The skateboarder was eyeing a self-driving car and decided that it might be quite rad to try and hitch a ride.
The overall act of skateboard hitching has lots of slang names such as skitching, skate-hitching, bumper hitching, bizzing, bumper shining, and so on. One thing for sure is that it can be assuredly labeled as ultra-dangerous and an altogether bad idea.
You might be tempted to think that a skateboarder that rides up along a moving car and grabs onto the vehicle is perhaps demonstrating tremendous prowess as a skater or boarder. There are plenty of online videos and amateur social media postings that seem to highlight this crazy act. The person riding the skateboard is usually waving recklessly at the camera and acting like they are having the time of their life.
Oftentimes, these brazen efforts are done without a so-called brain bucket (that’s lingo for wearing a helmet).
Acrid critics are quick to point out that those trying to do these inappropriate stunts are probably brainless to start with, thus the omission of a helmet is (smarmily) suggested as befitting the circumstance. Anyway, without getting into endless name-calling, some also point out that you don’t see the number of times that the skateboarders took a fall, including suffering an injurious abject face plant into the unforgiving street and experiencing a total and calamitous wipeout.
Many people though do customarily think fondly of this skate-hitching activity overall, perhaps as a result of having seen Michael J. Fox adroitly do so in the famous Back To The Future movie series. You might hazily recall that there is a scene in the movie (spoiler alert!) that entails his fictional character, Marty McFly, riding on a skateboard and grabbing onto the bumper of a car for a bit of a relatively short joyride. The funny joke underlying the brash act is that it is repeated in the present, the past, and the future. It is a quite memorable gag and a clever way to weave into the plot those seemingly everyday activities of life that tie together the passage of time.
The thing is, some might construe that wanton action as perfectly fine and merely shrug off the underlying perils that it entails. A plethora of video games portray bumper hitching in various heroic fashions, as do lots of shows on TV and cable.
Not wanting to sound like a fuddy-duddy, but you’ve got to admit that this is a hazardous and ill-advised skateboarding ploy.
What can go wrong?
The skateboarder can fall and get injured. This can be magnified immensely due to the speeds involved.
If you fall from a skateboard while going at an ordinary walking speed of a few miles per hour, you might not especially get broken apart. Possibly scrapes and bruises, maybe some broken bones. It isn’t pretty. Grasping to a car that is increasing speed and could end up reaching twenty or thirty miles per hour is not simply going to be an injurious fall, it could be a death sentence kind of fall.
Take a look online and you’ll see reported deaths when the skateboarder was hitching onto cars going somewhere between even a seemingly piddling five and ten miles per hour. This doesn’t seem to be fast-moving, but a human that takes a tumble is going to, unfortunately, discover that the human body is not made for those types of smacking blows at those speeds.
The obvious danger is landing on the harsh asphalt at a high rate of impact. There is also the consequent rolling and tumbling that can be hazardous to your health too. You could uncontrollably tumble into a parked car. The parked car will win that type of collision, and you will lose.
Another scary aspect is that you might roll under the very car that is towing you. In that case, the wheels and undercarriage can scrape and drag you along. This is bound to do irreparable damage to you. The driver of the car might suddenly realize what is taking place and try to hit the brakes, but the odds are that you’ll have nonetheless gotten death-inducing flopping despite the car coming to a screeching halt.
There is also the chance of your falling into the path of another nearby in-motion car.
The driver of that vehicle might not see you on the ground or simply assume that you rolled on past. Alas, they might not realize that you’ve gotten actively entangled under their vehicle. I realize that it seems veritably impossible for a driver to not know when they have a person being dragged along under their car, yet this does happen. No sense in trying to roll the dice on whether other drivers will be paying attention to the roadway and not driving distracted when watching an enchanting cat video while at the wheel.
We probably can presume that a skateboarder knows what they are doing when they attempt one of these risky bumper hitching maneuvers. Some skateboarders are likely to underestimate the risks, especially for teenagers that tend to consider themselves invincible and have a carefree attitude. Having seen it done by skateboarding celebrities and stars, the trickery seems doable, and the excitement or thrill of the ride is extraordinarily alluring.
What about the driver?
The driver is assumed to be a licensed driver and therefore a full-fledged adult or at least a young adult that has been granted the government-divined privilege to drive on our public roadways. You could assert that the driver is equally at fault in this gambit of doing bumper hitching. Maybe more so, since a licensed driver is supposed to know about the dangers of driving and how people can get hurt.
Well, sometimes the driver is unaware of the bumper hitching rider.
The driver was driving along, minding their own business. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a skateboarder swiftly gets their board underway and catches up with the rear of the vehicle, thereupon grabbing the bumper and perhaps stooping or crouching down to not be seen.
If you are shocked to believe that a driver would not know that someone is hanging off the back of their car, you might want to ponder that aspect for a moment. I dare say this could happen to any of us. Your attention as a driver is primarily about the road ahead. You earnestly stare at the upcoming traffic. Sure, you look to the sides of your vehicle too, and you glance in your rearview mirror, though your principal focus is straight ahead.
I submit though that if someone wanted to be sneaky and came up behind your car, they could potentially hitch a ride. Unless you were intentionally on the look for such actions, it could readily occur, and you would not know at first that it was happening.
You might be of the resolute opinion that the extra weight and dragging of the grasping skateboarder would undoubtedly be felt while you are at the wheel of the car. This seems doubtful. The skateboard is wheeled. The amount of combined weight and counter forces of the skateboarder are negligible to the power of the car. They are like a flea on a camel’s back.
There is something that you might notice.
The sound of the skateboard as it is clicking and clacking along the street surface would be potentially heard by the driver. Of course, modern cars are purposely engineered to provide a noise-free interior. Plus, most people have their car radio going or employ a full-on entertainment system blaring as they drive along. Hearing that bumper hitcher is not necessarily a sure thing.
Then again, if the skateboarder is whooping and hollering at the top of their lungs, and if pedestrians are staring, pointing, and yelling that a person is hanging onto your car, perhaps that would be a clue for even the most clueless of drivers.
Imagine what you might do if the outside world suddenly brought to your attention that a bumper hitching act was taking place on your very car.
It is hard to say how drivers would react.
Some drivers might calmly slow down and come to a gradual halt. Other drivers might jam on the brakes. Some drivers keep going and figure that the bumper hitcher is getting a free ride and can merely opt to drop off the vehicle whenever they wish to do so. One supposes too that there are devilish drivers that might think to hit the gas, accelerating, doing so to scare the dickens out of the errant skateboarder and get them to unleash their grasp (or, worse still, forcefully fling them from the car).
The unpredictability of what an unaware driver will do is yet another of the many adverse risks entailing the bumper hitching scheme (note that this doesn’t imply that a driver knowing what is taking place will somehow be any safer).
We’ve focused on the notion of bumper hitching as taking place solely via accessing the bumper of a car. That doesn’t have to be the case. The phrase still applies when a skateboarder opts to grab onto the trunk, or onto a side-view mirror, or onto a door handle, or pretty much grasp any part of the car that they can get a hold of.
The other variation to keep in mind is that the rider doesn’t necessarily need to be using a skateboard. Sometimes a hitched ride is done by a person wearing skates. It can be done by people riding on a bicycle, or on a scooter, and so on. Anyone that has some form of wheeled contraption is a potential bumper hitching rider.
Is it illegal to do these kinds of bumper hitching acts?
First, to clarify, whether or not it perchance is illegal, it is not an act that should be performed. Let’s make that abundantly clear.
Unless you are on a special closed track, and have trained professionals, and are stunt experts, only then should bumper hitching be even a morsel of an idea. The professionals that do take special precautions and are well-aware of the risks, and yet some complain that they are nonetheless tending to glorify the act and making it seem insider cool.
Yes, they often alert others to not try this at home, but that is still going to inspire the at-home bumper hitching efforts, some lament (the counterargument is that people are going to do these antics anyway, regardless of seeing professionals do so, and therefore it is a helpful outlet to have professionals perform such stunts as an alternative to people trying to do so at home).
The legality of doing a bumper hitching is somewhat murky, here’s why.
Some states indicate in their vehicle code that you cannot do a bumper hitching while making use of a bicycle, nor when roller skating, and yet do not specifically mention skateboards. In that case, some skateboarders try to argue that because it isn’t specifically cited as a particular form of transport in the list of banned possibilities, it ergo must be assumed as legally permissible.
Best to have a serious talk with a lawyer about that.
Some states do explicitly mention skateboards as a mode of transport that cannot be used for undertaking bumper hitching. Thus, it is a relatively straightforward conclusion that doing such an act is bound to be seen as illegal in that state. In addition, many localities have various ordinances that declare any skateboard bumper hitching is considered illegal.
Plenty of other twists and turns exist.
For example, sometimes the law indicates that skateboards cannot be used in the street, and only used on sidewalks. Think about that. If you use a skateboard to bumper hitch, and presumably you would need to be in the street to do so, you are violating the provision of not riding a skateboard while in the street. It kind of shunts to the side that you were bumper hitching and instead catches the rider with the crafty caveat that you aren’t supposed to be skateboarding in the street, to begin with.
Without seeming to be overly repetitive, we ought to not be trying to figure out these minuscule head-of-a-pin kinds of twists, and instead lucidly agree that no one should ordinarily be doing any kind of bumper hitching.
Shifting gears for a moment, the future of cars will entail the advent of self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are going to be using AI-based driving systems and there won’t be a human driver at the wheel (see my extensive coverage of self-driving cars at this link here).
Here is an intriguing question: Could AI-based true self-driving cars become fodder for those skateboarders that wish to do the act of bumper hitching?
Let’s unpack the matter and see.
Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars
As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.
These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).
There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.
Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).
Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).
For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.
You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.
Self-Driving Cars And Bumper Hitching
For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.
All occupants will be passengers.
The AI is doing the driving.
One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can (see my explanation at this link here).
Why this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?
Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.
With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about bumper hitching. This is an aspect that needs to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.
Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.
We’ll begin by dividing the matter into two separate conditions.
There is the condition of having an automaker or self-driving tech maker purposely devising a capability within the AI driving system for the overt detection of a bumper hitching instance. The other condition consists of an “everyday” self-driving car that has not been intentionally programmed per se for the detection of a bumper hitching instance.
The first listed condition is the easiest to discuss.
Developers of the AI driving system could make use of the existing sensor suite to try and detect that a bumper hitching act is underway. This could include using the onboard image processing capability to try and identify that someone is attempting to hitch a ride on the self-driving car. Generally, the video cameras that are streaming images into the AI driving system would be used to look for a person or persons that are approaching the vehicle and appear to be trying to grab hold of the self-driving car.
Don’t falsely assume that this is an easy task for the object recognition image processing subcomponent. A person outside the vehicle might be very sneaky, perhaps hiding behind a parked car and suddenly dart into the street. There might be little advance notification of the bumper hitcher getting into action.
Once the bumper hitcher grabs onto the vehicle, it might be hard to see them via the cameras. The cameras are usually aimed rather outward, wanting to capture a wide scene and be able to collect data about where other cars are, where the sidewalk is, and so on. It is rarer that a camera would be angled down toward the bumper.
There is also the problem of potentially generating false alerts. If a pedestrian perchance came into the street and stood near the self-driving car, this could inadvertently be construed as a bumper hitching activity that is about to get underway. A human driver would realize that the pedestrian is not holding a skateboard and nor standing on one, which is something that the image processing software would need to be programmed to look for.
Other sensors could come to play, assuming that the self-driving car is equipped with them. For example, the radar and LIDAR could potentially detect the presence of the bumper hitcher. This though is also bound to be tough to do when once the skateboarder is in a crouched position and hugging to the side of the car. The odds are that neither the radar and nor the LIDAR would readily pick up that an object is that close to the vehicle.
Another possibility involves ultrasonic sensory devices. These are usually used for aiding the AI driving system when the vehicle is being parked. The units can detect nearby objects, such as when doing parallel parking or if the vehicle is attempting to park and an object such as a shopping cart might be in the way. Depending though on the speed of the car and where it is in traffic, trying to use the ultrasonic units for detecting a moving skateboarder that has grabbed onto the vehicle could be somewhat problematic.
Given the rarity of someone doing a bumper hitching ride, the argument could be made that it makes little sense to try and program the AI driving system to cope with this outlier possibility. Most of the developers and engineers have their hands full with simply trying to get self-driving cars to safely go from point A to point B. This kind of edge or corner case would likely be listed as a low priority that eventually might come up for being worked on.
You can bet though that if someone does do a bumper hitching with a self-driving car and gets injured, there will be a huge outcry from regulators and the public about how this could have been allowed to happen. In that sense, the seemingly low priority of detecting and responding to a bumper hitching activity will become a vocally outsized must-be-handled issue, causing the automakers and self-driving tech firms to scramble to make up for the lost time.
Imagine that a bumper hitching detection capability did exist and was reliable enough to be utilized on an ongoing basis. A vexing question arises as to what to about the wayward skateboarder. What would we want the AI driving system to do?
I’m sure you might suggest that the answer is obvious, namely the AI driving system should stop the car. Sure, that generally makes sense, but the devil is in the details. How quickly should the vehicle be brought to a stop? Suppose the skateboarder falls while the stopping action is underway, then what? Should the AI somehow try to warn the skateboarder that the AI driving system has detected their presence and is going to stop? Etc.
This brings up another interesting and somewhat beguiling topic. Assume that in some instances there might be passengers inside the self-driving car. This complicates matters. If the AI driving system suddenly slams on the brakes, this could harm the passengers (this is a variant of the famous Trolley Problem, see my coverage at this link here).
I’ll add another wrinkle for you to contemplate. Suppose a passenger notices the skateboarder and does so before or in lieu of the AI driving system making such a detection. If the passenger tries to tell the AI driving system that a person is grabbing onto the vehicle, will the AI driving system be able to make use of that exhortation?
Most of the existing self-driving cars have very rudimentary Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities, akin to the likes of Alexa and Siri. Those NLP are not likely at this time to be capable of hearing a human exclaim that a skateboarder is hugging the car and then turn that into something usable as a part of the AI driving system activities. Right now, any kind of utterances beyond the desired destination are routed to a remote agent of the fleet operator, which in the case of the bumper hitching could be too little, too late, in terms of the AI driving system getting directed about what to do.
I mentioned that there were two major conditions to be considered. One was that the AI driving system was purposely augmented or devised to detect and cope with a bumper hitching vagabond. We’ve taken a close look at the ups and downs of that programming.
The other condition entails an “everyday” self-driving car that has no special provision for this particular use case. What would the de facto self-driving car that has no specific programming for this situation be able to potentially do?
An apparent aspect is that without devoted programming, the odds are lessened that the AI driving system is going to “natively” (as generically crafted) be able to do much about being able to detect the bumper hitching nomad. There is a slim chance of doing so, and perhaps the AI driving system would enter into its standard programming for any such exigency, such as gradually bringing the car to a halt, along with notifying the passengers that the vehicle is being stopped and sending an electronic alert to the fleet operator.
The trouble for the skateboarder is that they might be able to get away with the bumper hitching, just as it might be possible to do so with a human driver at the wheel, but the skateboarder is taking a huge risk in doing so. Envision that the self-driving car opts to increase speed since it is entering into a major highway, and all of sudden the skateboarder is faced with having to decide whether to let go or not. If they summarily let go, their heightened speed puts them at an intensified risk.
The skateboarder might try to feverishly bang on the trunk or the sides of the car, clamoring frantically to have someone or something slow down the vehicle. A human driver might or might not hear this, and might or might not accede to the request. Similarly, the AI driving system might or might not detect this (generally, currently unlikely to do so), and the skateboarder has now led themselves into a worsening and perilous catastrophe. The hitching rider has somewhat dug their own grave, as it were.
Be resolved: Just don’t do any bumper hitching and ergo avoid getting into dire straights altogether.
Recall that I began this discussion by mentioning that a skateboarder was eyeing a self-driving car and appeared to be mulling over an attempt at undertaking a bumper hitching ride. Upon observing this, I was thankfully relieved to witness that the self-driving car was moving at such a speed that the bumper hitcher was unable to reach the vehicle. You could suggest that the AI driving system was scooting away to avoid the skateboarder, but that is an unlikely explanation in this particular instance.
On this occasion, the self-driving car was most likely merely proceeding on its driving journey.
To that degree, the skateboarder was quite lucky. Whether it was fate or blind luck, their high-risk ill-advised attempt was rebuffed or at least not able to be completed. This was a case wherein the fish that got away was better off for all and averted what could have been a gut-wrenching and atrocious outcome.
I am hoping that the teenaged skateboarder will live a long life and maybe, just maybe, will one day be involved in the development of AI-based true self-driving cars, possibly getting assigned to figuring out how to try and ensure that AI driving systems can cope with those misbehaving rad-seeking skateboarders (which, he would certainly know a lot about).
Score one for humanity and AI.