(Another installment in our continuing series looking at how the cars of yesterday are being transformed into the driverless cars of tomorrow via the technology of today.)
Today’s gadget has proven to be one of the toughest nuts to crack as engineers continue to work to keep us moving while moving us from behind the wheel. During a typical commute, there are any number of vehicles, objects and other things with which a car must share space. Autonomous cars are nearly 100% reliable in detecting other vehicles and are getting pretty good at noticing pedestrians, birds and squirrels, but there are a couple of notable exceptions. One of these exceptions isn’t really a worry as most of the world doesn’t share the road with kangaroos. The other exception is far more universal and represents a huge (and potentially fatal) problem for all concerned.
Now You See Me
Today’s safety system is known as “bicycle detection.” It has proven difficult for engineers to develop a reliable method for autonomous cars to sense the presence of a bicycle and how to have the car respond once it has been detected. Unlike a motorized vehicle, bicycles are small and quick, and the pattern of their movement can be unpredictable.
The bicycle detection systems available in cars today are very limited. They cannot detect bikes to the side or rear of the vehicle. In fact, they won’t even register the presence of a bicycle in front of the car unless it is traveling in the same direction as the car. Since the intent of automation is to remove accidents due to human error, this system has a long way to go.
It’s Up to You
At least for now, a cyclist’s best friend is an attentive driver. I commuted heavily on a bike for years and have had numerous tangles and close calls with drivers unaware of their surroundings. It’s not that I don’t understand. Bikes are small, agile and make no noise. However, a commuter with benefit of motor and walls wins an encounter with those who do not every time.
Inattentive drivers can put cyclists at risk even if their car is not moving. There are few things more surprising to the rider of a bicycle than a door suddenly flying open from a parked car. The cyclist is put at risk of colliding with the door or being forced into traffic while compensating to go around the surprise obstacle. Vehicle drivers can do their part to keep cyclists safe by employing what is known as the “Dutch reach.”
It should come as no surprise that the Dutch reach was developed in the Netherlands, a country with a high percentage of citizens who commute by bicycle. As injuries and deaths due to incidents with car doors increased, someone came up with a simple habit that has brought the numbers down. The Dutch reach maneuver is to simply cross your body with your right hand to open the car door. This maneuver turns the shoulders and head, forcing the driver to look for a bicycle before pushing the door open. This door opening method is brilliant in its simplicity and important enough to be included in drivers ed classes in the Netherlands. It’s an easy habit to get yourself into and, as much as I would like to meet you one day, I wouldn’t want it to be after I crashed into the open door of your car.