Self Driving Cars and AMERICAN Pedestrians

Roel M. Hogervorst


I was listening to Data Skeptic, this episode was about self driving cars and pedestrians. Which peaked my interest because I was in a meetup organized by Delft Technical University last year that spoke exactly about this topic too. And I noticed some interesting cultural bias in this episode.

In this podcast episode Kyle talks to one of the authors, Arash Kalatan about their study on the interactions between autonomous cars and pedestrians. I don’t have any issues with the study nor the interview. I think it is fascinating that they used a VR environment to look at the interactions of pedestrians with cars and autonomous cars.

I have not read the paper yet, but the interview was amazing from the perspective of a non-American. One of the findings was that ‘people who regularly use public transportation or are used to walking on the sidewalks are more comfortable with self driving cars’. This seems soo American* to me! Or more specifically: so car-centric. It is apparently possible to live in that continent and not be used to walking!

It made me think of the AI meetup in Delft and the lessons there:

I think the findings from this paper are super interesting and the methods are amazing, but they will not generalize to Europe or other parts of the world. One of the recommondations seem a bit weird to me: “Teach people how to interact with these cars." How about no: cars are a guest in our neighborhoods, restrict where cars can go and protect vulnerable street users (pedestrians and bikes) from the cars (autonomous or not). Treat these heavy hunks of metal like they are: dangerous vehicles. Do not put this responsibility on the other street users such as bikes and pedestrians.

In fact, I think we should make our cities more hostile to cars and improve public transport and loan cars. The streets are for people, on foot or bike, or using public transport. If you want to add cars, you have to reduce the danger they create. If you drive a car, you are using a dangerous tool that can kill. Don’t think I hate cars, I love driving. But you are responsible for that tool.

Ah in the end of the episode they do pay attention to my points:

Based on results of our study, narrower lane widths, lower traffic densities, and better sight distances are also revealed to be affecting parameters in pedestrians’ crossing behaviors, leading to shorter wait times.

So improving the road will have good results.


Episode link: Preprint they discussed: