The New York Times reports that a self-driving car operated by Uber has hit a pedestrian in Arizona. This accident marks a turning point. It may be the first death linked to self-driving cars.
When Arizona gave Uber and other companies the right to test autonomous vehicle technology on its roads, the state celebrated its pro-innovation and anti-regulation stance. Yet, safety advocates expressed concern. Self-driving vehicle technology is still in its infancy and there have been many weaknesses identified as these vehicles continue to be tested. Some critics claim that Arizona was putting its residents at risk for permitting the autonomous vehicles to be tested on public roads.
Since the accident, Uber has halted testing on public roads.
The reality is that there remain many situations where self-driving cars don’t perform well. Self-driving vehicles have difficulties in roundabouts, and camera sensors have been known to have trouble with glare. In Arizona, a human was also in the car that struck the pedestrian, but it appears that the person was unable to intervene in time to prevent the crash. When human operators are behind the wheel of self-driving vehicles, they can quickly become complacent and trust the technology. Because of this factor, Google has decided to eliminate the need for human drivers altogether. However, during the testing of vehicles, these companies claim to be relying on humans to intervene.
Some claim that the accident is a warning that it is too soon to put autonomous vehicles on the road. It remains unclear whether autonomous technology is safer than human drivers. While every death on U.S. roads is something to take seriously, we must remember that people die on U.S. roads every day due to human error. In 2016, 37,461 people died in crashes. That said, it isn’t clear how personal injury lawyers will handle this claim. Is the company liable for making a defective product? Is the safety driver behind the wheel responsible for failing to act to prevent the accident? Was the accident preventable? Perhaps the governor should be held accountable for making regulations so lax? Even after self-driving vehicles collided earlier this year, the governor took no measures to change the law. There remain many facts to be seen in this case and it isn’t entirely clear how the law will handle it. It is important that we not jump to conclusions before all the facts of the case are clear. In the case of regulation, the governor determined that in the other accident involving an autonomous vehicle, the other driver and not the autonomous vehicle was at fault.
Arizona law enforcement claim that the woman was walking her bike on the street when the autonomous vehicle struck her. According to Trib Live, the woman was located outside a crosswalk when the accident took place. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating how autonomous vehicles behave around vulnerable road users like pedestrians and bikers. Could these vehicles have the same kind of blindness some drivers have to these vulnerable road users?
It remains to be seen. In the days and weeks we are likely to learn more. The Law Offices of Robert Gregg are car accident lawyers in Dallas, Texas who are closely watching as this situation unfolds.