The advent of technology has brought with it many things thought impossible just a couple of years ago, including the age of self-driving cars. Companies that are testing their vehicles tout the use of technology, including the use of sensors that autonomous cars use to “see” the world around them. Darkness should not affect the technology’s ability to detect objects in front of it, making the self-driving cars safer than human drivers in theory. Companies also ensure human drivers are sitting in the vehicles, while they are being tested, as a means of monitoring safety at all times.
Despite all these precautions, recently, an accident with a self-driving Uber resulted in one death. Louisiana residents may have read about the 49-year-old pedestrian who was crossing the street with her bicycle, when she was struck by the self-driving vehicle.
According to footage released by officials, the car was traveling at 38 mph at the time the accident took place, and the autonomous mode was engaged at the time. The vehicle does not seem to sense the woman or slow down for her, even though she was visible in front of the car before the collision. According to experts, she was in front of the vehicle long enough for an average human driver to react and try to avoid the collision, which the self-driving car did not attempt.
Additionally, the accident highlights another aspect that safety experts keep pointing out. Even when there is a safety driver behind the wheel of an autonomous car, the driver is likely to become bored and disengage from their intended role.
Similarly, in this incident, the driver does not seem to be doing any monitoring at all. The lack of care and complacency is a concern for most experts, as a distracted driver would increase the likelihood of a car accident.
Another issue arises with regards to a crash with an autonomous vehicle — who does one hold legally liable? The company that manufactured the car, the driver behind the wheel or the company providing the technology — all of these parties play a role in the accident. Yet, each can shift the blame to the other.
This issue of legal liability so far has not been addressed comprehensively and remains up in the air. As flawed as human beings are, having them behind the wheel, seems to be the safer option currently, until technology is developed enough to replace them.