How will the driverless cars of the near future recognise and avoid cyclists and pedestrians? It’s a crucially important question because while autonomous vehicles will bristle with sensors and cameras, the tech is far from fool-proof when it comes to spotting people and bicycles. Transponders fitted to motorised vehicles will allow them to recognise each other, but pedestrians and cyclists will not automatically benefit from this safeguard.
There are now calls for so-called beaconisation. As reported by Forbes this week, Beaconization—or equipping bicycles and pedestrians with transponder beacons that can be spotted automatically by sensor-equipped cars—has been given the official seal of approval in the U.S., reveals a tucked away part of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the House of Representatives on November 5.
On the face of it this might seem like a simple measure to reduce the risk to pedestrians and cyclists from driverless cars.
First and foremost, calls for beaconisation once again place the responsibility for safety on the victim. It’s a topic touched upon in our documentary Stop Killing our Children.
Road danger and victim blaming
Dr Ian Walker is professor of Psychology in the University of Surrey’s Environmental Psychology Research Group. Here’s a small extract of his contribution to the film.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of beaconisation, is the question of what it means for those who don’t wear trackers? If you are invisible to autonomous vehicles, will you be blamed for a collision?
Given the way some judges have ruled against those not wearing high-visibility clothing, this seems likely. You may remember us covering the tragic case of Bethany Probert, a child who was walking along a grass verge when she was hit by a speeding driver and left permanently brain damaged. A judge awarded £5m for her long-term care, but Churchill Insurance argued that she contributed to the event by failing to wear high-vis. Bethany’s family were left with little choice but to accept a lower settlement. The squalid behaviour of the motor insurer to one side, the widespread preoccupation with high-vis is pernicious and has lead to an institutionalised sense that vulnerable road users without it are to blame should they be killed or maimed by a motorised vehicle.
Beaconisation risks making things even worse.
The ethical choice
The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Over 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance, breakdown cover and mobility scooter insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.
The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be the UK’s most ethical provider.