Self Driving Cars Are Not Yet Safer Than Human Drivers

Posted in Fatalities on March 20, 2018

On Sunday evening, March 18, 2018, one of Uber’s autonomous SUVs struck a woman who later died at the hospital as a result of her injuries. It appears to be the first time a pedestrian has died after a collision with an autonomous vehicle. Uber has temporarily suspended all its testing. While an investigation is ongoing, the Tempe, Arizona police chief provided an update based on video from the car itself, and said “it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.” Still, if there’s a chance for widespread adoption of self-driving car technology, the amount of transparency Uber displays right now is critical.

Programs in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Toronto have been suspended.

There was a vehicle operator in the car but no passengers at the time of the accident, according to Tempe police. “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident,” Uber said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board announced it is investigating the accident. The Arizona governor’s office said it is talking with law enforcement. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also investigating the incident.

A year ago Uber suspended the same program after a different Arizona crash which did not result in any serious injuries.

The NTSB has previously scrutinized accidents involving Tesla’s autopilot technology, but those cars operate with different technology than what Uber was testing.

Uber’s self-driving car business has previously hit a snag after it was embroiled in a lawsuit with Alphabet’s Waymo for much of the past year. That case was recently settled under Uber’s new leadership.

The rush to bring self-driving cars to market has risks. Those risks should not be minimized by industry or government regulators. In time, the safety of autonomous vehicle technology may be proven, but this is still an industry in it’s infancy – and simply repeating again and again that these cars and trucks are “safe” in all conditions does not make them so.