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Posts from the ‘Safety’ Category

Driverless cars: once they’re on the road, human drivers should be banned

The Conversation 6 June 2019

Self-driving cars could revolutionise people’s lives. By the end of the next decade, or perhaps even sooner, they could radically transform public spaces and liberate us from the many problems of mass car ownership. They’ll also be much better behaved than human drivers.

Robot drivers won’t break the speed limit, jump the lights, or park where they shouldn’t. They won’t drive under the influence of drink or drugs. They’ll never get tired or behave aggressively. They won’t be distracted by changing the music or sending a text, and they’ll never be trying to impress their mates.

Driverless cars could also change the face of public spaces. Private cars are very expensive items that do absolutely nothing 95% of the time. They are economically viable only because paying a taxi driver for all your car journeys would be even more expensive. Once cars don’t need human drivers, this cost balance should tip the other way.

Imagine what your town or city could look like with driverless taxis instead of private cars. Most of the space taken up by car parks could be used for homes, offices, cafes, bars, cinemas, hotels, and swimming pools. An end to parked cars lining every street like urban cholesterol. Quicker bus journeys. Wider pavements.

With more space and safer roads, active transport would be more attractive. More people would travel around on bikes, skateboards, roller blades, and scooters. Driverless taxis could easily be electric, returning to depots to recharge.

The benefits to public health would be enormous. Our towns and cities would be vastly more pleasant places to live and breathe. Transport’s contribution to climate change would be dramatically reduced. But ensuring all these benefits presents an important ethical challenge.

Dealing with emergencies

Ethical concern about autonomous vehicles has so far focused on emergencies. Should a car save its passengers at the cost of killing or injuring other people? Should it swerve to avoid someone in the road if this means hitting someone on the pavement? How many people need to be saved to outweigh a bystander’s life or limb? Are children more important than adults? And so on.


Read more: Should your robot driver kill you to save a child’s life?


The problem resembles philosopher Philippa Foot’s most famous ethical thought experiment: the trolley problem. Imagine you are driving a trolleybus. Its brakes have failed and it’s hurtling towards five people who will certainly be killed if it hits them. You can swerve it onto a side track, killing one person who otherwise would not have been affected. The question is, whether you should.

Would you hit the switch? McGeddon/Wikimedia Commons., CC BY-SA

Philosophers debating this question have produced a dazzling array of variations. What if you are standing by the track next to someone wearing a very large backpack? Should you push that tourist under the trolley, saving five people’s lives? If you could stop the trolley only at the cost of your own life, should you do that? And so on and so on.

Intuitive responses to these variations tend to seem contradictory. But we learn more about our moral thinking by exploring how they might in fact be consistent. And we learn more about moral cognition by scanning people’s brains while they consider these problems.

Self-driving cars have given this debate a new purpose. We have to teach these vehicles how to handle emergencies – the trolley problem just got real. At least, this is what many philosophers think. But in focusing on an existing thought experiment, they have missed the bigger picture.

The real ethical challenge

Engineers working on driverless cars tell us that the safest response in any emergency is to stop. This will be even safer if the nearby cars all have robot drivers. And robot drivers would be better behaved than human ones, reducing the number of emergencies on the roads.

Given all the potential benefits to public health and quality of life, we should be much better off once robots take over the driving, whatever the authorities decide about emergency situations.

This is what gives rise to the real ethical challenge of self-driving cars. Once robot drivers are safe enough to allow onto the roads in large numbers, it seems that we should maximise their benefits by banning their dangerous human counterparts from public roads.

There would be resistance to this, of course. Many people enjoy driving. But many people enjoy smoking, too, and this is banned in public places for the protection of non-smokers. There could be designated safe spaces for drivers to indulge their hobby without risk to other people.

Rights of access pose a more difficult question. There is a strong case that essential transport infrastructure should be publicly owned. And if private cars are not an option, perhaps the cost of using autonomous taxis should be proportionate to ability to pay.

But regardless of how we resolve these practical issues, it seems that the enormous benefits of safe, driverless taxis should lead us to remove any other kind of car from our roads.

https://theconversation.com/driverless-cars-once-theyre-on-the-road-human-drivers-should-be-banned-118293 qformat1 \ls

Perth bike paths fail to meet lighting standards

The West Australian, 13 December 2018
Large sections of Perth’s most popular bike paths are poorly lit, with many failing to meet Australian lighting standards. Research commissioned by the RAC examined 67km of inner-city bike paths and found almost 60 per cent had substandard lighting.
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Oslo prepares for ‘war on cars’

New Mobility News, 25 September 2018
Oslo, with its 675.000 inhabitants, is preparing for ‘a war on cars’ and ‘is seriously violating freedom’, critics in the Norwegian capital say, now city government is forcing the car – including the electric one – more and more out of the city centre. “We have to give the city back to the people, to let children play in security and let elderly people find a bench to sit on”, Hanna Marcussen, ecologist and in charge of urban development, says.

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Disability compliance the focus of $18m pedestrian crossing program

Railpage, 18 December 2018
An $18 million program to ensure Perth’s pedestrian level crossings comply with disability standards has begun, with 22 crossings to be upgraded over the next 12 months. Pedestrian crossings on the Midland, Fremantle and Armadale lines will be targeted by the Public Transport Authority (PTA) in the first wave of upgrades, between December 2018 and December 2019.
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Perth airport tunnel construction grinds to a halt after water leak causes sinkhole

ABC News, 25 September 2018
A water leak, which has led to the creation of a sinkhole, is continuing to delay the construction of Perth’s new $1.8 billion airport tunnel.Tunnelling for the new Forrestfield-Airport Link project was brought to an abrupt halt on Saturday afternoon. The sinkhole appeared on Sunday morning, forcing the closure of Dundas Road.

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Airlines tackle Dreamliner nightmare

The West, 15 September 2018
Since late last year, airlines around the world have been dealing with problems with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 Package C engines aboard some Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The engines have been affected by a “durability issue” in which compressor blades have been wearing prematurely. In June, it was reported that some older Package B engines were also affected.

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Driverless car hype gives way to e-scooter mania among technorati

NBC News, 13 October 2018
When Michael Ramsey, an analyst for technology research firm Gartner, started in February to put together his 2018 “hype cycle” report for the future of transportation, he had plenty of topics to choose from: electric vehicles, flying cars, 5G, blockchain, and, of course, autonomous vehicles. But one type of transportation is conspicuously absent from the results of the report: electric scooters.

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Rising cyclist death toll is mainly due to drivers, so change the road laws and culture

The Conversation, 18 September 2018
Recent reporting paints a picture of surging road deaths and failing safety strategies for cyclists. The Australian Automobile Association’s Benchmarking report records 1,222 road deaths in the year ending June 2018. And cyclist deaths in particular remain stubbornly high, even as average speeds, which affect road deaths, continue to decline. If cars are much safer than 25 years ago, why are cyclist deaths increasing, from 25 the previous year to 45 this past year?
Of the untimely road deaths the AAA reports, 1,100 are due to how drivers were driving. In Australia, drivers are to blame for at least 79% of accidents with cyclists. And roughly 85% of reported cyclist casualty crashes involve another vehicle, not a bike or a pedestrian. Driver distraction accounts for roughly 25% of accidents.
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Why driverless vehicles should not be given unchecked access to our cities

The Conversation 13 September 2018
Autonomous, or driverless, vehicles can support and promote active travel, such as walking and cycling, when two basic conditions are met:
1. their access to cities is restricted
2. their use is pooled.
In the absence of these two conditions, autonomous vehicles could lead to a decline in active travel in cities and an increase in economic, social and environmental costs. Potential costs are rarely mentioned in the rhetoric about autonomous vehicles, much of which is highly optimistic.

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Are Australian bridges safe, and can we do better?

The Conversation, 22 August 2018
After the tragedy in the Italian city Genoa, where a highway bridge collapsed killing more than 40 people, nations seem to be taking stock of the maintenance levels of their bridges. There are reports thousands of UK bridges are at risk of collapse, and there are hundreds of similarly damaged bridges in France, Germany and Italy itself. Australia is no different to other developed countries in this regard, where a lot of bridges are old and deteriorating, and we would be foolish to think we are immune. That said, bridges are generally safe structures, with the risk of fatality from a bridge collapse being around one in 100 million per year. This is roughly 100 times less likely than being killed by lightning.

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