Science won’t save ya

October 20, 2017 § 45 Comments

For a brief blip I saw salvation in the offing when I contemplated autonomous cars. “What,” I wondered “could be dumber than a human behind the wheel of a two-ton, speeding steel box?”

“Nothing,” was the obvious answer. “Certainly not a computer.”

Next, I read an online article in Consumer Reports about crash avoidance systems in cars and felt even better. In addition to replacing the dummy behind the wheel, sciency things were going to turn the driving over to an inanimate thing that didn’t text or drink lattes or scream “Faggot!” or live on Via Horcata. Bicyclists would only benefit.

Plus, a friend of mine who flies giant commercial airplanes seemed to think that airplane crash avoidance systems were a predictor of how cars might eventually operate. Airplanes don’t run into each other (much), and that’s because they have some sciency stuff that keeps big, fast-moving objects from hitting other fast-moving objects, such as the ground. “Why don’t they just stick airplane sciency stuff into cars and be done with it?” I wondered.

The frightening answer is that airplanes don’t use sciency stuff at all to avoid collisions. They use acronyms. Big, long, complicated, similar-sounding, confusion inducing, memorization-defying acronyms that scramble up the English language into a foul sounding soup of letters that do nothing but bring on a migraine when you try to commit them to memory. TCAS, PCAS, FLARM, GPWS, TAWS, SV, and OCAS are the acronyms that work in airplanes, along with the actual spelled-out word of “radar.”

More about that later, but about the time I started worrying about the acronymization of car driving, I ran across this gem on the Tweeter: “Semi-autonomous BMW Will ‘Fight Driver’ to Deliver Close Passes to Cyclists.”

“Huh?” I thought, so I clicked on the link and learned that my pilot friend was right. Airplane crash avoidance systems will indeed be the template for semi-autonomous cars, with the overwhelming problem being the word “semi.” In other words, the technology that will make cars safer will ironically require much better driving skills. In a society where there is a race to the bottom in every conceivable metric for driving skills–physical fitness, situational awareness, mental response time, physical response time, behind-the-wheel training, alertness, familiarity with the vehicle and its handling characteristics, patience, a safety mindset, heightened concern for vulnerable road users–we are suddenly going to be presented with vehicles that require all of those parameters to increase, and increase drastically.

Should work well in a rapidly aging society filling up with crotchedy old blind farts.

Heightened user skill makes sense, because crash avoidance systems in commercial airplanes operate in an environment of highly trained pilots who are continually tested, re-tested, and required to pass regular physical exams. No multiple DUI pilots at United, folks, and you gotta have that 5th Grade reading level, at least. As the article above emphasizes, “The key to autonomous vehicles is training, training, training. The skill of driving must be robotic before the software can be developed. The skill of driving is being eroded and this can be seen every day.”

Training? For U.S. cagers? For the idiots who throw shit at cyclists, drive while severely impaired, blame the victim, recall elected officials who support road safety, troll pedestrian/cycling advocates, and who are routinely given a pass for carelessly killing bicyclists? Those assholes? Train them how, exactly? With a rolled-up newspaper and a cattle prod to the testicles? If you think adding bike lanes brings out the rage, wait ’til you tell Joe Q. Driver that he has to actually possess driving skills before he can go rampaging down the freeway. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Every piece of technology that relies on a smarter, better, more experienced and well-trained U.S. driver is operating on a massively flawed assumption, because U.S. drivers aren’t simply horrible, I’ve always contended that they aren’t drivers at all. They are pointers. They start the car and point it, unable to do even the most basic emergency maneuvers such as brake or turn without skidding. The minute that operating the vehicle transitions from point to maneuvering, 99% of drivers are f-u-c-k-e-d, or rather the bicyclist/pedestrian in front of them is.

As a cyclist who almost got clocked yesterday by a fully autonomous idiot who decided that the No. 1 Lane was inconvenient, and he’d rather whip into No. 2 without checking any mirrors, I can tell you that in Los Angeles drivers are older, meaner, angrier, more stressed, stupider, less skilled, more impulsive, and nastier than they were even ten years ago. Thanks, Obama.

And it’s not just my anecdotal experiences. The dumbphone has crazily accelerated the trend, making the “semi” half of the semi-autonomous car nothing more than an airbag dummy for all the crash avoidance systems that have to rely on drivers who can perform at least some minimal dum-dum maneuvers, such as, say, not switching off the autonomous systems.

Fortunately, virtually all of the problems with distracted cagers, and with systems that require cager responsiveness as it concerns cyclists, can be minimized or eliminated entirely by taking the fuggin’ lane. Even the most rudimentary systems will significantly brake if not completely halt when the object (we’re “objects,” folks) is directly in front of them. Close passes and clipping will happen to gutter bunnies, but not to Christmas Tree riders smack in the middle of the lane.

So there it is. The dumbphone dummies are taking over. You’ve been warned. Science won’t save ya. But takin’ the fuggin’ lane WILL.



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§ 45 Responses to Science won’t save ya

  • Michelle landes says:

    True fact ! I gutter bunnied on Vdm close call like felt my ankle blow over ! Went in the lane got yelled at but rather be yelled at than be hit

  • East Coast baby seal says:

    “Cyclists taking advantage of driverless cars is a worry, says transport consultant”

    Seriously!? WTF!? We finally might not be fearful of dying every time we clip in, and now they’re afraid we’ll make a habit of jumping in front of cars! Get a grip!

    • fsethd says:

      Transport Consultant is a complete fool.

    • channel_zero says:

      Implicit in that argument is the continuation of the car as the political, legal and morally dominant form of transportation.

      I’m sure whoever that is making statements like that, gets plenty of attention. As the country gets more crowded, it won’t scale well. I think this realization is just beginning to dawn on policymakers.

  • PitchPole says:

    Fun fact. Radar is an acronym as well (radio detection and ranging).

  • TylerF says:

    Great article. First day and all throughout of flight training “see and avoid” is drilled into you and is just simply obvious to pilots whom get weeded out extremely quickly ( I think 80%?). Its amazing how dangerous a car is and how little training is required to operate it. The only way to limit incidents and killing on the road now is just simply better education to those drivers, and if they can’t handle it they cant drive. TCAS aside even your ATP friend looks outside the window.

    • fsethd says:

      Thanks! Treat cars like what they are: Complicated, high speed machinery, which, when used improperly, can kill and maim thousands.

    • LesB says:

      ‘cept “those drivers” will troll the politicians at the suggestion that they be inconvenienced with education.

      • fsethd says:

        They will never accept education because it would be premised on the idea that they have something to learn.

  • channel_zero says:

    Once again, proving geek credentials: radar -> 1940s: from ra(dio) d(etection) a(nd) r(anging) .

    Nothing is going to change if cyclists do nothing. Taking the lane is a small thing that every cyclist can and should do.

    • fsethd says:

      An acronym that has apparently graduated to full word status. Thank you!

    • Chris says:

      Except maybe in So Carolina where it will get you TWO punches in the nose. That is exactly the proof of this “cager” mentality where the driver thinks THEIR privilege is utmost or comments where I read “cyclists take the lane for safety” and then the next comment is “but they didn’t get out of the way. WTF! Do these people actually read?

  • nealhe says:

    Hello Seth and All,

    “Close passes and clipping will happen to gutter bunnies, but not to Christmas Tree riders smack in the middle of the lane.

    So there it is. The dumbphone dummies are taking over. You’ve been warned. Science won’t save ya. But takin’ the fuggin’ lane WILL.”

    Hmmmmm …..

    Even self-driving cars want a separated lane after getting crashed by human driven cars:

    “The solution? Keep ’em separate. Give each class of car its own lanes, or even entire roads. That’s the thrust of a white paper proposal that imagines an “autonomous vehicle corridor” replacing the I-5 freeway between Seattle and Vancouver. In other words, that entire stretch of critical roadway linking two major cities across an international border would be given over to driverless cars by 2040, with no old-fashioned, human piloted, cars allowed.”

    Consider motorcycles surrogates for pedal cyclists in the travel lane ……. 26 times as likely to die for miles traveled as a driver in a motor car.


    Click to access EBC_report_final.pdf

    “For example, the most common collision type in
    our Every Bicyclist Counts data is a rear end collision.

    Approximately 40% of fatalities in our data
    with reported collision types were rear end collisions.”


    “According to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), out of the 6 million car accidents that happen on U.S. roads every year, over 40% of them (2.5 million) are rear-end collisions. Jan 29, 2013”

    (that leaves 60% for all other collisions …. Like running into a tree) As you say …. Cagers are not very good at pointing and braking their steel boxes.

    Do the math …. There are about 2,740 rear end crashes each day …. Crashing into other cars and trucks …. that have large red lights on the back end …… which are probably a bit more visible than pedal bicycles.

    “I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?”

    ― Clint Eastwood

    Take the travel lane if you must but you might be thinking ….. when will I run out of luck?

    • fsethd says:

      Neal, let’s do this.

      You work with advocates and government to fund, lobby for, overcome cager opposition, and build the infrastructure.

      While we’re waiting for that network to get completed, select one of two options:

      1. Quit riding your bike, or
      2. Take the lane, utilize existing traffic laws, and ride with lots of lights.


    • fsethd says:

      And as an aside, your rear-end statistics if you’re trying to apply them to bicycles have been completely debunked in other fora. Not going to rehash it here.

      • nealhe says:

        Hi Seth and All,

        I ride in the travel lane when I have to …. but not if I have a choice …. try to play the odds … and hope that I have not already burned through all my luck.

        Perhaps one of the reasons for cyclists not taking the travel lane more frequently is because cyclists have reasons (as you note) not to put their well being in the hands of random cagers.

        Some good scoop here:

        Figure 1. Check center pie chart for cycling location vulnerabilities on the roadway to increase your odds against getting nailed.

        Figure 2. Check time of day for cycling to increase your odds against getting nailed.

        Don’t drink and cycle …. and stay away from drunk motorists.

        Here is a chart to help predict your odds based on motorist traffic volume and speed.

        Avoid taking a lane with a high volume of fast motorist traffic.

        Use a mirror and as you say ….. add some lights.

        Keep pressing for more protected bike lanes.

        Good luck!

        • fsethd says:

          Avoid taking a lane with a high volume of fast motorist traffic? How, when it’s the only lane? Walk? Take a bus?

          Use a mirror? Where is that in any safety study?

          There is another reason cyclists don’t take the travel lane: They are irrationally afraid of same-direction rear-collisions even though they are a minority of collisions. Also, they are not lit up. Also, they think that a close pass while edge-riding is safer than all of the hundreds of cars who change lanes to pass when they’re in the travel lane.

          If you have a choice between lane control and edge behavior, and you choose edge behavior, you haven’t made a safer choice, just one you’re more comfortable with.

          Also, it’s not about luck. We can’t control other people. It’s about purposeful choices that minimized the rational options available to others.

    • flehnerz.uwyo says:

      Autonomous vehicles will still need to travel on roads that lack special lanes for AVs, much like bicyclists need to travel down roads that don’t have exclusive lanes for bicycles. We will both share the same space at some point or another so it’s best that we program AVs to see us, we educate pointers to consider us human beings, and that we control the lane, use lights, and behave as drivers of vehicles. Unless of course you want to limit yourself and your option to where you can go.

      That League “study” which hilariously is called “Every Bicyclist Counts,” which coincidentally came out the same year the League put their tail between their legs when asked to help defend a cyclist in KY being persecuted for using the road, was debunked:

  • Carlos O says:

    “Train them how, exactly? With a rolled-up newspaper and a cattle prod to the testicles?”
    Worried about a cager with the ability to knock off a few of us? It’s hopeless. If POTUS Cheeto who’s driving not a car but the most lethal killing machine in the world can’t be trained, it’s hopeless.
    I’m getting on my bike, taking the lane, and hoping a cager will put me out of my misery before Cheeto puts his finger on the button.

  • Brian in VA says:

    America is a country that is totally enraptured with the notion that all of us are above-average drivers. (Totally impossible, by the way; someone has to be below average.) That alone will render it difficult if not impossible to get any sort of education/training done for the driving public.

    Good news – millennials don’t like to drive so, the more of them coming along, the better we should be in the long haul.

    Bad news – everyone older than them, loves to drive big honking machines and thinks they have superior skills. We’re doomed!

    I’m with you, Wanky, I take the lane. Especially on small back roads heading into a blind corner or going up a blind hill. And at an intersection. Otherwise, I ride to the right as is practicable and according to the law.

    But I also have a rear view mirror, which I check regularly, to have at least a chance of avoidance.

    Stay safe, all!

  • dangerstu says:

    Screw that, just give me some “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation ” for my bike, then I’ll be all Jedi like.

  • Dan says:

    Funny, was just talking about Forrester and vehicular cycling (aka “taking the lane”) this morning. I think it’s easy for middle-age white men to be assertive that way. Much harder for youngs, olds, and most women. That’s why we need (and countries with high bike share have adopted) separated bike paths.

    Also: If we could just get *fully* automated vehicles, taking the driver out of the equation entirely, everyone would benefit, no? And isn’t that just a matter of time?

    • fsethd says:

      Let time run its course.

      In the “mean”time, take the lane and wear lots of bright lights.

    • flehnerz.uwyo says:

      There’s more to Forrester’s ideology than “taking the lane.” The real “meat and potatoes” to it is operating one’s bicycle as the driver of a vehicle. Lane control is only part of it but it’s an important part because it places the bicyclist as a member of traffic, they’re seen from behind well in advance giving faster moving traffic a time to react and plan what action they will take. This is also where Seth’s suggestion of lights comes in too. It also keeps the cyclist visible to traffic entering the roadway whether it’s via intersections or driveways. Segregated facilities go against all these principles.

      I think even the most hardcore Forrester follower will agree that MUPs, aka “bike paths”, are certainly appropriate along rivers, beaches, and other areas where people may wish to ride, walk, or skate recreationally. However for real bicycle transportation, and for the training and racing rides that some do, they are not appropriate. In fact they are very dangerous. Bicycles are vehicles, and bicyclists when riding are not pedestrians. These facilities treat them as such.

      Cycling Savvy is very similar to Effective Cycling (Forrester’s program) in that they instruct lane control and to follow the rules of the road as a driver, but strives to address your concern about “the fast and fearless” being the only group of cyclists who can control the lane. It has nothing to do with gender, race, or age.

  • East Coast baby seal says:

    Yes Lights! Also, in the rural and suburban areas I ride, rear facing radar and a mirror. When cars are sometimes minutes apart, it’s nice to get notified when they’re 100m back. Check the mirror, look for the avoidance maneuver, or execute one.

    Kind of useless in high traffic areas, since there’s always a car behind you, but excellent in low traffic areas.

  • pollihs says:

    I’m one of the founders of Asbury Park Complete Streets Coalition. We’re working on bike/ped infrastructure as the city goes through a big, long process of putting in sewers and repaving roads-holding the city to the existing Complete streets Policy-but it will be years before it’s done. (Meanwhile there is resistance from drivers of course.)
    I’m a road cyclist, and I also ride around town, and both bikes lit like a Christmas tree with LED front and back on my road bike and also wild wheel lights on my beater bike. One of my greatest pleasures is leading Asbury Park community rides for people with little or no bike skills, with the belief that the more bikes on the road the safer we will all be. In my little pre-ride safety speech the first thing I say is WE TAKE THE LANE. Infrastructure and riding smart don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Until infra catches up (seriously, probably never) we must take the lane and be visible. (BTW why “Thanks Obama”?)
    Know about this?

  • TomH says:

    Autonomous , schmonomous .. No sir, Mercedes-Benz won’t ever be in a moral conundrum over the “Trolley Problem” … if it comes down to a choice between a scratch on your new AMG Krautmobile 500, and maiming a pedestrian or cyclist :
    Self-Driving Mercedes-Benzes Will Prioritize Occupant Safety over Pedestrians

  • Carlos O says:

    I probably mentioned this before but in the big picture the vast majority of driving that we do is for very limited distance. The most common statistic I hear is that we drive about 3 miles for errands and 15 miles for the average commute. Yet even the smartest most intelligent self-driving car is still designed to carry four people from Los Angeles to New York. Plus luggage. But our commute carrying nothing but our fat ass and a happy meal wrapper.

    Conceding that it’s written into the Constitution and the Ten Commandments that we’re entitled to drive our individual cage, which could be as little as a 600lb golf cart (a 15mph speed limit on those things is reasonable since 405fwy or 10fwy commute is probably only 10mph), we’re actually driving a vehicle that weighs 2,000lbs more and has the ability to go 10x faster and carry 4x the weight for 200x the distance.

    What makes more sense to many of us is to make self-driving electric-powered golf carts (call it a pod) for urban areas. Visit downtown Los Angeles? Park at a perimeter structure, hop on a sleek and cool and free pod, and enjoy the ride. These pods would be aware of their surroundings via radar, as all self-driving vehicles are, but would be interactive with each other such that sudden braking from the breakneck speed of 15mph would cause the pod behind you to slow accordingly and those on either side to make room in case a maneuver is necessary.

    Sounds far-out futuristic but the technology exists and we’re working on our first pilot project.

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