Will pedestrians walk freely in a world of self-driving cars?
Would you look both ways if you knew a car would always stop?
October 26, 2016
University of California – Santa Cruz
Imagine an urban neighborhood where most of the cars are self-driving. What would it be like to be a pedestrian? Self-driving cars are programmed to obey the rules of the road, including waiting for pedestrians to cross. Secure in the knowledge that a car will yield, pedestrians merely need to act unpredictably or step into the street to force the risk-averse car to stop.
Currently in Traveller, the rules makes the reasonable (…1980s…) assumption that we would be actually driving our own cars and air-rafts, so people get the basic Wheeled Vehicle-0 and Grav Vehicle-0 skill if they are born on these mid- and high-tech worlds.
But the Referee may well rule that even these skills are tied to adventurers: most mundanes and world-lubbers don’t even get Wheeled/Grav Vehicle-0 if they live in a high-pop world, or a world with Law Level 9+ (say).
“If they force you to use seat belts in Law Level 8, then you know what’s coming up at Law Level 9.”
“If they don’t highly tax or restrict all private vehicles in the first place – as a ‘bourgeois luxury’, of course.”
“It ain’t just the Communists. I hear that in the Empty Quarter, a few theocracies still insist that evil psionics move all cars, and so ban them… except for high-ranking clergy who have mastered the deep, dark mysteries of Infernal Combustion Engines.”
“I sense a business opportunity for an interstellar car salesman and a few hungry priests & imans, willing to stamp a few documents for ‘a financial token of respect.'”
“But can the ‘Think of the Children!’ power-seekers be bought off so cheaply? I doubt it.”
“Sounds like a challenge to me! Women want different kinds of payoffs then men do, but once you figure out what the coin of the realm is, you’re good.”
“First, ask the right question! Remember that it isn’t power that is their focus, but safety…
OK, back to the article at hand…
Imagine an urban neighborhood where most of the cars are self-driving. What would it be like to be a pedestrian?
Actually, pretty good, according to Adam Millard-Ball, assistant professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz. In fact, pedestrians might end up with the run of the place.
Because autonomous vehicles are by design risk-averse, Millard-Ball’s model suggests that pedestrians will be able to act with impunity […]
“Pedestrians routinely play the game of chicken,” Millard-Ball writes. Crossing the street, even at a marked crosswalk without a traffic signal, “requires an implicit, instantaneous probability calculation: what are the odds of survival?”
The benefit of crossing the street quickly, instead of taking a long detour or waiting for a gap in traffic, is traded off against the probability of injury or even death. Pedestrians know that drivers are not interested in running them down — usually. But there is the chance a driver may be distracted, drunk, or a sociopath.
…or an Emptyhead who somehow escaped his rockball…
In his latest study, he also suggests that the potential benefits of self-driving cars — avoiding tedium of traffic and trauma of collisions — may be outweighed by the drawbacks of an always play-it-safe vehicle that slows traffic for everybody.
“From the point of view of a passenger in an automated car, it would be like driving down a street filled with unaccompanied five-year-old children,” Millard-Ball writes.
The ultimate impacts of autonomous vehicles depend not only on technological advances and market adoption, but also on how planners and policy makers respond, Millard-Ball concludes. One approach would be to maintain traffic speeds by eliminating crosswalks, erecting fences between the sidewalk and roadway to corral pedestrians, and stepping up enforcement against jaywalkers.
Alternatively, planners could seize the opportunity to create more pedestrian-oriented streets, and relegate drop-offs to the fringes of urban commercial districts.
Autonomous vehicles could usher in a new era of pedestrian supremacy.
Air/Rafts…. we need more air/rafts…