One of the safety provisions that self-driving car manufacturers put in place when testing their vehicles on public roads involved the use of back-up drivers. The car manufacturers reasoned that having a back-up driver would add a measure of security to the cars should anything go wrong. Many companies that are currently testing autonomous driving vehicles currently use back-up drivers.
Yet, after the recent deadly pedestrian accident involving a self-driving car in Arizona, it isn’t clear whether the back-up driver added any safety to the vehicle. According to Wired, video released of the accident, reveal that the back-up driver wasn’t even looking at the road when the pedestrian was struck.
Studies have found that when people are asked to scan for dangers, their attention invariably wanders. Whether individuals are scanning radars for enemy warships, or whether it is a person behind the wheel of a self-driving car, as time passes, vigilance goes down. The question is: should self-driving cars have back-up drivers at all? Do back-up drivers really prevent accidents or injuries?
Back-up drivers bring us back to the core problem of driving. When drivers are focused on the road, they tend to be good at what they are doing. When drivers get distracted, accidents happen. Unfortunately, humans get distracted—a lot. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving leads to 3,477 deaths and another 391,000 injuries each year. As many as 660,000 drivers admitted to using their cell phones while driving. In recent years, the number of car accidents has been rising, with many experts blaming cell phones for the increased accident rates.
Companies that manufacture self-driving vehicles claim that by taking humans out of the picture, we can take human error out of the driving equation. This all sounds well and good. But if we replace mostly-vigilant humans with computers that continue to show areas where they frequently fail, and then put distracted back-up drivers behind the wheel, we might be creating a much more dangerous situation. Back-up drivers will be, by their very nature, compromised. They won’t be required to be as vigilant as a regular driver, because the self-driving car usually functions just fine. However, when they are needed, they may not be as focused on the situation as they need to be to take decisive and life-saving action. Researchers have found that when a computer is doing the work, people get distracted after just 20 minutes, on average.
While there is technology in place that can monitor drivers to ensure they keep their eyes on the road, Uber’s self-driving cars didn’t have this technology in place to ensure that back-up drivers stayed focused on the road.
Investigators are still looking into the causes of the accident that left one pedestrian dead on Arizona roads. Until we know more, self-driving tests have been suspended. However, drivers continue to have a responsibility to stay focused behind the wheel. The lesson we can take away from this is that drivers can be easily distracted. If you believe you’ve been hurt in a car crash due to a distracted driver, consider reaching out to the Dallas, Texas Law Offices of Robert Gregg. Our accident lawyers may be able to help you seek damages for your injuries and losses.