November 22, 2022

Rethinking Driverless Technology: Autonomous Vehicles Are Not As Smart as Promised

Over the past few years Viewpoint Vancouver has been gently reminding that autonomous vehicles with their self-driving features are not ready for prime time, and indeed may never be fully self driving in every environment.


Even Tesla has had to walk back several of their comments and the effectiveness of their  available downloads. Special software has been offered to  “test” drivers who have found out that while these vehicles can self-drive, they still cannot distinguish pesky things like barriers, trees, and erratic humans not encased in metal on roadways and streets.

The documentary “Crash Course” released this year also discusses the challenges with self-driving vehicles and the fact that objectives towards self driving autonomy has hit substantial road bumps. While Tesla has insisted on cameras instead of radar and lidar  on vehicles to provide safety, the vehicles appear not to be  successful in avoiding “cross over” collisions, those from driver and passenger side directions.

This was reinforced in the well attended International Road Safety Conference held in Vancouver this month. It was also mentioned that unlike the iPhone there is no universal demand for autonomous driving vehicles other than for transit and trucking. Autonomous vehicles were to be the darling of seniors, promising them a way to drive places when they themselves could not. But carshares, better transit and better walking environments as well as densification of communities can also mitigate the need for vehicle ownership by providing shops and services within walkable distances.

A new American study shows that there are some aspects of autonomous braking and forward collision alerting that can decrease motorist injuries by 50 percent, but the news is not so good for pedestrians outside the vehicle. Research just released from Partnership for Analytics Research in Traffic Safety (PARTS) conducted on 12 million crashes between 2016 and 2021 showed that vehicles with the technology will avoid a “nose to tail” crash if equipped with autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning.  Autonomous braking reduces serious crash likelihood by 42 percent.  If it is the “warning only” system, that will reduce the serious crash rate by 19 percent.

But here’s the bad news: autonomous braking systems to avoid collisions with pedestrians only reduced pedestrian crashes by 4 percent in overall collisions, and with only a two percent decline in serious pedestrian injuries.

Additional assisted driver technology for lane departure, lane following distance and lane change were not as effective in reducing crashes as the in line “nose to tail” crash technology.

As Jordan Mulach reported in The Drive,  the United States had the highest deaths on American roads in 16 years with nearly 43,000 road users dying.  That’s the population of Banff Alberta being wiped out annually.

You can take a look at the video below which describes the work of PARTS in researching autonomous vehicle collisions and analyzing autonomous vehicle data to make road networks safer for everyone.






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  1. My Chevy Bolt is equipped with the Forward Automatic Braking option which automatically applies the brakes if it detects an imminent collision with a car or a pedestrian. It has three sensitivity settings and I drive with it on the most sensitive level – this produces some false positive warnings (beeps and flashing lights in the windshield but not actual braking) but seems like the safest option to me.

    I was slowing down for a red light on Broadway at Main when a father and son popped out from behind a large truck that was a couple of cars back from the intersection in the lane to my left. They were trying to take a shortcut instead of using the marked crosswalk. I saw them and was in the process of getting my foot onto the brake pedal but the automatic braking system got to it before I did. The car stopped with a few feet to spare. The look on the father’s face was priceless.

    I was pretty impressed how quickly the system recognized and reacted to the pedestrians, which had been hidden from view by the truck until the last seconds. It’s a safety feature that I’m glad to have.

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