By on November 3, 2017

jaywalking vaper

A report released this week suggests that if self-driving cars become our new normal, it may mean you can jaywalk with impunity again. As if New Yorkers, Chicagoans, and residents of other major cities don’t do so already.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials, a non-profit with represents cities on issues related to transportation, put out a report this week suggesting cities should allow pedestrians to cross streets anywhere, instead of just crosswalks. The report also says self-driving cars would usually be limited to 20 mph and would be able to use pedestrian-detection technology to slow down or stop in order to avoid hitting folks crossing the road.

“The instinctive human act of walking straight to one’s destination, pejoratively known as ‘jaywalking,’ becomes simply ‘walking,’” writes the authors.

There’s a few issues with this. One, as the linked article notes, is increased travel times as cars move at slower speeds and make frequent stops. Two, even though modern pedestrian-detections systems work well, there’s still a non-zero chance of failure. That could lead to trouble.

Jaywalking was common during the early years of the automobile, but it’s now illegal in most places, though enforcement and obedience of the law vary greatly from city to city.

The report also states that thing could go the other way – an explosion of self-driving cars moving in tandem could make streets so busy that pedestrians will need to use bridges to cross.

What is clear is that at least one author of the report thinks our urban planning over the past century has been poor.

“We have a historic opportunity to reclaim the street and to correct the mistakes of a century of urban planning,” Janette Sadik-Khan, NACTO’s chair and former commissioner of New York City’s transportation department, wrote in the report.

Sure, jaywalking may be legal again someday, but anyone who’s driven in a city knows that many pedestrians already don’t care to follow the law. Maybe they’ll be safer in the future, maybe not, but I giggle a little at the vision of self-driving pods being forced to stop every half-block.

[Image: Stock Photo]

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17 Comments on “Will Robot Cars Make Jaywalking Legal? Maybe, But There’s a Cost...”


  • avatar
    APaGttH

    When I first moved to Seattle the city was maniacal, to the point of being a national laughing stock, on enforcing jaywalking laws. As more car unfriendly administrations moved through and the city swelled, enforcement has become non-existent. It is insane driving in the city now and some city blocks I just avoid because pedestrians essential rule. On the plus side, Seattle jaywalkers keep my wife very busy and well employed at the trauma center.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Legal or not, if “self driving cars” get reliably better at avoiding running over jaywalkers than human driven ones, jaywalking will increase. As the risk of doing so is reduced, while the reward remain unchanged.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      You beat me to it.

      The only way jaywalking will become legal is if the lawmakers finally give into the fact that people are going to do it anyway. People will do it anyway if the risk is minimized by autonomous cars.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Yes, self-driving cars could probably get much better than humans at not running down errant pedestrians. But, damn, that would completely bork traffic flow.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Yeah, you could just walk at a normal pace in front of the car, causing it to start and stop abruptly. Although I can’t see myself doing it, it would be kinda funny.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    Funny how I keep seeing references to “robot cars” on TTAC.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    There are places in the world where pedestrians, mopeds, cars, trucks, buses, animals, cyclists mix as though there were no rules. Apparently accidents are common, but autonomous systems could allow the mixing with less risk.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    In San Diego, a number of fatalities have been elderly people crossing in the middle of the block, often popping out from between parked cars. I doubt any car will have time to brake.

    The reason many elderly don’t cross at intersections is that the traffic signaling is timed for the level of vehicle traffic, and the time allowed to cross is too short. People making right turns are a special hazard when the light changes and pedestrians step off the curb.

    These are yet more varibles for autonomous vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      If we can make cars smart enough to drive themselves, why can’t we make intelligent traffic lights? if there are no cars or peds in the the intersection, change the darn light and let traffic through. If an elderly or disabled person is making their way across, let the light stay red a little longer.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      The elderly in San Diego are using some strange logic if they think it is safer to cross away from intersections, popping out between parked cars.

      Even if the walk signal doesn’t last long enough for them to cross, at least they make into the intersection safely and are much more visible.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        I’m not sure they’re using logic, more like fear of all the noise and movements at intersections. If there’s any logic, it may be that once they get in the middle of the road, people will slow down or stop to let them finish crossing.

        I just missed creaming a younger woman this morning. She parked directly across the street from where she was going, and had no intention of walking to the intersection to cross, sprinting straight across the street. I can see the elderly using the same logic: the shortest distance is a straight line (especially when you don’t move as well as you used to).

  • avatar
    Hank

    “The report also states that thing could go the other way – an explosion of self-driving cars moving in tandem could make streets so busy that pedestrians will need to use bridges to cross.”

    This seems more likely. People won’t be less annoyed by the constant stops for idiots just because the car is self-driving, traffic congestion will rise, and the governments will do what they do–disincentivise the activity by fines… Eventually, someone will want to make a buck by developing a system similar to red light cameras with facial recognition that will ticket you immediately. It will be just as flawed, but that won’t matter.

    • 0 avatar
      Add Lightness

      Hank – Using that logic, the bridges would be continuous as pedestrians will use the shortest path.
      That sounds like a tunnel to me so self-driving cars do not get bullied by pedestrians.

  • avatar

    If self-driving cars are limited to 20mph in most situations, I would think few would use their self-driving capability. Why would you turn it on if the result was that you’d go even slower?

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      You’ll set self-driving just to deal with the excruciating slowness of the self-driving car in front of you. I envision extreme traffic gridlock and, likely, actual deadlock from time to time. Fortunately for the rest of the country, silicon valley or some other “progressive” area will probably experience the downside of self-driving cars first and will (hopefully) be able to correct course in time.

  • avatar
    Marko

    Lots of problems with this.

    1. What happens when there is a large fire truck or ambulance driving 50 mph down the street? Those can’t exactly stop on a dime in dry weather, let alone in icy weather. If everyone will be taking for granted texting and listening to music with the volume turned up on their headphones, will we “giggle a little at the vision of” pedestrians lying there wounded or worse every half-block?

    2. The aforementioned problem for the elderly. It irks me that these so-called “urban planners” vomiting these “studies” up assume everyone is young and able-bodied.

    3. Expanding upon #1 and #2, what if someone if injured and lying in the middle of the street? Will “pedestrian detection” be of any use then?

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