Categories: killed

Will driverless cars mean less cats killed on roads?

We’re not sure how many cats are killed on roads in either the UK or the USA or perhaps any other country. An estimate is that a quarter of a million domestic and stray cats are killed on British roads annually and Wikipedia tells us that in the US, in 1993, 25 schools participated in a roadkill study which concluded that 26 million cats are killed annually in that great country. 26 million! I find it unbelievable. Can it really be true? It obviously includes domestic, feral, stray and wild cats but it is still a very large number. Something needs to be done.

Cat roadkill. Photo in public domain. The picture shows the insensitivity of some people (cat hater?). Was this cat deliberately run over?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the number could be reduced? I’m sure that cat haters would disagree with me. I know that some cat haters seize on the opportunity to run over a domestic cat if and when the opportunity arises. That is the kind of people they are but this article is about whether driverless cars might reduce the number of cat roadkills.

It’s a tough ask, though, because animals crossing roads behave unpredictably. If an animal crossing a road is similar in size to a human and is behaving reasonably predictably then of course the computer systems on a driverless car will be able to avoid that animal. Looking at the problem from the human’s perspective, Americans crashed into deer 1.25 million times in 2014. The value of the damage caused to human property was $4 billion. Reducing roadkill would be fantastically advantageous even on economic grounds forgetting about the sadness of the loss of so many animals.

Artificial intelligence is becoming very important in the development and evolution of computer systems. This makes computers much smarter. I know that Google is using artificial intelligence more and more although they don’t announce it. Facebook, too, use it to detect images on their website which are in violation of their policies. Google use it for the same purposes, I believe. I would hope that artificial intelligence will make computers smart enough to detect domestic, stray and feral cats about to dart across a road.

This is one of the big problems with domestic cats when they are run over. They are uncertain about traffic as it is alien to them. They misjudge events and dart across quickly and unexpectedly. For an animal who is so skilled at survival it is a chaotic performance which reinforces the belief that they completely misunderstand vehicular movement. It would be incredibly difficult for a computer to recognise this behaviour and control a vehicle accordingly. Nonetheless I am hopeful that in about 10 years we will see a marked decrease in cat roadkill in developed countries.

If your subject, the animal, is sprinting out into the road in such a way that you can’t stop fast enough, does it really matter how perfect the car is? – Fraser Shilling, the director of the California Roadkill Observation System.

It’s going to take a super computer to look outside of the road and make predictions. The cameras have also got to be able to look well ahead. It’s a mighty challenge for the nerds.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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