March 26, 2018

Do We Accept That Autonomous Vehicles Will Kill Pedestrians?

Autonomous Vehicles (or AVs) were to make life easier with less road crashes and carnage. Nearly 38,000 people in the United States are annually killed on roads, and that number is rising. Autonomous vehicles would enable transportation for people who did not have drivers’ licences, and also dealt with the pesky problem of  drivers getting older. Statistics Canada figures from 2009 show that almost 28 per cent of drivers over the age of 65 are driving with some form of dementia. Autonomous vehicles would allow everyone to be mobile that could afford to use their services.
Transportation experts have continually pointed out that despite the positives of universal access to AVs there are some fundamental problems. Autonomous vehicles do not get rid of congestion, they just add to it. And while there may be less parked cars in downtowns and in cities, the streets may be designed to allow for the flow of autonomous vehicles and may not be inclusive of active transportation users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Perhaps that is the fundamental question: are we so engaged by this shiny new technology that human-powered active transportation and human based design of place and cities will be suppressed for the latest iteration of motordom?
In Tempe Arizona a homeless lady with her bicycle was struck and killed by an autonomous Uber. Sadly as reported in City Lab  by David Alpert, the police reported that the lady was not in a crosswalk, and the fatal road violence was blamed upon the dead victim. Nine other pedestrians had died in Arizona that week, but this death, by an autonomous vehicle was the one that garnered attention. But if all road deaths are reduced by 90 per cent, is that a reason to embrace this technology? “The woman was, indeed, not in a crosswalk. Bizarrely, there is a direct, curving brick path through the area, but it’s strictly ornamental: Pedestrians are forbidden from using it, and there are multiple signs posted to tell people not to use the path. The path follows what seems to be the most logical route to a nearby bus stop, and crosses the roads at narrower (and thus less harrowing) spots than the official crosswalk, which requires traversing seven lanes, counting turn lanes.This is the engineering reality of much of Tempe, and much of suburban America: Designers create inhospitable environments in which to walk, then try to prohibit walking in the least inhospitable parts of those environments. And often, when someone is killed, police rush to exonerate the driver.”
The Federation of International Pedestrians has been resolute in saying that no death is acceptable, and has insisted that autonomous vehicles be programmed to save all road users, not just the ones in the vehicle. There is an interest in adopting edicts like “Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities” which prioritizes people’s lives over the vehicle occupants. But as Alpert observes “We can insist that any pedestrian death is not acceptable, just as we do for aviation, where all incidents are studied intently, and commercial aviation deaths worldwide have plummeted from 2,469 people in 55 crashes in 1972 to just 44 fatalities—and none in a passenger jet—worldwide in 2017. There have been zero deaths on U.S. airlines since 2009.” 
It is time to stop justifying deaths on roads because of “speed” or “convenience”.  “Let this, the first recorded pedestrian killed by an autonomous car, set a better example for what we expect of our roads, and the technologies transforming them.”

Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on


  1. Personally, I think Autonomous Vehicles will be a good thing, once the technology evolves,as I believe they will be safer. From watching the video of this accident, it was obvious the standby ‘driver’ wasn’t paying attention and as well, the vehicle should have detected the pedestrian sooner. Also, the articles I read said that the speed limit was 35, but the car was going 38. Why was this vehicle breaking the law. I thought AVs were supposed to follow the law, including speed limits. That being said, road design is still crucial for making our roads safer. If we design for vehicles only, more pedestrians and cyclists will be killed.

  2. I fail to understand why vehicular homicide remains acceptable in our society. This is the most effective means to kill with the lowest consequence.
    I imagine AVs will also be exempt from new laws regarding electronic device use while driving as well!

  3. “The pesky problem of drivers getting older?” What absolute BS! Drivers get older from the moment they receive their drivers licence. They drive when stoned, when drunk, when on meds, when not on meds, when sleep deprived, when emotionally distraught, when visually impaired, when texting, when talking on cell phones, when reading maps, when searching for radio stations, when looking for CD’s and DVD’s, when arguing with passengers, when gawking out the side window, when gazing at themselves in the rear view mirror, when joy riding, they drive vehicles with broken windshields, broken windshield wipers, broken window defrosters, broken signal lights, broken headlights, tail lights, brake lights, worn out brakes and bald tires, they speed, they break all rules of the road, they drive without licences, with purchased licences, with suspended licences!!!
    “Dementia?” I wonder who is suffering from dementia when I read posts like this.
    Let’s stop with the victimization of older people, lets have some real facts, fatality rates by age group in CANADA which is not the same car culture as NASCAR land. Fatality rates by city, suburb, countryside, by level of congestion, by type of road, by intersection, by rail crossing, by moose, deer and cows, by quality of road, by time of day, by road condition, by weather conditions, by season. Fatality rates by driver, by passenger, by pedestrian, by vehicle type.
    Evidence based statements please because we are all getting older from the moment of our birth and that is not good enough rationale to allow brainless, soulless robots to roam the streets in the name of mobility for the elderly. Stop with the nonsense.

    1. “Although most seniors drive carefully, statistics show that people aged 70 or older have a higher accident rate per kilometre driven than any other age group except young male drivers, still the highest risk category. In addition, seniors are more likely than younger people to be killed when they are involved in a collision. In the context of an aging population, the balance between road safety and the autonomy some people associate with driving is a growing concern.”
      Profile of seniors’ transportation habits, Statistics Canada; 2012.

      1. The discussion is on fatalities not parking lot fender benders so the statistics quoted don’t quite apply.
        What percentage of the total population is represented by drivers over 70 who are involved in fatal accidents?
        Is there any real correlation between dementia and accidents?
        Should we require that younger folks ride around in AI robots for their own safety because they have more accidents than other groups? Why is this not perceived as a mobility issue for this group?

    2. to quote above; “Statistics Canada figures from 2009 show that almost 28 per cent of drivers over the age of 65 are driving with some form of dementia”
      REAL stats Canada facts, not NASCAR land. Seems relevant.

  4. Post

Subscribe to Viewpoint Vancouver

Get breaking news and fresh views, direct to your inbox.

Join 7,291 other subscribers

Show your Support

Check our Patreon page for stylish coffee mugs, private city tours, and more – or, make a one-time or recurring donation. Thank you for helping shape this place we love.

Popular Articles

See All

All Articles