The Biggest Threat to Automation? Jaywalking

Even the most upstanding citizens break this law… You guessed it, Jaywalking. It’s hard to imagine a bustling city without the occasional group of jaywalkers running across the road unexpectedly.

While jaywalking is certainly a safety hazard, it’s extremely difficult to control in a city filled with millions of people. Combine jaywalking with autonomous (self-driving) vehicles and you get an entirely new (and dangerous) public safety issue.

It’s no secret that autonomous vehicles are equipped with automatic-stop and pedestrian detection. The issue is not the cars themselves, but the confidence pedestrians have in their braking capabilities. If pedestrians know that cars will stop for them no matter what, some may be tempted to run in front of these self-driving cars, knowing they won’t get struck.

Automotive industry professionals have suggested a potential solution to the jaywalking epidemic, gates. Professionals suggest putting gates at each corner, which would open periodically allowing pedestrians to cross the road.

The former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Mark Rosekind says “With autonomous vehicles, the technical stuff will get worked out. It’s the societal part that’s the most challenging.” The pedestrian safety problem is not exclusive to major cities, suburban and small-town are also prone to these same jaywalking issues in the future.

Rosekind goes on to describe this shift in autonomous vehicles as “the single-most transformative societal change in decades. We have to be ready for it.” It’s no question autonomous vehicles are ready for us but are we ready for them? How society will adjust to these changes is still widely unknown.

As of right now, there are six levels of autonomous vehicles (0-5).

Level 5:  Aka “Hands off” The vehicle is fully autonomous (which is not expected to be released to the public for another 10 years).

Level 4: Aka “Mind off” The driver can safely go to sleep while behind the wheel.

Level 3: Aka “Eyes off” The driver can safely turn their attention away from the talk of driving.

Level 2: Aka “Hands off” The automated system takes full control of the vehicle (accelerating, braking, steering). The driver must monitor the vehicle and pay attention to the road at all times while behind the wheel.

Level 1: Aka “Hands-on” The driver and the automated vehicle share control of the vehicle.

Level 0: Automated system issues warnings and may momentarily intervene but has no sustained vehicle control.

While autonomous vehicles have received some negative media attention, self-driving cars are already proving to be much safer than traditional level zero vehicles. Today’s cars and trucks kill, on average, 300,000 people every year in the United States according to Rosekind. Autonomous vehicles are expected to greatly reduce that number in the future.