Can technology make roads safer?


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When the pandemic kept people at home longer in 2020, Americans drove far fewer miles than usual. But more people died on the roads.

Our roads are dangerous, especially for pedestrians. I was curious if having more technology to enforce the traffic laws might help – or if it would make matters worse.

I remember this whenever I see reckless driving where I live in New York City. (And there’s evidence it’s increasing.) Part of me wants cameras everywhere to illuminate drivers with tickets for red lights or speeding tickets. But I’m also wary of mass surveillance.

I talked about it with Sarah kaufman, associate director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University. She said that in the short term, a more automated traffic enforcement could make our roads safer and reduce potentially biased police checks for motorists.

Longer term, however, Kaufman believes that the best technologies to make our roads safer are those that take away people’s choice. This includes vehicles programmed to force people to obey speed limits and brake at red lights.

Yes, she knows some people will hate it. But, she said, we shouldn’t settle for fatalities and injuries on American roads, and instead rethink what we consider normal in driving.

Let’s get back to the problem: Cars have become safer for people indoors over the years, but the number of people who died on the roads last year in the United States still reached 42,000, according to preliminary data from a advocacy group. It was higher than deaths in 2019, and the numbers were not an anomaly. The risks have generally increased for pedestrians, motorcyclists and others who are not inside vehicles.

Kaufman made a few remarks on the ways in which technology can help make us more secure, as well as some of its limitations.

First, getting a ticket in the mail after a camera takes an image of you speeding or running a red light in your car can be a relatively effective deterrent, but it’s not perfect.

In New York and other places, camera traffic tickets arrive about a month after the violation. A ticket might make someone think twice about speeding next time, said Kaufman, who called the camera surveillance very beneficial. But, she says, that didn’t stop the risky driving in the first place.

A New York Times opinion column last week said cameras that capture speeding drivers or expired license plate labels could also reduce police traffic checks which tended to affect in such a way. disproportionate black drivers and sometimes resulted in violence and even death. (The encounter that resulted in a Minnesota police officer shooting Daunte Wright fatally began with a traffic stop.)

Black Americans are also at a higher risk of dying from vehicle accidents, and Kaufman said that more automated enforcement of the traffic laws could help solve what she called the twin problem of “police overuse and under protection.”

But Kaufman said that in the long run, the best road safety technologies are those that suppress human judgment. She imagines more cities and Car manufacturers tuning technology that automatically forces drivers to obey the speed limit and brake at red lights.

Some cities require that speed restrictions be built into rented scooters and e-bikes. “Why isn’t the deadliest mode of travel limited in speed?” Kaufman asked.

Although she thinks her suggestion may make some people scream against restrictions on what they can do with their own cars, Kaufman said, “People die because some people don’t play by the rules. Why is this a fair system? “

It always makes me nervous when technology is offered as a solution to human-made problems. Some road safety advocates have pushed for other changes not involving technology, such as redesigned roads, better application of the seat belt, rules for smaller, safer cars and move away from our dependence on cars. And yes, Kaufman and I have talked about self-driving cars. They promise to be much safer, but they are unlikely to use the roads in large numbers for many years.

Ultimately, in Kaufman’s view, what is needed are both limits on what we can do with cars and a reconsideration of the role of automobiles in American life.


Tip of the week

Have you moaned and cursed at your Pokey Home internet connection? I have. Brian X. Chen, consumer technology columnist for the New York Times, tells us how to identify the cause of this slow connection.

Loading Netflix movies takes forever. Your video calls appear grainy and the audio is distorted. Even browsing the web seems slow.

You will need to identify the cause of the problem. Is it your router or your internet service provider?

Here is a method to help you figure this out:

  • Download an internet speed test app to your phone, like Speedtest by Ookla (free for iPhones and Android Phones).

  • Stand near your router and use the app to run a speed test.

  • Move to a room further away from the router and run the speed test again.

  • Compare the results.

A test result of less than 15 megabits per second is quite slow. Speeds of around 25 megabits per second are sufficient to deliver high definition video; over 40 megabits per second is ideal for streaming multiple videos and playing video games.

If the speed test results were fast near your Wi-Fi router but slow further away, the problem is most likely with your router. If the speeds were slow in both test locations, the problem is most likely with your ISP.

Once you’ve identified the problem, review my column on slow internet speeds for more on the solutions.


  • The mysteries of TikTok fame: Nobodies can quickly turn viral thrills with a TikTok video that hits a nerve, like that of a weird dog or a man skateboarding with cranberry juice. But the Wall Street Journal writes that some users say it’s hard to replicate a TikTok success.

  • How the pandemic changed book sales: People bought more books in 2020 through mass retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target, where people tend to browse fewer books and buy more titles from established authors and celebrities. “We sell pretty predictable things online,” a Barnes & Noble executive told my colleagues Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris.

  • Fun Fact: About 10% of all web searches contain an error or typo. A BuzzFeed News editor try to figure out why she’s bad at typing, and dig into the technology that saves us from our mistakes, including autocomplete on our phones and Google trying to figure out our typos.

Look at these ducklings jump from a dock into the water. Some of them are not very graceful, but all of them are adorable.


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