpful feature.
Next on the autonomous driving path is adding some cameras (backup and other) and radar (Lidar) to detect lane departures and warnings that you are following too close to the car in front. The human might start to feel indestructible - right? Not so. Just as with cruise control, each new technology will take time to mature and be safe enough for us accident prone and risk-taking humans.
What about distractions? It started with listening to the radio or music (I can personally tell you the serious risk of listening to a meditation talk - complete with practice session silent sit - while driving down the highway. Totally unsmart).
And for the silly-willies. You can talk on a cell phone (if law enforcement is looking the other way) I’m sure you get that bad number. And texting - REALLY?
Is there hope? Can the technological packed vehicle save us?
Enter the vision of the car that drives itself. It picks you up, delivers you to the restaurant and parks itself. You dine and wine, and it gets you home again. Tesla, is a world leader on the path to provide fully autonomous driving, but is being chased by Waymo and many others. Tesla has released early versions of Autopilot for a few years now and there have been some accidents, some quite horrific. Even though the manual and dash warning message tell you to keep you hands on the wheel and tests you periodically, it seems like a siren to call out the stupid amongst us to sit back, relax, make a phone call or answer their emails. Bad things happen. But the engineers are on it. Tesla has about 1 million vehicles building an AI driving database. The technology is improving at a dramatic pace and self-driving vehicles promise to this time, maybe make the world a far safer place. Will I trust it ? I don’t have an opinion yet, but if it safely gets me from A to B without falling over, count me in.
The bottom line is that everything we do transportation-wise carries risk. And us humans tend to seek out ways to duck the odds increase the riskiness. The ditches were filled with past failures. And while I might be dangerous while walking, perhaps the self-driving car will finally make the streets safer for everybody.
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