Pedestrians Will Have to Be "Lawful and Considerate" in a World of Self-Driving Cars

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CC BY 2.0. Fences in Edinburgh/ Lloyd Alter

It may be decades before AVs are good enough, so in the meantime everyone will have to keep out of their way.

When I was in Scotland recently I was bemused by the traffic and pedestrian control. On the upside, pedestrians got their own lights and all the cars had to stop when they crossed, rather than having them cross with the green light for cars. On the downside, the amount of fencing was insane and the wait times were long.

Fences in Oban

Fences in Oban/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0You were forced to cross where they wanted you to cross. Even in tiny Oban there was a mess of fence. I thought at the time that this is what the world will be like when we get self-driving cars- as I have written before, we will need grade separated cities or a whole lot of fencing. All part of what I and others have called Jaywalking 2.0- pedestrians have to be kept out of the road, either by fences or by laws, or by intimidation.

Now it becomes more obvious that this is what people in the industry are thinking; robotics expert Rodney Brooks points to an article in Verge, where AV industry executive Andrew Ng “argues the problem is less about building a perfect driving system than training bystanders to anticipate self-driving behavior. In other words, we can make roads safe for the cars instead of the other way around.” Russell Brandom asks Ng if an AV could deal with a human on a pogo stick in the road. Ng thinks it shouldn’t have to;

“Rather than building AI to solve the pogo stick problem, we should partner with the government to ask people to be lawful and considerate,” he said. “Safety isn’t just about the quality of the AI technology.”

It’s about legislating people off the road. Rodney Brooks is derisive, calling Ng “Professor Confused.”

The great promise of self-driving cars has been that they will eliminate traffic deaths. Now Professor Confused is saying that they will eliminate traffic deaths as long as all humans are trained to change their behavior? What just happened?

Matt Novak/ Paleofuture/Public Domain

What just happened is Jaywalking 2.0, the campaign to get people who are not driving cars off the streets. According to Peter Norton in Fighting Traffic, it started with a 1925 law in Los Angeles that was copied everywhere.

The ordinance codified pedestrians’ confinement to sidewalks and crossings , leaving to individual cities the choice of how far to go. At a minimum, cities adopting the ordinance would require pedestrians to yield the pavement to motorists everywhere except in a crosswalk. At their discretion, cities could require pedestrians to cross only at crosswalks , even in the absence of motor traffic.
where is it safe to cross


People who walk had to be taught and they had to be regulated, to be “lawful and considerate” of the needs of cars.

“Pedestrians must be educated to know that automobiles have rights”, said George Graham, auto manufacturer and chairman of the safety committee, National Automobile Chamber of Commerce , in 1924. “We are living in a motor age, and we must have not only motor age education, but a motor age sense of responsibility .

These words could have been coming out of the mouth of Andrew Ng. It didn’t work then; thousands die every year because pedestrians were not trained well enough in jumping out of the way. That’s why today we have distracted walking and recently the most egregious, drunk walking, as being the cause of pedestrian deaths; we are just not being lawful and considerate enough.

The Verge article concludes that AVs are a lot further away than people think:

The dream of a fully autonomous car may be further than we realize. There’s growing concern among AI experts that it may be years, if not decades, before self-driving systems can reliably avoid accidents.
View down on Futurama

technology almanac/ Separated streets in Futurama/via

So instead, they will demand fences and bridges and grade separation to ensure that unlawful and inconsiderate pedestrians never get near the road; it's the 20s and 30s all over again. And, more regulation and pedestrian blaming, because as George said in 1924, automobiles have rights. Or as Rodney Brooks concludes, people who think you know how to currently get around safely on the street better beware, or those self-driving cars are licensed to kill you and it will be your own damn fault.