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Survey: Bicyclists Unsure of Connected and Automated Car Technology

Connected and Automated vehicles are two distinct technologies that have the potential to revolutionize automotive travel and road safety for everyone — and they’re likely to enter our roadways in just a few years.

Of the two technologies, connected vehicles may be more likely to share the road with you soon. According to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “Vehicle-to-vehicle technology represents the next generation of auto-safety improvements, building on the life-saving achievements we’ve already seen with safety belts and air bags.” NHTSA is expected to adopt a rule by 2017 requiring new vehicles to have connected vehicle technology and there is much research to be done to create effective day one and near term applications for the technology. 

Connected vehicles can “talk” to each other, exchanging information such as speed, brake force and direction. Automated vehicles control driving functions, either relieving a driver of a function or augmenting a driver’s ability. Both of these technologies are being tested today and it seems likely that they will be commercially available within the next decade. 

Many companies are working on automated vehicles, with Google recently showing a prototype that has no steering wheel or pedals. According to automotive manufacturer claims, these advanced vehicles may be available by 2020 and technologies that enable automation are already being incorporated into some vehicles.

In order to help make sure that these technologies consider bicyclists and pedestrian, I spoke last Friday to researchers, agency staff, and industry at the fall meeting of the Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation (T-SET) University Transportation Center (UTC) at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, PA. CMU and the University of Pennsylvania are partners in the US DOT funded UTC that is one of up to 35 UTCs that are funded under MAP-21 with up to $72.5 million per year being allocated to research on a competitive basis. The CMU/UPenn UTC has a strategic goal of safety.

Thanks to the 357 responses to our survey, I was able to illustrate the concerns of bicyclists and pedestrians using your words and feelings. Some of the major findings from the survey were:

  • 43% of respondents do not feel they have enough information to know automated cars will increase or decrease safety for people who walk and bike
  • 42% of respondents believe automated cars will increase safety
  • 14% of respondents believe automated cars will decrease safety
  • 62% of respondents would use connected vehicle technology if it lessened the likelihood of a car hitting them while riding a bike or walking
  • 38% would not, with a wide variety of reasons for not doing so, but common themes included the possibility that this technology would be required, that it would degrade public space, that it would impose a burden on people, that it would lessen privacy, and that it might shift responsibility away from cars and their drivers.
  • When asked about concerns about sharing the road with automated cars, no single concern was most prominent, but it is clear that many concerns are widely shared. In our initial survey, many respondents wanted to pick more than one and we changed our survey to allow this. 
  • The two most prominent safety-related concerns were the inability to communicate with cars and the possibility of technology failures. 
  • In both versions of the survey, people were very concerned that automated vehicles might undermine efforts to promote biking and walking for transportation, with this concern being chosen 24% of the time when only one choice was allowed – more than any other concern. 
  • No concerns, and the concern that automated vehicles can’t get here fast enough, consistently scored lower in both surveys.

You can look at the results of the survey and the PowerPoint from my presentation, “Autonomous and Connected Vehicles: Implications for Bicyclists and Pedestrians,” at Carnegie Mellon here.

The audience was very interested in your concerns and what it might take in order for bicyclists and pedestrians to buy-in to these new technologies. Many in the audience seemed to share your concerns and were interested in how they could address them with technical research and policy. In particular, audience members reacted strongly to your expressed concerns about how wearing a beacon that allows cars to detect and avoid you might impact legal liability and privacy. They also were interested in concerns that automated and connected vehicles might lead to more auto-oriented design decisions and recognized the need to continue to create urban and suburban environments designed for people.