Traffic Safety Administration preparing for robot cars

David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told an industry gathering sponsored by Swedish automaker Volvo and the Swedish Embassy in Washington,

“Automated vehicles offer an important and challenging method for reducing crash risk that we believes holds great promise,” Strickland said. He noted that human error was a factor in about 90 percent of the over 33,000 traffic deaths recorded in 2010. “We have the chance of … saving thousands and thousands of lives as” cars in use today are replaced with automated vehicles, he said.

Another interesting bit:

He declined to say when the government might propose safety standards for automated cars. Setting such standards would require the government to fundamentally rethink the way it evaluates auto safety, he said.

“We may have to depend on modeling and simulation of detailed traffic interactions that lead to crashes as opposed to the typical crash-testing model that we’ve used … over the past 40 years,” Strickland said.

Key questions will be whether the software in automated cars will be able to handle complicated driving situations and whether there will always need to be a human driver paying attention and ready to step in.

Also check out this story about Nissan implementing semi-robot cars without drivers even knowing about it.  There will soon be a camera and computer controlling some motors in between the steering wheel you hold and the actual steering column.

Baby & Hood: Studies suggest urban areas are less risky for children


As an ongoing promotion for the upcoming ULI Minnesota YLG Annual Program on March 10th, I’m posting a number of articles related to the topic: kid-friendly cities.  Today’s link, from the National Post, is about safety, the perception of safety and how families choose a neighborhood.  Enjoy, and I hope to see you at the program.

Families like Ms. Roux-Vlachova’s say they find safety in their tightly packed urban communities, where tiny lots mean neighbours keep a watchful eye, where condominiums are staffed with security guards and parents can walk to most stores, schools and playgrounds.

Their arguments are bolstered by a growing body of research showing that the traditional family dream home — a large house on a big lot in a quiet suburb — may actually be more dangerous for children than many inner-city neighbourhoods.

While many parents worry that city living could mean their children will be abducted or caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting, it is exceedingly rare for children to be harmed or murdered by strangers, says William Lucy, a University of Virginia urban planning professor whose studies on safe communities are most often quoted by parents arguing for city living.

Perceptions about urban safety are still “lagging well behind reality,” Mr. Lucy says.

In reality, the greatest risk to children is car crashes, which are more likely to occur in the suburbs, where children spend more time in cars or playing next to busy roads.

“In terms of traffic fatalities versus homicides by strangers, it’s almost a 13-to-one ratio,” he says.

Minneapolis bicycle crash rates steadily decrease while bike commuting climbs

From the Star Tribune:

Recently crunched city data show the reported cyclist-motorist accident rate dropping as the number of bike commuters grows. For 2008, the most recent year for which complete data were available, the crash rate was one-quarter that of 10 years earlier. Moreover, a trend line shows a steady decrease in the crash rate even as the number of commuting cyclists more than doubled.

It would be interesting to see these crash rates for other cities, since we know mode share for bicycles is increasing in many parts of the metro.  I’m not sure if they parse them out as specifically as Minneapolis does.

The Strib also quotes Peter Jacobsen from the journal Injury Prevention, but leaves out a critical sentence (emphasis mine):

A motorist is less likely to collide with a person walking and bicycling if more people walk or bicycle. Policies that increase the numbers of people walking and bicycling appear to be an effective route to improving the safety of people walking and bicycling.

About a month ago, the Governors Highway Safety Association released a report that actually said “A focus on liveable communities…may increase walking and pedestrian vehicle conflicts”, although the discussion in the report actually seems to point more towards distracted pedestrians or pedestrians being forced to walk were poor or no facilities existed.

Bike fatalities double in Minnesota – but is it actually safer to ride?

According to MPR, bike fatalities have more than doubled since last year (9 up from 4) and crashes also look to be on the increase.  This story is punctuated by the death of a cyclist over the weekend near Snelling and Summit avenues in Saint Paul. That is the bad news.  The good news is that between 2006 and 2007, biking to work in Minneapolis grew by 50 percent according to the American Community Survey.

This story is a bit sensational, with a sentence near the end stating, “There are countless miles of roadway in Minnesota that pose potentially fatal risks to unwary or inexperienced bicyclists.”  There is likely little doubt that a dramatic increase in trips by bicycle creates additional unsafe interactions between cars and bikers, but I wish they had some data on fatalities or crashes per mile traveled, as that is a true measure of safety.  If bicycle commuting miles have increased 400 percent, and fatalities by 200 percent, then isn’t it actually getting safer to ride?  Without figures on miles traveled, we only have headlines about dramatic increases in crashes and fatalities.  There is also evidence that says that the reverse is actually true, more cyclists means safer roads.  We won’t know what the situation is in Minnesota until we get more data, but I don’t think we should be frightening people off their carbon-free rides just yet.

Nationally, there seems to be very little change in commuting to work by bicycle between 2006 and 2007, according to my own digging in the data tables.  I suspect the difference may be greater between 2007 and 2008 given rising oil prices and general economic instability.