Can Tech Make the Roads Safer?

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When the pandemic saved folks at dwelling extra in 2020, Americans drove far fewer miles than standard. But extra folks died on the roads.

Our roads are harmful, notably for pedestrians. I’ve been curious whether or not having extra know-how to implement site visitors legal guidelines would possibly assist — or whether or not it will make issues worse.

I’m reminded of this each time I see reckless driving the place I dwell in New York. (And there may be some proof that that is growing.) Part of me needs cameras in every single place to blitz drivers with tickets for operating purple lights or rushing. But I’m additionally cautious of mass surveillance.

I talked about this with Sarah Kaufman, affiliate director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University. She stated that, in the quick time period, extra automated site visitors enforcement might make our roads safer and cut back probably biased police stops of motorists.

Longer time period, nevertheless, Kaufman believes that the finest applied sciences to make our roads safer are those who take decisions out of individuals’s arms. That contains automobiles which can be programmed to pressure folks to obey pace limits and brake at purple lights.

Yes, she is aware of that some folks will hate this. But, she stated, we shouldn’t be complacent about the deaths and accidents on America’s roads, and as a substitute rethink what we take into account regular about driving.

Let’s backtrack to the downside: Cars have turn out to be safer for folks inside them over the years, however the quantity of people that died on roads final 12 months in the United States nonetheless reached as many as 42,000, in response to preliminary knowledge from an advocacy group. That was higher than the deaths in 2019, and the numbers weren’t an anomaly. Risks have generally increased for pedestrians, motorcyclists and others who are not inside of vehicles.

Kaufman made a couple of points about the ways that technology can help make us safer, as well as some of its limits.

First, receiving a ticket in the mail after a camera snaps an image of you speeding or running a red light in your car can be a relatively effective deterrent, but it’s not perfect.

In New York and some other places, traffic tickets from cameras arrive about a month after the infraction. A ticket might make someone think twice about speeding the next time, said Kaufman, who called camera enforcement highly beneficial. But, she said, it didn’t prevent the risky driving in the first place.

A New York Times Opinion column last week said cameras that capture speeding drivers or expired license plate tags could also reduce the police traffic stops that tended to disproportionately affect Black drivers, and sometimes resulted in violence and even death. (The encounter that led to a police officer in Minnesota fatally shooting Daunte Wright started with a traffic stop.)

Black Americans are also at a higher risk of dying from vehicle crashes, and Kaufman said that more automated traffic enforcement could help address what she called the dual problems of “over policing and under protection.”

But, Kaufman said that in the long run, the best road safety technologies were those that removed human judgment. She imagines more cities and car manufacturers setting technology that automatically forces drivers to obey the speed limit and brake at red lights.

Some cities require speed restrictions be built into rented scooters and electric bicycles. “Why is the deadliest mode of travel not speed limited?” Kaufman asked.

Although she believes her suggestion may make some people howl at restrictions on what they can do with their own cars, Kaufman said: “People are dying as the result of some people not following the rules. Why is that a fair system?”

It always makes me nervous when technology is proposed as a fix for human-created problems. Some road safety advocates have pushed for other changes not involving technology, such as redesigned roads, more enforcement of seatbelt use, rules for safer, smaller cars and moving away from our dependence on cars. And yes, Kaufman and I talked about autonomous cars. They promise to be far safer but are unlikely to hit the roads in large numbers for many years.

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