Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Self-Driving Cars Don’t See Cyclists Either

Popular
Self-Driving Cars Don’t See Cyclists Either
Pexels

By Paul Rauber

This Bike to Work Day, spare a thought for Elaine Herzberg, the Tempe, Arizona woman who was killed by an Uber self-driving car driving in autonomous mode on March 18. Both Uber and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident; according to The Information, Uber has concluded that the software that determines how the car is to react to objects had been set to ignore false positives, "such as a plastic bag floating over the road." Except in this case, the object was not a plastic bag but a woman wheeling her bike across the road.


A lot was written about Herzberg's death, in part because a cyclist getting killed by a driverless car is more novel than the 800+ cyclists who are killed each year by humans at the wheel. The League of American Bicyclists reports that the U.S. Senate is now taking up the AV START Act, Congress' first go at setting guidelines for the testing of autonomous vehicles on public streets. The League wants to make sure that that framework requires these vehicles to "see" cyclists:

When human drivers apply for a driver's license we have to pass a vision test. The League believes that all automated driving systems should have to pass a "vision test" as well. Please join the League in asking Senators to require automated vehicles to pass a vision test.

Sadly, just because human drivers can pass a vision test doesn't necessarily mean that they will see cyclists (as I can personally attest, having recently been rear-ended). Even if drivers are not looking at their cell phones or their infotainment systems, "inattentional blindness" can lead them to look a cyclist in the face and still turn right in front of your path. A 2017 study by researchers from the Australian National University, Canberra, examined the psychological mechanisms behind "look-but-failed-to-see" crashes involving motorcycles (which seem to share the same lack of visibility that afflicts bicycles). "Participants were twice as likely to miss a motorcycle compared with a taxi," the study concluded—in part, at least, because its "threat value" was lesser. A motorcycle (or bicycle) is less likely to injure a driver than a taxi, rendering it less visible—sort of like a plastic bag floating across the road.

How can cyclists make themselves more conspicuous? Unpublished research by Clemson University's Rick Tyrrell makes a surprising suggestion. He found that cyclists wearing fluorescent leggings were visible to motorists three times further away than cyclists wearing dark leggings and fluorescent jackets. The reason seems to be that humans are programmed to notice human activity, and illuminating the up-and-down motion of a cyclist's legs does the trick. Tyrrell's findings, as summarized by Road Biker Rider, are these:

  • Running full-time lights is safer than no lights at all.
  • A flashing tail light is safer than a steady (always-on) tail light.
  • A steady light worn on your ankle or heel makes you even more conspicuous.
  • Colorful (and fluorescent) clothing is fine for the torso, but even better at letting drivers know you're a cyclist if worn on your legs.

Until we get around to widespread installation of protected bike lanes, cyclists need to protect themselves. Ride safe!

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a pair of climate-related secretarial orders on Friday, April 16. U.S. Department of the Interior

By Jessica Corbett

As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.

Read More Show Less
Trending
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+. Apple

Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.

Read More Show Less
An Amazon.com Inc. worker walks past a row of vans outside a distribution facility on Feb. 2, 2021 in Hawthorne, California. PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP via Getty Images

Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.

Read More Show Less