Self-Driving Cars, Bicycles, and Pedestrians

Back to another question from Kyle Jepson:

Even if non-autonomous cars eventually get banned from the roads, there will probably always be some manned vehicles. Bicycles come to mind. And even just pedestrians. What will sharing the road look like when self-driving cars are the norm?

This, I think, has a much happier answer than the long and slow process of moving human-driven cars off the road.

The answer again is that self-driving cars will have to operate in the world as it exists today, but self-driving cars will make the world so much safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Bicycling is already surprisingly safe. Only ~700 American cyclists die annually in crashes with motor vehicles.

The number worldwide is presumably much higher, as I imagine biking is less popular in the US than in many other countries, due to our relatively sparse population density.

Walking, on the other hand, is a disaster. ~5000 Americans die annually in crashes with motor vehicles.

Self-driving cars which will literally carry lots of sensors, and figuratively carry lots of liability (assuming they are run by corporations, not individuals), will be much better at avoiding pedestrian deaths.

Hopefully the day will come when dedicated roadways enable self-driving cars to travel at hundreds of miles per hour, without interference from cyclists or walkers or human drivers. That’s the autonomous version of the Interstate highway system.

But in the near-term, self-driving cars are going to have to adapt to the world as it exists. They’ll just be much safer than the human-driven cars on the road now. And that will mean a lot, for pedestrians especially.