November 21, 2021
The bill contains language aimed to help protect cyclists against autonomous vehicles by using connected beacons, but experts aren’t certain that the plan will work as intended.
In the near future, cyclists may be asked to wear a beacon to help prevent self-driving vehicles from running them down.
That’s the takeaway from a section of the new infrastructure bill that was recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden.
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill contains language that concerns research into autonomous driving and cycling safety. The bill says that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in coordination with the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office and the Federal
Highway Administration, will “expand vehicle-to-pedestrian research efforts focused on incorporating bicyclists and other vulnerable road users into the safe deployment of connected vehicle systems.”
This collaboration will produce a report that will be submitted to Congress that details the findings of the research along with an “analysis of the extent to which applications supporting vulnerable
road users can be accommodated within existing spectrum allocations for connected vehicle systems.”
These connected systems are largely composed of sensors that are placed on posts and signs. These sensors have transponders that help them communicate with connected vehicles and autonomous cars and trucks.
Adding bicycles into this mix will require addition technology, likely in the form of a beacon. These beacons will theoretically help protect cyclists by integrating bikes into the connected system, allowing vehicles to maneuver around them and prevent collisions.
Yet not everyone is convinced this idea will work well in practice.
In a recent article on Forbes.com, transport historian Peter Norton says a future that includes connected systems and beacons may be more problematic than we think. Forbes reports the following:
The more likely version of the future is deeply dystopian, says transport historian Peter Norton. Only the beacon-equipped will be spotted, he fears. Those choosing—say, for economic or privacy reasons—not to fit bicycle-to-vehicle beacons will be blamed for being hit by sensor-equipped cars,
believes Norton, author of Autonorama, a new book which details the potential civil liberty issues that pedestrians and cyclists may face from the roll-out of driverless vehicles.
“I have a hard time picturing how we get automated driving systems that reliably detect bicyclists not equipped with beacons,” says Norton, who is associate professor of history in the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia. “We know from research that detecting cyclists is one of the hardest things that autonomous vehicle developers have had to face. Beacons may
increase the risk for cyclists because, if they give drivers the message that the car is watching out for cyclists, but the car is actually not doing that particularly well, then we make the situation for cyclists more dangerous.”
Other observers have criticized the infrastructure bill for providing massive amounts of highway funding, while offering comparatively little in terms of mass or alternative transit.
This means more of the same for cyclists: Congested roads, car and truck-centric transportation policies and an uncertain future with regard to safety and autonomy.
Gary Brustin is a lifelong cyclist and a specialist in bicycle accident law. In fact, these are the only types of cases he accepts. If you’ve been injured in a collision, we urge you to contact Gary for a complimentary consultation.