The National Safety Council Offers Warning on Transportation Tech

July 1, 2022

The National Safety Council urged state and local officials to try a different approach to regulating city streets to prepare for emerging technologies such as delivery robots and electric vehicles that blur the lines between bicycles, cars, and motorcycles, and reverse traffic fatalities.

In a new report, the National Safety Council predicated that fully autonomous vehicles will not be widely deployed in the next 20 years, but related technologies could help prevent and decrease traffic crashes. Technologies, such as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems which detect pedestrians or automatically brake to avoid crashing, could improve safety, according to the report.

Mark Chung, the executive vice president of roadway practice at the National Safety Council, said the group is hoping to prevent local officials from being blindsided by rapid changes in technology, as they have been over the last two decades with innovations such as ride-booking apps, electric scooters and bike sharing.

“Public officials, and many advocacy groups, were caught off guard by this unprecedented rate of technological change, and they were often unsure how to respond to the safety concerns that emerged,” Chung said. “Preparing in advance for the next generation of transformative technology and taking time to reflect on our current environment can save lives.”

David Zipper, the author of the report and a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, said the technologies people used to get around cities in 1920 were essentially the same as they were in 2000. People could walk, bike, drive, or take transit. But much of that changed in the last 20 years, and those advances will likely continue, especially with the development of autonomous vehicles and related technology, he said.

“The next 20 years are going to be just as disruptive,” Zipper said at an event Wednesday. “Those technologies complicate the challenges around safety. They create opportunities, but they also create risks.”

Zipper also pointed out that the problem of increased traffic deaths is unique to the United States, noting road fatalities have decreased in most developed countries, including Canada.

Kristina Swallow, the director of the Nevada Department of Transportation (NVDOT), said transportation agencies need to take a broader look at factors contributing to road deaths in order to make streets safer. Swallow will help the National Safety Council explore those questions as a member of its new Mobility Safety Advisory Group.

“To achieve the goal of zero fatalities, we must be willing to ask challenging questions,” she said. “For instance, are the decisions being made in roadway design, city planning and land use contributing to the solution? If not, how can we work together across industries and all levels of government to more effectively achieve our common goal?”

The safety council warned local officials not to reconfigure their streets and laws to accommodate the auto industry’s wishes to ease the transition to autonomous vehicles. Cities did that a century ago by introducing jaywalking ordinances and other changes to prioritize cars over non-motorized traffic, it noted. The group said efforts to simplify streetscapes for robotic vehicles “should be resisted.”

“Although exciting new mobility technologies attract media attention and investment dollars, many of the most compelling opportunities to improve urban street safety lie in mundane policy approaches like extending sidewalks, building protected bike lanes and imposing road diets. To reduce road deaths, we need better policies and street designs as well as innovative technology products like ADAS [Advanced Driver Assistance Systems],” the group wrote.

The safety council said innovations in transportation technology, like trikes and sidewalk robots, were more likely to be rolled out in dense neighborhoods. People in those areas make shorter trips and can use better networks of sidewalks and bike lanes. 

“Parcel delivery, in particular, becomes more feasible on an e-cargo bike or drone in a dense neighborhood. Congestion at the curb could become a growing problem in such areas,” the group cautioned in the report.

“Especially if cities move to charge companies for curb access (or ban delivery vans outright, as has happened in Europe), technologies like cargo bikes, street delivery drones and sidewalk robots could become commonplaces,” the report added.


Source: The National Safety Council

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