There are more and more people on the planet each day. More of them are living in cities than ever before. Most of them want to drive everywhere they can, so clearly that means that the roads are going to continue to be a pretty complicated place to be.
Technology has helped with this in a few ways, but aside from seat belts and airbags, which only protect motorists, there haven’t really been any significant strides in safety for anyone else. Sure, you could invest in infrastructure or tougher laws, which both work, but then that would be too easy. Too obvious. What we need is a fancy show of technology that attempts to alleviate the basic responsibilities of the motorist by doing their job for them. I mean, who can really be bothered to check to see if it’s safe before proceeding? Boring!
That would be the cynical view, whereas you could also point out that this technology could also help keep cyclists and pedestrians out of the hospital or morgue. I guess… Which bit of technology? This one:
Bike Sense from Jaguar
Jaguar have brought the ability of the car to be more responsible than you to another level. It’s basically the vehicular equivalent of those safety scissors that they give small children. It watches your blind spot, as well as those that aren’t that blind at all. If it senses something approaching, it gives you a visual, auditory, as well as physical warnings. Observe:
In the world according to me, if you are unable to spot a pedestrian crossing your path whilst you are stopped at an intersection, you would really your license taken away from you. Of course, driving is apparently an inalienable right, so that will never happen, but at least you don’t really have to pay attention to the basics anymore (if you’re posh enough).
Where Bike Sense applies to cyclists is in two particularly dangerous (and already easily preventable) situations: the left hook, and doorings.
As the video demonstrates, Bike Sense will alert the driver to a cyclist approaching on the inside, warning the driver not to make a left turn into the cyclists path. Checking your mirrors is pretty much the first thing that is drummed into you when you are first learning how to drive, and that should suffice in 99% of the cases. Problem is, no one pays attention. Would Bike Sense help here? Of course it would, but it won’t make for better drivers. It will simply make allowances for lazy and/or distracted ones.
If you pass a cyclist in your car then you will have already seen them, as long as the cyclist isn’t wearing dark clothing at night with no lights. If you haven’t, you are either blind, distracted, or just plain stupid, and in any case you should have your license taken away from you.
If you have seen them, then, and you have decided to turn across their path anyway, then you have made the choice to do so purposely, rather than slow down for a second and wait for them to pass. I see this on a daily basis, most commonly when approaching a roundabout, where cars will accelerate around me at the last second to go through first. Bike Sense will not tell you anything new in these cases.
(As an aside, bikes can go through a roundabout much faster than a car which makes their risky maneuver pointless, but that doesn’t matter – mostly these people just want the pesky bike out of their way.)
If, as pictured in the video, a bike chooses to proceed through the intersection by passing a car with it’s indicator on up the inside, then that is entirely the cyclists fault, given the rules of the road. Nevertheless, Bike Sense would help the driver avoid the cyclist in this situation.
Bike Sense does the same thing on the other side of the car to help prevent doorings. If it senses a bike approaching, the door handle vibrates and you get an audible warning, which is actually really great. It can even “tap you on the shoulder”. I’ve had that idea for a while now, but I think it could be tweaked for better results (which we’ll get to).
Anyway, Jaguar has addressed the situation, right? To a point, yes. What I think Jaguar is tacitly admitting is that drivers of motor vehicles simply don’t pay attention, and that is why they need help. It’s not that drivers are dealing with an unfair situation where they couldn’t possibly prevent a collision – they just aren’t taking the necessary (morally and legally) precautions to do so. If a motorist has sufficient levels of eyesight and is smart enough to find their way out of their own home (which is about all it takes to be granted a license to use a tool that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year), then I don’t think that ringing a bell is going to make them a more conscientious driver. It will, nevertheless, probably prevent a few accidents.
To be sure, this is a good bit of tech. It may actually increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists, but the cynic in me sees this happening too: as drivers get used to it, they will start to depend on it. They will start to watch their A-pillars rather than scan the sides of the road or look past their bonnets. That’s simply what happens when technology starts to do the work for us. It’s like calculators and basic math. We get lazy. We forget that it’s our job, that we are ultimately responsible for our actions and how they impact the welfare of others. We (tend to) loose, if not the ability, then at least the interest, in being vigilant.
That’s not to say that this tech is bad or shouldn’t be used, but there needs to be counter measures in place to offset the decreased level of responsibility that motorists will inevitably feel.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but it all starts with the law.
Without any meaningful penalties, people will not change their self-serving behaviour unless it stops serving their self-serving interests. Got that?
Here’s an example. If you reverse down a street and plough into a group of kids outside of a school after mounting the kerb and killing one of them, should you be charged with anything? No? Hmmm… That’s weird, I would have thought that you would. Ok, how about in this case? Nope. Nothing. Here’s one… oh. Right. Nothing to see here, either.
Update: …and today we have this.
These are extreme cases and the weight of what the drivers have done will surely (hopefully) affect them for the rest of their lives, but there are countless other cases where the victims are merely (!) injured where the driver at fault got away with either nothing, a warning, or a citation to pay a fine. Even if that driver is unlicensed. If there is damage to the vehicle, or in car-on-car accidents, the worst that happens in all but a handful of exceptional cases is a few demerit points and the driver at fault will have to pay their deductible. This isn’t exactly communicating that this is unacceptable behaviour. In fact, what it says is that it’s inevitable, and we’ll just make it as easy to deal with as possible.
If you are in a car.
If Jaguar was interested in changing driver behaviour (which isn’t their job, by the way), they could make the experience unpleasant. Say, fill the cabin with a disgusting fart smell for a few minutes that permeates their clothing after setting off the “dooring” warning system, or instead of having the door handle vibrate, it could send a small amount of voltage through the hand of the offender.
You know, to encourage better behaviour.
I’m not suggesting that they should, and that would be slightly counter-productive in terms of their main goal: selling cars.
If we are going to assume that people will continue to be lazy, make poor choices, and generally put others at risk because they can’t be bothered to do the right thing, then aside from making them pay for it (a real user pays system), we need to separate the two groups as much as possible.
Now, as good and as necessary as segregated cycling infrastructure is, there will always be points at which cycling infrastructure and motor vehicle infrastructure (and pedestrian infrastructure) intersect, and that means we will always have a need for solutions that work to best deal with mixed traffic situations.
That’s easy: slower speeds and tougher laws, to name two.
Jaguar is using technology to help careless drivers (and even careful ones), but what we need to do is make the playing field level in terms of both fear, and cost.
Fear has got to be one of the main factors in determining how much precaution one takes in a given situation. Pedestrians and cyclists fear cars because they can kill them. Motorists don’t fear either of them because they will harm them neither physically, nor financially. That’s where cost comes in. If there is no fear to decrease one’s reckless nature, then it needs to cost them in some other way. Money. Jail time. Loss of license for a minimum of years, or forever.
We need to give people reasons to be careful, not remove them. Until we are careful and responsible enough to no longer need them, anyway, and I suspect that it might be a long wait for that one…
Header image: source