Have you ever been subjected to another driver doing the so-called road bouldering maneuver?
You undoubtedly have.
The driving technique is rather straightforward.
Envision yourself calmly driving on a multi-lane highway and you are using the fast lane to proceed along quite smoothly. All of a sudden, up ahead, a car moves into your lane and seems to be driving at a leisurely speed. It is readily apparent to you that this other car is going slower than you are and that you will soon catch-up and become blocked by the other driver.
They are road bouldering.
Actually, more specifically, they are road bouldering you.
This attempt at impeding your progress might be done by pure happenstance. The other driver is lollygagging and merely enjoying some treasured driving time on the highway. They aren’t paying attention to the traffic. They rarely if ever use their rearview mirror to see what is behind them. When making a lane change, they just saunter over into the adjacent lane and assume anyone else will accommodate their intrusion.
On the other hand, it could be that the driver is purposely aiming to thwart your progress.
One reason might be that they believe you are unlawfully going over the speed limit and they imagine themselves as a kind of rolling highway patrol, a kind of superpower and try to find ways to ostensibly even things out and provide justice for us all. By getting in front of you, they intend to slow you down. This is certainly for the good of humanity and they are virtuous in their cause (so they believe).
Another possible reason is that they are upset that you are doing something they would like to do, and yet feel compelled to obey the law, therefore they are somewhat envious or jealous of your maverick actions. The purpose of stalling your progress is a revenge play. If they can’t speed along, by gosh you should not be able to do so either.
There are plenty more reasons for intentionally performing a road bouldering effort.
For example, it could be that a few minutes earlier there was something that happened involving your car and their car. Maybe you veered toward their vehicle and they didn’t like the menacing act, though whether you did so by design or by mistake is not necessarily known. In any case, the driver might speed-up quickly to get ahead of you, and then place themselves directly in front of your vehicle, and then slow down. This is a means of showing you that you aren’t the boss and ought to be more deferential and civil in your driving activities.
Of course, those myriads of reasons are not of much good since the likely outcome is that the driver being blocked is not going to somehow learn a vital life lesson by the road bouldering stunt. It seems that the person doing the road bouldering, when consciously doing so, assumes that the other driver will be spurred into realizing the err of their ways. They will finally see the light, as it were. This will cause a form of repentance, and never again will that driver repeat whatever unpleasant or untoward driving action that started the road bouldering response, to begin with.
Good luck on that.
The reality is that the driver that was cut off is going to more than likely get irked. This irksome reaction can produce a series of consequential steps that are risky and possibly deadly for them and all other nearby cars. Also, the irked driver might erupt outright into a full-on road rage mode and decide to drive in a madcap and evildoer way for the remainder of their driving journey.
The reaction to one road bouldering incident can produce a monstrous and long-lasting response.
Let’s be clear, no one is doing the right thing in any of these scenarios.
The person performing the road bouldering might believe in their heart that they are doing the moral or decent thing by blocking others that are scofflaws or roadway driving bandits. Vigilante justice is seen as the only way to prevent those dastardly uncaring drivers from taking over the byways and highways of our land. Unfortunately, even if there is a heartfelt basis for doing road bouldering, the act is not only frowned upon, it likely is an illegal act in itself.
The effort to impede the flow of others, despite the belief that it is justified, can land the road bouldering implementer in the same or worse category of driving unlawfully and dangerously.
Admittedly, the driver being blocked could be indeed usurping the law as a driver. That’s wrong too.
On the other hand, there is also the chance that the blocked driver is completely innocent in the matter. Sometimes a road bouldering action takes place by the purely mindless happenstance of the driver doing the blocking action. There is no awareness of their doing so. The driver being blocked did not undertake some transgression that led to the bouldering.
Furthermore, the driver doing the road bouldering might mistakenly pick the wrong target. Maybe there was a red colored car that stung them a few miles back. They have been watching for the red car in hopes of undertaking the road bouldering. They see a red car and assume it is the same one as before. The reality might be that it is someone else and thus are utterly absent of any prior entanglement.
Nonetheless, they get the road bouldering treatment.
The sad thing is that the driver that is blocked might then become triggered into doing adverse acts. In that case, a perfectly calm driver that was obeying the law and driving safely is transformed into a crazed driver. They didn’t start their day by thinking they would go into a driving frenetic mode, but the road bouldering was a piece of straw on the camel’s back that triggered them into a furious reaction.
Speaking of road bouldering, perhaps consider your own driving efforts. Without triggering you unduly right now, dare I say or suggest that you might have perchance performed a road bouldering action at some point in your lengthy driving tenure?
I’m sure that you have, we all have.
Anyone that solemnly swears they’ve never employed road bouldering can supposedly be the first to cast the driver’s stone, as they say.
There are some relatively unique situations whereby a driver has never done road bouldering.
For example, newbie drivers can potentially attest to not having done road bouldering. Those teenagers that are just starting to drive are unlikely to have enough roadway miles under their belt to have performed the road bouldering. That being said, it won’t be long before they will take such action. Again, it can occur by lack of awareness or via a purposeful motive.
Shifting gears, consider the future of cars and the act of driving.
Here is an interesting question: Will AI-based self-driving cars be subjected to road bouldering by human drivers, and will self-driving cars opt to undertake road bouldering as a driving strategy?
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 a 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 a 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 Road Bouldering
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.
Human drivers are already doing the road bouldering stunt to self-driving cars. Yes, even though there aren’t many self-driving cars as yet on our roadways, the ones that are being tested out are getting their fair share of road bouldering done to them.
As mentioned earlier, sometimes road bouldering is performed by a human driver that is clueless about their driving actions. In this instance, they get in front of a self-driving car, oftentimes not aware they are directly ahead of a self-driving car, and manage to bring forth a road bouldering activity. Innocently performed.
Not all such occasions are entirely innocent.
There are some human drivers that upon spying a self-driving car are eager to perform a road bouldering action.
They usually think it is a “cute idea” to showcase what they think is a funny action toward a self-driving car. Take that, they are imagining in their minds, as though they are trying to demonstrate that human drivers are better than AI driving systems and the proof of the pudding is the ability to undertake a road bouldering activity.
I’ve repeatedly exhorted that human drivers that are trying to prank self-driving cars are wrong to do so (see my coverage at this link here). These bullying drivers are creating potentially dangerous situations and endangering them and everyone else nearby. You shouldn’t road boulder a self-driving car, and nor should you do a road boulder to a human driver.
Excise that road bouldering from your driving repertoire, as in stop doing it.
Another mental concoction by some human drives involves the wonderment of what a self-driving car will do when confronted with a road bouldering action. For this kind of thinking, the human driver believes they are doing a service to mankind. Those darned AI driving system had better know how to handle a road bouldering circumstance, and it is up to this particular human driver to ferret out whether the AI can handle the driving or not.
Get off the road, you AI driver, if you can’t take the heat.
Again, despite the appearance of presumably wanting to provide a service to humanity, doing road bouldering to a self-driving car is not to be done. Rest assured that there are enough everyday road bouldering events that occur by happenstance and there is no need to devise intentional ones.
Plus, the odds are that the AI driving system has already been exercised on-road bouldering possibilities due to the millions of simulated miles of driving that the automakers and self-driving tech firms do with their self-driving cars. There is also a solid chance that during closed track runs of the self-driving car, which involves non-public roads that are set aside for experimental use of self-driving cars, road bouldering has been practiced upon the self-driving cars.
This does bring up some added points worth considering.
First, what will an AI driving system do when it is impeded by a road bouldering action?
It all depends.
Numerous AI driving systems are being crafted, each with its own way of handling the driving chores. You cannot state universally that all self-driving cars will make use of the same driving techniques and perform the same way in all driving scenarios. By-and-large, they are all being programmed or crafted to drive legally, but this leaves a huge opening in terms of how to otherwise drive a car.
We all perform our driving within a vast latitude of driving practices. This is true even when constrained by the legal rules of the road. The laws do not pin down every iota of how you should drive. One person that is driving legally can be driving somewhat differently than another nearby person that is driving legally.
Back to the self-driving car and what the response would be to road bouldering, one possibility is that the self-driving car does essentially nothing about it. In other words, the AI driving system comes upon a car that is slowing progress, and the AI mathematically computes that this is generally okay, opting to slow down the self-driving car and try to maintain a proper driving distance from the other car.
Some AI driving systems are regrettably not yet at a high caliber of driving prowess.
This means that for example the self-driving car can be “convinced” to slow down and come to a stop, merely by a car ahead of it doing the road bouldering and progressively getting slower and slower, until coming to a halt. There are reported cases of allegedly this being done by police cars that wanted to slow down a Tesla that was on Autopilot and the human driver had (wrongly, dangerously) fallen asleep (be clear that Autopilot is not yet a true self-driving capability; also see my coverage about these incidents at the link here).
A problem with this somewhat blind-leading-the-blind of a self-driving car also referred to as follow-the-leader or the Piped Piper syndrome, is that we would not expect a human-driven car to fall for such a trick.
In some instances, it might make sense for a human driver to gradually be slowed down to a full stop when behind another car, but most of the time, this would seem nonsensical. The human driver being subjected to road bouldering would assess the driving situation and try to ascertain what is taking place and whether the vehicle should be slowing down to a halt or perhaps take some other driving action.
The point is that there are AI driving systems that are not well suited as yet to respond to the road bouldering and will merely comply by staying behind the vehicle that is deploying the driving act. There is no further assessment of the roadway scene and the driving circumstances by the AI system.
Gradually, and seemingly inevitable, the response to road bouldering will become more advanced. The AI ought to be examining the opportunities to avoid road bouldering. Perhaps change lanes or take some similar action.
You might be wondering whether the AI will react in the same manner that humans might, such as honking the horn or flashing the headlights. Right now, most of the AI driving systems are not programmed to do that kind of action, which is purposely being avoided since the use of the horn or the flashing of headlights is an unlikely way to produce a desirable result. Sure, sometimes this helps to alert a human driver that does not realize what they are doing, but at the same time, it can be a disturbing trigger that makes the human driver enraged.
Whereas it used to be that everyone “knew” that you would honk your horn or flash your headlights, doing so in today’s world is quite risky business. Probably prudent to not have AI driving systems use that approach, though an argument can be made that it should have this available in its back pocket, as it were, ready to be used when assuredly useful.
The final twist on this topic is the question of whether a self-driving car should itself make use of road bouldering.
This is a tougher nut to crack since there are two avenues of thought, one being that a self-driving car by happenstance will get into a situation whereby it performs road bouldering (the act of the innocent, as indicated earlier about human drivers), and the other is the intentional use of road bouldering. When I refer to intentionality and an AI driving system, do not mistake that to imply that the AI is sentient. None of today’s AI is anywhere close to sentience. I am referring to the notion that the AI is programmed to try and explicitly use a road bouldering tactic when the moment for such usage is computationally calculated as worthy of doing.
There is a somewhat third ground or muddling instance of an AI driving system that has used Machine Learning or Deep Learning and has settled onto a road bouldering technique using mathematical pattern matching. In essence, the AI computationally found a pattern in how people drive and has adopted that same pattern, which in this case is the road bouldering action.
Generally, the automakers and self-driving tech firms are not purposely having the AI use a road bouldering tactic.
At the same time, it is going to occur with great frequency for the simple reason that self-driving cars are being programmed to drive legally. In essence, by going the speed limit, the odds are pretty high that self-driving cars are going to be doing a kind of road bouldering. Human drivers that are accustomed to going faster than the speed limit are going to get upset at the road bouldering trend of self-driving cars.
Some people are elated that self-driving cars are going to be doing road bouldering, though they don’t use that nomenclature to refer to the action.
The reason for this elation is that if self-driving cars are nearly always driving at or less than the speed limit, and if this causes human drivers to slow down from their speeding ways, this is an exalted outcome of self-driving cars. By forcing human drivers to go slower, the hope is that human drivers will get into fewer car crashes and when they do get into a car crash it will be less injurious due to being at a slower speed.
I’m not so sure that this is going to work out in the manner envisioned.
Is it realistic to assume that human drivers will abide by the “slower” moving self-driving cars, despite the legally correct aspect that the self-driving cars are merely obeying the law?
This seems immensely doubtful (some humans will, many will not).
Instead, what seems more realistic is that human drivers will get irked by self-driving cars that are doing these actions. This might cause human drivers to decide to take dangerous reactive courses of action. They will make those crazy lane changes and do all sorts of driving trickery. And, sadly, this might in turn lead to even more car crashes of human drivers. The odds are that more car crashes of human drivers will likely entangle self-driving cars into the car accidents morass too.
A vicious and disastrous cycle.
One obvious solution is to have the AI driving system attempt to ascertain if they are doing a road bouldering act, whether by design or by happenstance. As much as possible, the AI driving system should try to avoid being a road boulder and get out of the way of other traffic.
For this way of thinking, many of today’s AI driving systems are programmed to try and stay in the slow lane and not get into the fast lane unless absolutely necessary. But this is not much of a viable way to drive, and it would inevitably become obvious to passengers inside self-driving cars that they are being driven around in a manner that seems much less expeditious than human drivers. In that case, passengers might decide to use human-driven cars, such as ridesharing, over switching to the use of AI-based self-driving cars.
Some wonder whether road bouldering is that notable of a topic and deserving of any rapt attention.
One thought is that sometimes, something that seems like a molehill is really in fact a mountain, and we ought to be aware of boulders that can cascade until we have an entire avalanche on our hands.
Watch out for those road bouldering moments and drive safely.
That equally applies to the AI driving systems too.