Public Fear After Arizona Fatality Causes Self-Driving Car Companies to Hit the Brakes


June 19, 2018

June 12, 2018 (jdsupra.com) An article from jdsupra.com discusses the stall-out in self-driving car testing following the March 2018 death of a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.*

One of the loudest arguments made in favor of self-driving technology is that autonomous vehicles will be safer than human-driven vehicles. But that argument lost a lot of steam this year, after a self-driving Uber vehicle killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. 

On the evening of March 18, 2018, Elaine Herzberg was walking her bicycle across a Tempe street when she was struck by a Volvo SUV. The Volvo was part of Uber’s self-driving vehicle testing program, and its systems failed to avoid the impact with Herzberg. A human safety driver in the car at the time was not watching the road and did not see Herzberg in time to react. 

Following the incident, Uber suspended its self-driving testing operations in Tempe, Pittsburg, San Francisco, and Toronto. In addition, other major autonomous vehicle players slowed down their developments in the wake of the Tempe accident. General Motors, Toyota, and Alphabet Inc. (Google’s parent company that owns Waymo) are waiting for additional testing to return to their previous developmental speed. 

Part of the stall-out can be attributed to public fears, along with federal cautioning about these vehicles. Though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 94 percent of vehicle accidents in the United States are caused by human error, the federal agency also warns against reliance on autonomous vehicles to solve America’s traffic safety problems. Driving involves unpredictable events and requires constant anticipation and instant, complex reactionary behavior. While humans are undoubtedly flawed behind the wheel, computers might be even more dangerous. 

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