Quantcast
Popular
Pexels

Self-Driving Cars Don’t See Cyclists Either

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 Unpublished research by Clemson University's Rick Tyrrell makes a surprising suggestion.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.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
Robin Loznak

Groundbreaking Youth Climate Lawsuit Against U.S. Government Can Proceed

A federal judge on Monday rejected the Trump administration's last-ditch efforts to derail a landmark constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 21 youth plaintiffs, preserving the trial start date of Oct. 29 in Eugene, Oregon.

In a 62-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken denied yet another attempt from the federal government to throw out Juliana v. United States, which was first filed in 2015.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Daniel Heighton / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Taxing Carbon May Sound Like a Good Idea But Does It Work?

By Paul Griffin

Exxon Mobil is backing a proposal to tax oil, gas and coal companies for the carbon they emit and redistribute the money raised that way to all Americans. It's also giving a group urging Washington to enact a tax on carbon US$1 million to advocate for this policy.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Darina Allen, founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland. Eleanor Bentall / Corbis via Getty Images

Chefs Are Going Back to Their Roots for Local, Sustainable Foraged Foods

Chefs around the world are using foraged ingredients to add exciting, fresh and eco-friendly flavors to their menus. By searching for herbs, fruits and roots from the wild, they create fresh, flavorful dishes. They also champion sustainable practices, indigenous produce and a sense of adventure. Ultimately, these foraging chefs bring diners unique experiences closer to nature.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Tim Robberts / Stone / Getty News

We Need an Ecological Civilization Before It’s Too Late

By Jeremy Lent

In the face of climate breakdown and ecological overshoot, alluring promises of "green growth" are no more than magical thinking. We need to restructure the fundamentals of our global cultural/economic system to cultivate an "ecological civilization": one that prioritizes the health of living systems over short-term wealth production.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Storm debris litters the town after Hurricane Michael on Oct. 13 in Mexico Beach, Florida. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Hurricane Michael Death Toll Rises to 18, Survivors Desperate for Aid

The death toll from Hurricane Michael climbed to 18 Saturday after a victim was discovered in Virginia, but officials think it could climb higher still as search and rescue efforts continue in the most hard hit areas around the Florida Panhandle, CNN reported.

Panama City Fire Department Battalion Chief David Collier told CNN he thought the final death toll just in his city and surrounding communities could reach the double digits.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Screenshot / ABC Video

With Planet in 'Crisis Mode,' Bernie Sanders Rips Trump White House for 'Dangerous' Dismissal of Climate Science

By Jake Johnson

Appearing on ABC's This Week on Sunday just moments after President Donald Trump's chief economic adviser and noted Wall Street stooge Larry Kudlow dismissed a new United Nations climate report showing that the world must cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 to avert global catastrophe, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) denounced the White House for its "dangerous" rejection of climate science and slammed Trump for working hand-in-hand with Big Oil to make "a bad situation worse."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
Alex Wong / Getty Images

The Fight Doesn’t End With Kavanaugh

By Patrice Simms and Brielle Green

The confirmation process for Justice Brett Kavanaugh was painful for many of us. Earthjustice stood staunchly against his nomination—both because of the jurist we know Justice Kavanaugh to be, and because we believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Despite having every opportunity to get it right, our lawmakers once again failed all of us by charting a course that was deeply disrespectful to survivors of sexual assault and offensive to our bedrock principles of equity and justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Trump at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, MD on Feb. 23. Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trump Accuses Climate Scientists of Having 'Political Agenda'

President Donald Trump once again cast doubt on human contribution to climate change and accused climate scientists of having a "political agenda" during his interview with CBS' 60 Minutes on Sunday.

"Do you still think that climate change is a hoax?" correspondent Lesley Stahl asked the president point-blank.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!