A focus on safety
Just before we went to press news broke that a “driverless” Uber in autonomous mode, but with a human safety driver on board, struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, AZ. Uber temporarily halted its driverless testing program in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto. The National Transportation Safety Board announced it was sending a team of investigators to the site of the Tempe incident.
Automated driving doomsayers and some in the media were quick react, many questioning the safety of autonomous technology, especially the risks inherent in testing on public roads. However, preliminary investigations have determined that the crash probably could not have been avoided, whether the vehicle was self- or human-driven.
While the loss of the pedestrian’s life is tragic and life-changing for the victim’s family, it is important to put the incident into perspective. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just-released report on traffic safety, there were 5987 pedestrians killed in crashes in the U.S. in 2016, with a pedestrian killed every 1.5 hours on average. Preliminary estimates for 2017 from the National Safety Council indicate motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. numbered 40,100 (about 110 per day), and that about 4.57 million people were seriously injured in motor vehicle crashes, with a cost to society of more than $413 billion. Importantly, NHTSA has found that about 94% of all crashes are caused by human error.
The greatest hope of industry and society to reduce crashes caused by human error is autonomous vehicle technology, and on-road testing is crucial to advance the technology. However, many questions still remain, especially for consumers, regarding the safety of autonomous vehicles and their public testing as well as the liability when crashes inevitably occur involving semi and fully autonomous vehicles.
Just after the Tempe incident, J.D. Power and Miller Canfield released results of a joint research project in collaboration with Mcity, the connected and automated vehicle research and testing center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The report centers on liability issues affecting automated driving systems.
Among the key findings in the report, consumers are equally split if they would ride in a fully automated, self-driving vehicle, with 14% saying they “definitely would,” and 33% saying they “probably would” compared with 29% saying they “probably would not,” and 17% saying they “definitely would not.” More than half (51%) of consumers would pursue litigation for a Level 5 fully automated vehicle if it was involved in a collision and caused an injury. For lower levels of automation, most consumers are unsure about pursuing litigation.
With the potential benefits of reducing fatalities and serious injuries in the long-term to near zero, it is imperative for industry, government, infrastructure, and other stakeholders to communicate the benefits and improve consumer trust in the technology. A goal of Autonomous Vehicle Technology from its inception has been to aid in this effort, and we are always looking for ideas in highlighting the best ways to not only move the technology forward but also to communicate the benefits to society. Share your thoughts with me directly at 248-786-1272 and firstname.lastname@example.org or any of the staff listed to the right on this page.