Jaywalking in the Future

Unfortunately we will see a massive increase in jaywalking soon after most cars on the road are self-driving.

Humans make poor decisions and so we are terrible drivers. Human drivers kill 100 people every day in the US, 16 of them are pedestrians. Humans text while driving and cannot possibly be perfect drivers. But software will be much better because software won’t send text messages, or email, or fiddle with Spotify, or stare at the radio controls. So self-driving cars will be much better drivers... unless the driving environment changes in response to these self-driving cars.

This adapting environment is my concern. Vehicle to vehicle collisions will drop dramatically when 99% of all vehicles are self-driving. Collision avoidance and minimization will be programed into all vehicles.

Today pedestrians base their behavior on the poor abilities of human drivers, and 16 pedestrians pay the price every day. Hundreds more each day probably are involved in vehicle collisions which result in pedestrian injuries.

I call this pedestrian entitlement. A human knows that if a car hits him or her it is the driver’s fault, the pedestrian is never at fault. The pedestrian may die but that’s ok because the driver is always at fault.

Autonomous vehicles will be tested with pedestrians (on closed roads for software development). Every iteration, every version upgrade, will lead to better interaction with crazy pedestrians. The software will be trained to save the lives of people who are trying to be hit by cars. Software designers will be reasonably successful at this. They will develop self-driving cars which are very good at saving the lives of whacko pedestrians. And that is the problem. People will realize that the cars can’t hit them (most of the time) so jaywalking will increase.

I predict that that the pedestrian death rate will not improve after the conversion to self-driving cars, the rate may even increase. The death rate in vehicle-vehicle collisions will drop, at least 99%, probably 99.99%. But pedestrians will challenge cars at an increasing rate so the death rate will stay high.

Over and over again humans make poor decisions that put their own lives at risk. Removing humans from behind the wheel will eliminate poor human driving decisions. But there’s no obvious way to eliminate bad decisions by pedestrians. They will continue to adapt, risking their lives to keep their death rate high.

Dead Pedestrians

A pedestrian dies in a collision with a self driving car and the news media goes berserk. CNN touts this as a disaster, seeing this as the end of the line for self driving cars.

Human drivers kill about 100 people every day in the US, including about 12 pedestrians. Where is the outrage for that? Where is the news story about each and every one of those precious lives?

Those of us who understand the situation immediately suspected that this collision was completely the fault of the pedestrian. I went so far as to be willing to bet $100 that the pedestrian was jaywalking. Humans make terrible decisions as drivers and terrible decisions as pedestrians. But it’s pretty rare that a pedestrian who is scared of traffic and deeply concerned about self-preservation will put him or herself in harm’s way. In case after case, a dead pedestrian made a stupid decision and believed the cars would stop anyway.

And of course, guess what? The pedestrian was at fault. SF Chronicle This was not even remotely shocking. And CNN immediately buried the story because it did not fit their clickbait goals.

How much responsibility does a human driver have when their car hits a pedestrian? It varies from total to zero depending on the speed of the car, whether the pedestrian was in a crosswalk, whether the car was entering the cross walk during a red or yellow light, weather, visibility, whether the driver was texting, etc. In short, there are perhaps 100 factors which influence the culpability of the driver.

Similar discussions must apply to self-driving cars. And when they do I promise you a human cannot match the safety of a self-driving car. Let’s just look at the most common situation today: humans can text while driving and a car cannot.

I leave you with this: What’s a lot more dangerous than a self driving car? A human driving a car!