Here is another reason to look forward to Google’s autonomous vehicles (AVs) taking over the roads; they are actually thinking about pedestrian safety, bless their hearts.
In the recent Governors Highway Safety Association report on why pedestrians are getting killed at a higher rate when deaths of drivers is decreasing, they noted that “Pedestrians do not benefit from occupant-oriented vehicle crashworthiness improvements.” Google, on the other hand, is planning ahead for when their cars hit someone.
In the event of a collision between a vehicle and a pedestrian, injury to the pedestrian is often caused not only by the initial impact of the vehicle and the pedestrian, but also by the ensuing, secondary impact between the pedestrian and the road surface or other object. Specifically, when a pedestrian is in a collision with a vehicle, the nature of the collision cause the pedestrian to be carried along with the vehicle for a period of time. As this occurs, the kinetic energy of the moving vehicle accelerates the pedestrian to a certain velocity until the driver reacts to the accident by applying the brakes. At this point, the pedestrian continues travelling at the same velocity but is decoupled or thrown from the vehicle where a secondary impact occurs between the pedestrian and the road surface or other object. This secondary impact can often cause severe injuries to the pedestrian as the road surface or other object does not exhibit any sort of compliance or cushioning as the vehicle front end might.
So instead of designing their cars with solid metal front ends, or the killer walls of steel found on every big pickup or SUV, they are proposing to make the front of their cars cushioned (their little Roush- built AVs have flexible fronts and windshields) but here, they will have a strong adhesive covered with a sort of “eggshell” coating that will crack on impact, gluing the pedestrian to the front of the car.
There are so many problems that have to be solved before AVs take over our roads. However the fact that from the ground up, they are thinking about pedestrian safety while they reinvent the car is tremendously reassuring. As Stanford School of Law professor and autonomous car expert Bryant Walker Smith told the Mercury News,
The idea that cars should be safe for people other than the ones in them is the next generation of automotive safety. Manufacturers have gotten remarkably good at protecting the occupants of the vehicle, but there's been much less attention to protecting the people outside. I applaud anybody for thinking, as they should, about people outside of the vehicle.
So do I. Every car manufacturer should think this way. When one looks at the data showing the difference in what happens when you get hit by a car vs a van or a pickup truck, I can only hope that the day comes soon where the roads are full of soft and sticky Google AVs.