Car Crash Memorials and Self-Driving Cars

One of the English language sites, Japan Today, that I use for keeping on top of the news in Japan (and what others who don’t speak Japanese might be seeing about Japan) had a story today (16 September 2021) talking about a memorial for a road traffic accident and touching upon the issue of self-driving cars. You can find the full article here: Monument to fatal crash victims.

The story caught my eye for two reasons.

First, as part of my research for the article on modifications are made to public transportation accidents, one of the bodies of literature that I studied was about road traffic accidents. Part of the reason for this was due to the lack of published research about memorials for public transportation accidents, so I looked for a similar type of accident and discussions about their memorials to see if there was any relevant lessons to be learnt from it. The main lesson was the need for local approval. This local approval is often in the formal of a local government, which also has to take account of the local people’s opinions. Part of the issue that can hinder support of local opinion in many countries was that locals often didn’t want a constant reminder of the accident. The Japanese case reported today is interesting in that it is clearly quite a large memorial, though is back from the road itself. The Japanese case is also interesting as I was not previously aware of any cases of permanent memorials for victims of road traffic accidents (as opposed to being passengers on a bus (such as the Hidagawa, Kan’etsu, or Karuizawa bus crashes) where pubic transport were not involved.

The story also touches upon, as the crash involved an elderly driver, the issue of the possible push towards self-driving cars in Japan due to the size of the aged population there. Part of the issue of the aged population in Japan, although not in this particular case, is that many live in rural areas where there is not good access to public transportation. This has become an increasing problem and is likely to be increasingly the case as the rural areas hollow out and people move to big cities (so far there is little sign that the COVID-19 pandemic will change this in the long term), as I discussed in my article ‘The Shinkansen’s Local Impact‘.

I have to admit that my position on self-driving cars has changed quite a bit recently. The main reason for my change stemmed from my own experiences of driving a car that has a limited self-drive function (basically it can only be used on motorways). As I wrote in the post about that, some of what is needed is a change in attitude. Driving may become like being a pilot where the vehicle is on auto-pilot and the driver needs to be alert to take over if the car is making an error or some other danger occurs. Although this sounds quite dull (and that has its own dangers, as we know from some aviation accidents) – I have liked it so far and I could imagine embracing it more in the future. If more (all) cars become self-driving it raises the possibility for IT to allow cars to travel closer together and ensure that all roads (and lanes) are used appropriately, thus raising capacity on the roads and reducing travel delays (where we all park will be an issue potentially). Effectively we could end up with trains of cars – a concept that I discussed during the recording of the TV documentary series ‘Trains That Changed The World‘ (which was first shown on the channel Yesterday in November 2018), but which wasn’t included in the final cut. My main reservation about the mass adoption of self-driving cars is related to the number of times I have phones or computers that crash – annoying, but nothing more usually. A car AI crashing could be much more problematic and could have fatal consequences. My other concern is the degree to which the adoption of self-driving cars will create divisions in society as the adoption of them will take so long. While self-driving cars are likely to bring many benefits in terms of equality for those with disabilities or of certain ages, for example, will the cost of such cars (until there are sufficient of them) keep them out of the reach who can only afford second-hand cars for many years to come even after a decision for all cars to have self-driving capability is taken?

Returning to the story that inspired this post, it is great to see that such a permanent memorial was created and I plan to visit it during a future trip to Japan as it is in area of Tokyo that I am often in. My thoughts go out to those who were affected by the crash.

Photograph taken from https://japantoday.com/category/picture-of-the-day/Monument-to-fatal-crash-victims

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