Pedestrian Deaths By Car In Phoenix Area Last Week: 11. But One Was By A Self-Driving Uber
from the I-can't-do-that,-Dave dept
Despite worries about the reliability and safety of self-driving vehicles, the millions of test miles driven so far have repeatedly shown self-driving cars to be significantly more safe than their human-piloted counterparts. Yet whenever accidents (or near accidents) occur, they tend to be blown completely out of proportion by those terrified of (or financially disrupted by) an automated future.
So it will be interesting to watch the reaction to news that a self-driving Uber vehicle was, unfortunately, the first to be involved in a fatality over the weekend in Tempe, Arizona:
“A self-driving Uber SUV struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, Sunday night, according to the Tempe police. The department is investigating the crash. A driver was behind the wheel at the time, the police said.
“The vehicle involved is one of Uber’s self-driving vehicles,” the Tempe police said in a statement. “It was in autonomous mode at the time of the collision, with a vehicle operator behind the wheel.”
Uber, for its part, says it’s working with Tempe law enforcement to understand what went wrong in this instance:
Our hearts go out to the victim?s family. We?re fully cooperating with @TempePolice and local authorities as they investigate this incident.
— Uber Comms (@Uber_Comms) March 19, 2018
Bloomberg also notes that Uber has suspended its self-driving car program nationwide until it can identify what exactly went wrong. The National Transportation Safety Board is also opening an investigation into the death and is sending a small team of investigators to Tempe.
We’ve noted for years now how despite a lot of breathless hand-wringing, self-driving car technology (even in its beta form) has proven to be remarkably safe. Millions of AI driver miles have been logged already by Google, Volvo, Uber and others with only a few major accidents. When accidents do occur, they most frequently involve human beings getting confused when a robot-driven vehicle actually follows the law. Google has noted repeatedly that the most common accidents it sees are when drivers rear end its AI-vehicles because they actually stopped before turning right on red.
And while there’s some caveats for this data (such as the fact that many of these miles are logged with drivers grabbing the wheel when needed), self-driving cars have so far proven to be far safer then even many advocates projected. We’ve not even gotten close to the well-hyped “trolly problem,” and engineers have argued that if we do, somebody has already screwed up in the design and development process.
It’s also worth reiterating that early data continues to strongly indicate that self-driving cars will be notably safer than their human-piloted counterparts, who cause 33,000 fatalities annually (usually because they were drunk or distracted by their phone). It’s also worth noting that 10 pedestrians have been killed by drivers in the Phoenix area (including Tempe) in the last week alone by human drivers, and Arizona had the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities in the country last year. And it’s getting worse, with 197 Arizona pedestrian deaths in 2016 compared to 224 in 2017.
We’ll have to see what the investigation reveals, but hopefully the tech press will view Arizona’s problem in context before writing up their inevitable hyperventilating hot takes. Ditto for lawmakers eager to justify over-regulating the emerging self-driving car industry at the behest of taxi unions or other disrupted legacy sectors. If we are going to worry about something, those calories might be better spent on shoring up the abysmal security and privacy standards in the auto industry before automating everything under the sun.