“Cross This Way”

New York City has embraced a traffic safety plan called “Vision Zero”.  This program aims to materially improve safety results through targeted education and enforcement.  From their website (click HERE):

…approximately 4,000 New Yorkers are seriously injured and more than 250 are killed each year in traffic crashes. Being struck by a vehicle is the leading cause of injury-related death for children under 14, and the second leading cause for seniors. On average, vehicles seriously injure or kill a New Yorker every two hours.

This status quo is unacceptable. The City of New York must no longer regard traffic crashes as mere “accidents,” but rather as preventable incidents that can be systematically addressed. No level of fatality on city streets is inevitable or acceptable. This Vision Zero Action Plan is the City’s foundation for ending traffic deaths and injuries on our streets.

One of the tools introduced to help school children improve their knowledge of how to cross streets safely is a video presentation with a catchy tune and lyrics that emphasize good techniques.  Here’s the video:
The Vision Zero web page wisely states; “There is no silver bullet that will end traffic fatalities. But previous successes that have combined the efforts of people, their governments and private industries to save lives are not difficult to find.”  We agree.

Traffic safety (pedestrians, cars, trucks, buses, cyclists, et.al.) all share a responsibility to interact with each other in a respectful and responsible manner.  We each have a role to play in preventing collisions by obeying rules and learning how to better practice safe techniques.

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Please don’t become a “textpert”

A colleague sent me a link to an odd, funny and “catchy” video (embedded below) that features a pair of rappers who are trying to make a point to “the younger generation” of drivers:

…you may think that you’re an expert at texting while driving (a “textpert”), but you’re kidding yourself that your actions are somehow safe…

Take three minutes to watch the video below.  For some of us it may appear “silly” but if educational efforts make any impact on changing behavior in our teen and young adult drivers, I’m all for it.

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Self-Driving Cars — When? (Maybe 2017)

A recent update report from C/NET (click HERE) summarizes amazing progress completed by Volvo on its efforts to produce (and sell) a “level 3” self-driving car by 2017.  It’s ultimate goal is to produce a “nearly uncrashable car” by 2020.

A “level 3” car can navigate along a designated road by itself with a human pilot in the driver’s seat “just in case”.  A “level 4” car is so completely automated that a human pilot is not required (think about curling up in the back to take a nap, etc.)

Of course, many people are not sure they’d be ready to yield so much trust to an Autonomous Vehicle (AV).  So why are so many car manufacturers pushing forward on this concept?  There are probably as many reasons as design teams, but as reported in the C/NET article, for Volvo it is all about safety and it’s desire to see a crash free world:

“Human error is behind almost all crashes,” Anders Eugensson, Volvo Cars’ director of government affairs said. It’s at least partly responsible 95 percent of the time, either thanks to negligence (drunk driving, distracted driving, falling asleep, etc.) or simply because a driver failed to avoid a preventable accident. If you can eliminate driver error you can eliminate nearly all accidents.

According to C/NET, Volvo has a head start towards its production model, level 3 AV:

Volvo already manufactures cars that have all the laser, radar, sonar, and visual sensing equipment needed for autonomous driving. It makes up the company’s City Safety program, currently available in the US as part of a $2,100 technology package. A forward looking camera and laser scanner are built into a pod on the windshield, tucked behind the rear-view mirror, while a radar system lives in the nose, hidden beside the company’s unapologetically masculine logo.

The sensor package that enables City Safety is just the latest of a long list of safety innovations that reach back to the beginning of the company. Laminated glass, three-point seatbelts, side-impact airbags, whiplash-preventing headrests… all things that Volvo invented or adopted as standard equipment well before the rest of the industry.

Of course, Volvo’s team acknowledges that there is a substantial (but not insurmountable) gap between deploying a level 3 and level 4 production AV.  In fact, they estimate that an additional two decades’ worth of work will need to take place.  Still, they’re on a mission — to reduce crashes.

But what if a crash does happen?  Who would be responsible?

Who’s at fault when a self-driving car crashes? While all the other manufacturers are busy shrugging their shoulders, Volvo has made its position on this quite clear: when the car is being manually driven, the driver is at fault in an accident. But, if the car is in autonomous mode and causes a crash, Eugensson said Volvo will take responsibility. “It will be difficult to sell if the driver is still liable. It gives a false promise.” One needn’t be a talking lizard to know this should result in cheaper insurance premiums.

If you’re still interested in learning more about AV technology, we’ve published multiple posts about this, here at our blog site — just use the search function located at the top of the page.

Summer = Road Construction

April showers may bring May flowers, but soon after comes road construction.

Highway work zones are typically seen as a frustration to motorists as they increase congestion and slow our normal commute or delay the start of our long-desired vacation.

For highway workers; however, the signs, cones and barrels provide a whisper thin line of defense separating fast moving traffic from bodily injuries.

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According to a recent (4/7/2014) study by the Associated General Contractors of America (Click HERE) the danger is very real for both highway workers AND motorists passing through work zones:

Forty-five percent of highway contractors had motor vehicles crash into their construction work zones during the past year…Association officials added that the study found work zone crashes are more likely to kill vehicle operators and passengers than construction workers.

“There is little margin for error when you work within a few inches of thousands of fast-moving vehicles,” said Tom Case, the chair of the association’s national highway and transportation division and senior vice president of Watsonville, Calif.-based Granite Construction. “As the data makes clear, not enough drivers are slowing down and staying alert near work sites.”

But Case suggested that the best way to improve safety was for motorists to be more careful while driving through highway work zones: “Ensuring proper work zone safety starts and ends with cautious drivers.”

While National Work Zone Awareness Week was conducted in early April, there’s never a bad time to review educational resources that may save a life.  To learn more about Work Zones check out this web page that is loaded with resources:  http://www.workzonesafety.org/news_events/awareness_week/2014

Medical Registry for Regulated Drivers

From the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

The National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (National Registry) is a new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) program. All commercial drivers whose current medical certificate expires on or after May 21, 2014, at expiration of that certificate must be examined by a medical professional listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. Only medical examiners that have completed training and successfully passed a test on FMCSA’s physical qualification standards will be listed on the National Registry.

Additional details can be found by clicking HERE (National Registry Home Page) and HERE (FAQ about the new program).

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Wrong-Way Crashes

Imagine you are taking your family on a long distance vacation.  In the middle of the night, you see headlights in the distance and then, suddenly, you realize that the headlights are in your lane of a divided highway — coming straight at your car or van.  What can you do?

Thankfully, the number of head on collisions that occur on freeways is (statistically speaking) quite low; however, they often result in fatalities.

Common characteristics of these collisions include (but may not be limited to):

  • driver impairment,
  • confusion over on-off ramp signs, and
  • late night/early morning time periods when people are less alert and prone to mistakes.

Three fatal head-on collisions happened during the past week in Arizona.  Seven people have died, including an off-duty police officer.  All of these deaths were linked by cause — someone driving the wrong way on a divided or limited access highway.

You can investigate the particular details in a series of news reports:

The Arizona DOT has also issued a press release (Click Here) that addresses the concerns and safety issues of “Wrong-Way Drivers

Some ideas or tips that have been considered to address the issue include:

  • Re-positioning “Wrong-Way, Do Not Enter” signs to be closer to driver’s eye level
  • Installing red reflectors in the road way so that any driver trying to access an off-ramp would see the red reflectors at night and get a clue that they’re going up the wrong ramp
  • Install detectors at ramps that sense when a vehicle has gained access to a divided highway and is traveling in the wrong direction — then immediately send alerts to programmable billboard (alert) signs to warn drivers of the oncoming and errant driver
  • Educate drivers about the increased risks of driving at night – especially on Fridays and Saturdays when there is a statistical increase in drunk driving activity
  • Staying out of the far left lane except to pass since oncoming drivers will typically use that lane (they believe that they’re in the far right lane based on their direction of travel).
  • Be ready to move to the right (if it’s clear to do so) to evade oncoming traffic
  • Increase the efforts to crack down on drinking/drugged driving with ignition interlocks
  • Call in a report to 9-1-1 if you witness a “wrong-way” driver so that they can intervene or warn other motorists.

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Autonomous Vehicles & Object Detection

Connected CarsOne of the primary concerns that we’ve raised with Autonomous Vehicles (AVs or “driver-less vehicles”) has been the ability of the on board computers to distinguish between various “real world” objects like deer, motorcycles, raccoons, small children chasing a ball, and so on.

The heart of the issue is whether the computer will take evasive action (endangering the occupants with a potential rollover) or make some other calculated move to minimize the odds of a crash (such as sacrificing a wild animal to save the occupants of the car from injury or death).

Tech companies are working on these object detection systems right now.  They’re testing and cataloging “real world” images so that they can “teach” a computer how to recognize a car from a group of pedestrians.

In a recent article published at “GIZMAG” (Click HERE) we have learned that Fujitsu is building what it calls an “Approaching Object Detection Library” to help both AV systems and live drivers recognize and react to the driving environment.

From the article:

When it comes to driver awareness, we all know how hard it can be to keep an eye on every pedestrian and moving vehicle in our vicinity, particularly when driving in a busy city area…To help in this regard, Fujitsu Semiconductor Limited is set to introduce software that assists in detecting and identifying cars, people, and other moving objects and alerts the driver of their position and direction of travel.

This is achieved by using elements built into the Approaching Object Detection Library, where vehicle camera images are analyzed in conjunction with a detection algorithm that identifies approaching objects. These are then run with detection-error reduction processing to eliminate false positives. The resulting image is overlaid on real-time images collected through the vehicle’s on-board cameras, and displayed on a dashboard monitor, providing vital information for the driver about the objects moving around them.

It is very exciting to see what technology can bring to the table for increasing driver safety on the highways.  Better than a simple camera system, this technology (when fully tested and developed) could help provide meaningful alerts for drivers who may be ill, sleepy or momentarily distracted by passengers, or other simple inattention scenarios.

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