Two days ago there was a tragedy in Arizona when a pedestrian was run over and killed by an autonomously driven car, which is now considered a first-of-its-kind fatality. The vehicle was a test car owned by Uber (who immediately pulled it’s autonomous fleet off the roads), and had a human sitting in the driver’s seat to monitor the car’s actions.
The immediate reaction to this accident was a “you can’t let robots drive – autonomous vehicles are dead” sentiment. Admittedly, this feels like a science gone bad moment. But then reports started to come out about what actually happened. According to accident reports the car was traveling at 38 mph when a women walking with her bike unexpectedly came from the center median lane into the path of the car. Based on eyewitness accounts and the video taken from the car, it doesn’t look like there was any way for the vehicle to stop in time to avoid the pedestrian.
So if a human driver were to have struck the victim too, what does that say about the driverless car? According to NHTSA about 15 walkers/bikers are killed by cars each day in the US. Autonomous driving should reduce this number with the elimination of driver errors. But they won’t ever be able to account for every pedestrian action.