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The newest numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show walking and bicycling are fast getting more dangerous, including in Washington State.

Recent technology like self-driving cars may help turn these numbers around someday. But so far, headlines suggest it may be taking us in the wrong direction.

More walkers and cyclists dying here and across the U.S.

In late 2019, the NHTSA released its national numbers for crashes on America’s roadways and the news is bad for people who human-powered travel.

But as a Bellingham columnist points out, the Washington State numbers might be even worse. Relative to 2013, Washington fatalities rose from 63 to 120. That is close to a 100% increase among human-powered travelers in 5 years. Nationally, the percent rise in deaths among human-powered traveler was less, rising by 77%.

Driverless vehicles make headlines

Autonomous (driverless or self-driving) cars are still too rare to blame for the numbers. Probably, so are advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), which only assist in driving or parking with smart cruise control and lane-keeping help.

In fact, some advocates claim such cars may someday prevent all traffic deaths by removing “human error.” So far, the headlines are not encouraging.

In March 2018, a self-driving Uber hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, while the “driver” watched a TV game show. Among other problems, investigators found the car did not expect people to jaywalk. Two months later, a Tesla on “autopilot” crashed into a Laguna Beach, California, police cruiser. The same month, another autopiloted Tesla hit a Salt Lake City fire truck. Nobody suffered serious injuries in either crash.

AAA Foundation warns of “automation complacency”

In December, the AAA Foundation released a study showing strong evidence that ADAS causes “automation complacency,” an effect long familiar to airplane and spacecraft pilots and from health care and military uses.

By taking on so much of the job, machines lull humans into taking their attention away from the critical job at hand. Danger and even disaster sometimes result.