Posted on April 13, 2018 in Automobile Accidents
As we grapple with the inevitable transition to more computerized and driverless cars on the road, the public was given the news that a self-driving Uber car killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The 49-year old woman, who was crossing Mill Avenue at its intersection with Curry Road on Sunday night, March 18, 2018, was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle. It was believed to be the first pedestrian death caused by a self-driving vehicle. The company quickly suspended testing of their driverless vehicles in Tempe as well as in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto, Canada.
How did the self-driving Uber car accident happen?
The car involved in the accident was a Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle, loaded with Uber’s sensing system. The car had a human safety driver at the wheel and no passengers were inside the vehicle at the time of impact.
At the time of the crash:
• The car was in autonomous mode
• It was traveling about 40 miles per hour
• The weather was clear and dry
• Uber’s safety driver showed no signs of impairment
• There was no indication that the car had slowed down before impact
Uber has said that it will work with local police on the investigation.
Self-driving car testing regulations
The majority of the regulations for testing self-driving cars vary from state to state with states like Arizona taking a soft approach meant to entice companies to test there. As of April, 2018, California had been planning to join Arizona in permitting companies to test cars without a person in the driver’s seat but a spokeswoman for the California State Department of Motor Vehicles said officials were in the process of gathering more information about the deadly Tempe crash. Federal legislators had also been looking at bills that would take a lenient approach to self-driving car testing, which would overrule stricter state laws. It remains to be seen how the death of a pedestrian could impact the legislation’s chance of passing.
How do self-driving car companies track issues with their cars?
Most of the time, companies install a safety driver in their self-driving cars who can take over control if the vehicle makes an error but it isn’t always possible for a driver to save the car from making a mistake. When a human driver is forced to take over for the driverless vehicle it is called “disengagements.” In California where companies are required to report disengagements, Waymo’s self-driving cars had 63 disengagements for about 350,000 miles driven between December 2016 and November 2017.
The biggest concern about driverless vehicles is in how they react to the unpredictable behavior of human drivers. And yet, it is widely believed that self-driving cars will eventually prove to be safer than cars driven by people.
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