Senseless Traffic Deaths are Heartbreaking, But There is Hope

Human error currently accounts for 90 percent of road "accidents". Imagine the benefits of removing humans from the driving equation altogether!

By Matt Pinder
Published October 29, 2015

I have a friend who will remain unnamed but who drives like an absolute maniac. This friend puts the pedal to the floor at every opportunity to accelerate, whether it's riding another car's bumper on the highway or tailgating a cyclist on a narrow residential street. As a passenger, all I can do is helplessly cling to whatever I can find and pray that everything will be okay.

I'm probably not the only one who knows someone like this. For every hundred drivers on the road, there will always be that one who drives without any sense of rational thought. Somehow, driver safety training and awareness does not seem to impact these people.

Last week's tragic death of a four-year-old girl in Markham is a stark reminder of what can happen when a child's unpredictable actions and an irrational driver meet on a residential street.

And just yesterday we were reminded again of the unpredictable nature of human drivers when a southbound driver on highway 404 veered across the centre median and crashed head-on into a northbound car on the other side of the highway, claiming three victims.

Yet there is hope for a brighter, safer future. The transportation sector is on the verge of disruption on a scale that has not been seen since the advent of the automobile at the beginning of the last century - the rise of autonomous vehicles.

Two weeks ago, drivers were in awe when Tesla released an update for its vehicles enabling them to perform semi-autonomous functions including speed adjustment, lane change, and parallel parking.

While today these features are seen as "bells and whistles" more than anything, we are not far from a time when cars are able to fully drive themselves, eliminating the need for a human to operate a vehicle.

So how does this impact safety? Machines are perfectly rational and capable of exactly following a set of rules assigned to them. Hundreds of times per second, autonomous vehicles scan their surroundings using a vast array of sensors for any sign of externalities that might require quick action. They accelerate at reasonable speeds, and always obey the assigned speed limit.

Autonomous cars can also be connected to one another, enabling all cars on the road to act as a network, warning of obstacles and communicating so that no two cars will ever attempt to claim the same road space.

It is estimated that in the United States, 300,000 lives could be saved in a decade by eliminating collisions caused by human mistakes. Imagine if communities never again have to endure the pain and suffering caused by the death of an innocent child running across a road, or the bitterness and resentment caused by a selfish drunk driver who claims the lives of innocents.

Unfortunately, those drivers who thoroughly enjoy the rush of driving recklessly may be the last people to surrender control of the wheel. However, I am confident that a day will come where autonomous vehicles will no longer be seen simply as a nice-to-have but rather as a fundamental ingredient to making our roads safer for everyone.

This article was first published on Matt Pinder's website on October 28, 2015.

Matt Pinder is a cyclist, driver, transit user, and proud graduate from McMaster University. Currently working as a transportation researcher, he is passionate about the future of mobility.


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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted October 29, 2015 at 10:41:17

The provincial government has approved testing of AV's in Ontario as of January 2016. One of the largest technical hurdles they have currently is operating in snow as it tends to report a lot of false positives to the sensors. Hopefully a few winters in Ontario will help them figure that one out.

I hope the day will come when I can commute to work in one of these vehicles. I'd like to think I'd be catching up on work on my laptop but the reality is I'd probably be napping. Therefore I suggest a built in wakey-wakey alarm connected to the horn!

Imagine a law where instead of losing your license for reckless driving you just lose your ability to manually control the vehicle. So many possibilities.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2015-10-29 10:43:07

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted October 29, 2015 at 11:23:42

12 pedestrian injuries in Toronto yesterday alone.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted October 29, 2015 at 22:08:37 in reply to Comment 114427

can't stand the social media comments from news agencies yesterday saying '12 pedestrians struck in Toronto today, due partly to weather'. No, it's not due to weather. People drove their cars into them. They weren't struck by lightning.
I've driven in absolutely crazy storms and weather conditions over the years, being an amateur weather freak. I've never once crashed into anything in the worst weather conditions we ever experience.
It's human error 99% of the time. I leave a 1% margin for those random times where someone is driving very safely but unexpectedly hits black ice and spins out.
Other than that, I can't think of a weather condition that can't be managed with safe driving.

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By TheXGuy (registered) | Posted October 29, 2015 at 12:02:16

I, for one, welcome our new autonomous vehicle overlords :)

I agree that in the long term once the majority of vehicles are fitted with this technology, and once its perfected (if it can ever be perfected?) collisions of all types should be reduced – the potential is there. I think the one true benefit of this technology is for the automatic adherence to the speed limit of whatever neighbourhood the vehicle is in.

However, there could be a short term, temporary bump in the road as more and more autonomous vehicles are introduced, similar to what we would see on a positive-skewed bell curve, with the "rule abiding" cars conflicting with human drivers and their poor habits. Could collisions and injures actually spike during this (hopefully short) period?

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By HamiltonTransitHistory (registered) - website | Posted October 29, 2015 at 14:26:29

Other benefits of Self-driving Cars (SDC):

-walking and cycling become much safer

-buses and emergency vehicles become much faster because the SDCs are programmed to get out of the way. As well, SDBuses make the HSR cheaper to operate. (Some large cities may see their transit systems turning a profit)

Comment edited by HamiltonTransitHistory on 2015-10-29 14:30:24

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted October 29, 2015 at 14:38:32 in reply to Comment 114436

Maybe no need for buses (or LRT.) The technology that applies to cars applies to buses and trains and trucks and planes. If there were hundreds of smaller public self-driving buses we would not need big buses.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted October 31, 2015 at 23:34:55 in reply to Comment 114438

Self-driving cars will be extremely useful but it'll simply be a Uber-style connection to public transit for a lot of people.

GO ran a DIAL-A-BUS service in the 1970s

We need Level 4 self-driving capability; ones legally certified to drive your kids unattended safely in the middle of a snowstorm; that may be a while yet.

Level 4 Self-driving cars would behave as automated taxis/ubers/zipcars/Hertz (no difference between them if they're auto-chauffering). Given a sufficiently large fleet roaming the city, they can automatically take a great best-fit route through the suburbs, scooping up a few people to take to the nearest rapid transit stop (subway, LRT, regional train, etc). It could cost the same as a bus fare or less, and if municipally operated, the transfer could be free.

This would be the best efficiency of roads; see Ryan's image why long-distance point A-to-B will still clog the roads. A freeway lane only carries about 2,000 cars per hour (tailgating less than 2 seconds -- only 3,600 seconds in 1 hour). A single GO train has as many seats as one freeway-lane-hour worth of traffic -- the 8 peak period Lakeshore West GO trains (timetabled 4:45 thru 5:45pm) carries as many people as the entire 401 width passing one point for the whole 1 hour. Even if you do some computerized platooning (automated safe tailgating) it would only increase road capacity to a certain point, and then still clog well below a 3-vehicle 15-segment LRT (e.g. 15,000 people per hour).

You just can't transpot a whole city's population using sole-occupant vehicles, during peak hour -- it just cannot be done clogging the roads. Doesn't matter if there is a driver or not.

I am looking forward to driverless cars, whether as an owner or a hailer (e.g. hailing a ZipCar (or Community CarShare) to come to me, Uber-style)

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-10-31 23:38:26

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 29, 2015 at 20:32:44

Human error currently accounts for 90 percent of road "accidents".

In which case, human error currently accounts for 15.2% of road deaths in Hamilton.


The 10-year average for motor vehicle drivers crushing and killing people is 19 people per year crushed and killed by car drivers.

90% of those deaths being due to human error is 17 deaths, rounding to the nearest dead body.

An additional 93 people are poisoned and killed by motor vehicle drivers in Hamilton every year.. Zero of those deaths are due to human error.

Total people killed in Hamilton each year by motor vehicle drivers: 19 + 93 = 112

Total deaths due to human error: 17

17/112 = 15.2%

Or, in other words, 84.8% of road deaths will be totally unaffected by driverless cars.

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By Really (anonymous) | Posted October 30, 2015 at 06:23:47 in reply to Comment 114451

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 29, 2015 at 20:41:33

Imagine the benefits of removing humans from the driving equation altogether!

How about imagining the benefits of removing cars from the urban equation altogether?

The way Venice does. Or Hamburg is planning to. Or downtown Utrecht has since 1965. Or how Toronto shows it doesn't have to be downtown.

They did it. We can too.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted October 30, 2015 at 09:18:56 in reply to Comment 114452

"How about imagining the benefits of removing cars from the urban equation altogether?"

I thought you guys weren't anti car warriors/crusaders? At least you are showing your true colours.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2015-10-30 09:32:00

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 30, 2015 at 13:04:28 in reply to Comment 114467

I am not anti-car. I am anti-cancer. I am anti-heart disease, anti-obesity and anti-diabetes. I am anti children, elderly and disabled people being terrorized off the street.

I am pro-health, pro-childhood freedom, and definitely support a prosperous, vibrant and liveable city for all people of all ages. There are many cities and entire countries around the world who have made positive, healthy changes to achieve this.

They changed. We can too.

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted October 30, 2015 at 14:09:58 in reply to Comment 114492

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By Crusty (anonymous) | Posted October 30, 2015 at 14:21:40 in reply to Comment 114499

What you are is a defensive sophist who really wants to change the subject away from the FACT that cars emit pollution that kills people indiscriminately.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted October 31, 2015 at 23:44:29

Useful information about NTHSA self driving capability levels

Level 0 -- Your old manual-shift car

Level 1 -- Your newer car with cruise control.

Level 2 -- That fancy car with automatic lanekeeping and adaptive cruise.

Level 3 -- You can safely text behind the wheel, but must intervene in an alarm.

Level 4 -- It can self-valet empty. It also can drive your kids unaccompanied to hockey practice in the middle of a snowstorm.

Tesla Autopilot is nearly Level 3; although legally it must be treated as Level 2 with full attention mandatory, and working/surfing/texting still not allowed. Eventually we may reach a point where Level 3 self-driving vehicle drivers are legally allowed to do light (interruptible) work like reading, watching movies, texting, etc, but must mandatorily intervene, say, within 10 seconds of an alarm (seatshaker, wheelshaker, klaxon alarm, etc).

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted October 31, 2015 at 23:01:11 in reply to Comment 114535

Level 4 self-driving cars is going to be a big, wonderful, beautiful, very fancy Pandora's Box, with both rainbows/unicorns and skull/crossbones beaming out of it simultaneously, both utopia and dystopia. You will yank the giftwrap off the Pandora Box, suddenly causing it to pop Jack-In-A-Box style in a beautifully kablooey pop in a big shower of confetti/glitter -- figuratively speaking.

  • Efficiency -- With the prospect of empty vehicles going home to do tasks for kids or spouses, this could be a traffic disaster for freeways. Legislation may be needed if people abuse the privelage of sending empty vehicles dozens of miles.

  • Moral -- Cars that are faced with an unavoidable fatality decision are going to decide whether to save the occupants or pedestrians. Picture the scenario of a baby stroller suddenly running in front of the car at the last second, from behind roadside newspaper boxes (unavoidably unseen by the car's sensors until too late; now a fatality has to happen). Car must instantly decide to crash into baby stroller OR suddenly veer into a parked car/lamppost 1 meter to the side. Legally solve this. Now consider the sole occupant of car is your child being soccermomed unaccompanied to school. Whose life goes? Whose Responsibility? Legislative? Insurance? Etc.

  • Manned/Unmanned interactions Unmanned vehicles interacting with manned vehicles (bicyclists, drivers, buses, ambulances, police cars). How can a police car pull over an empty vehicle for an expired plate? Will governments be comfortable legally allowing empty vehicles? Will police be? Etc.

  • Regulatory -- What you're allowed to do and what you're not allowed to do. People without a driver license stepping into a car? Drunk people stepping into the backseat of an empty self-driving car? How old must be children to go unaccompanied in a driverless car? Mailicious passengers trying to damage a self-driving taxi into causing an accident? Are you allowed to sleep for 8 hours in the bed at the back of a self-driving RV, or truck cab of a self-driving truck? What about self driving public transit (uber scale? carpool scale? minibus scale? large bus scale?) Etc. Etc. Etc.

  • Robustness -- How many redundant sensors and cameras must a self-driving car have (e.g. safely function at damage/loss to 25% of sensors? 50% of sensors? 75% of sensors?), so they don't cause accidents when flying road debris damages a camera. This also affects regulatory and insurance, and creates ideas of futuristic safety testing regimens, to ensure they can survive major damage and still safely recover.

  • Insurance -- What the insurance companies are willing to let you do with a Level 4 driverless car. Including all the above.

  • Safety -- Can a level 4 self-driving car safely drive in the middle of a blinding record rainstorm or major snowstorm blizzard, while carrying children that don't know what to do in an emergency? Even Google Car is currently unable to drive reliably in a rainstorm at this time. Level 4 chauffers (like unmanned Uber) isn't going to be legal until you solve this.

  • Security -- Must be upped massively. Hackers. It's already happened. Hackers remotely kill a jeep causing the car to almost park itself on a freeway! And hackers have already blinded driverless cars. Laser pointer tricks a driverless car.

  • Cost -- The cost of solving all the above, factored into your car's sticker price, your government taxes, and your monthly bills (including insurance). It may be so expensive that most carowners will give up carownership, and just hail a neighbour's empty unused car, coming over to your house Uber-style (as a result, conveniently paying a part of that neighbour's car bill!).

We will see a hell of a lot of Level 3 soon (Tesla Autopilot is already almost Level 3).

But the full Level 4 freedom will build up like the Big One (the earthquake) for a few decades, and then go pop in a spetacular fancy Pandora Box of wonderfulness. I believe it will not be until 2050s/2060s/2070s before we see GTHA roads full of full Level 4 freedom self-driving cars. It is really a BIG step, because of all the above.

Looking forward to it! Would like to sleep in the back of a car while going to Ottawa at night, whenever the full Toronto-Ottawa highspeed trains are booked solid during holidays.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-11-01 00:33:28

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted November 02, 2015 at 08:30:31

And yet there is a part of me that fears this like I fear nothing else. Can you imagine a 100,000 cars on the highway and some idiot decides to create and plant some little virus into the program. 300 deaths could be the tip of the iceberg. The 403 or QEW never mind the 401 are incredibly busy with the potential for unbelievable mayhem.

Please don't tell me it can't or won't happen. When corporations who spend billions on IT every year can get hacked then the car control system is small potatoes. We have already heard of cases of cars being hacked while they are being driven. Maybe the solution is less computer technology and not more.

Can you imagine if some gifted teenager who is tired of playing Need For Speed decides it would be fun if every Honda on the highway were to immediately hit the nearest Toyota and every Ford were to hit the nearest Chevy?

On another note there is something you can and should do with your friend who drives like a maniac. Refuse to ride with him, and be very blunt about why you are doing it. I have had to do the same thing with a close relative. Believe me it works. Either he will improve his driving or you'll be safer without him. Win Win result.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 02, 2015 at 09:54:24 in reply to Comment 114543

Yup. The Pandora's Box I mentioned in my post right above your post.

It needs to be so security hardened, that death rates from hackers (on a LONG-term snapshot basis; a full decade basis) need to be lower than today's car death rates.

It's also why I don't see Level 4 proliferating until 2050s/2060s/2070s. But Level 3 will be very common in ten years.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted November 04, 2015 at 14:10:02 in reply to Comment 114549

Maybe. Until something goes horribly wrong and 100 or 200 or 500 people die when it malfunctions or somebody plants a virus.

Remember the old saying "Be careful what you wish for"

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