As everyone in the world knows, a driverless vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. This is, of course, heartbreaking because any human death is a tragedy. We are waiting for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to conduct an investigation, but let’s be honest – the damage is done! If people weren’t already skeptical of driverless vehicles, now they’re completely fearful of driverless vehicles.
I believe this incident raises a few specific considerations:
- Regulations – This incident happened in Arizona where there are no driverless regulations. Moreover, the federal regulations still have not been passed. At this point, I don’t think it matters WHAT is in the regulations – the federal government (ideally) or even state governments need to put some rules in place. Regulations will need to evolve over time and they won’t prevent every incident while the technology continues to be developed, but I do think it will provide comfort to the traveling public that there is some oversight.
- Technology readiness – The investigation will provide more insight into the fault of this incident, but it’s important for everyone to acknowledge the limitations of the technology as it stands today. The driverless technology has the potential for significant safety improvements on our roadways, but today’s technology is not yet ready to be deployed in all situations.
- Pedestrian safety/infrastructure investments – This is not a driverless issue; this is an infrastructure design issue. Sidewalks and signage are just a couple of the infrastructure investments that can make roadways safer for pedestrians. Maybe this incident will highlight this issue as well? I doubt it…
- Ethics – If driverless vehicles are going to, ultimately, save lives – is it OK to sacrifice some lives as the technology is developed? Logically, this may make sense, but I’m not sure our society is ready to accept that.
- Public relations – Private companies are introducing the driverless technology around the world. This comes with risk and, clearly, Uber is experiencing the downside of that risk now. I believe it is these companies’ responsibilities to educate and respond to society about these incidents. I look forward to seeing how Uber responds in the coming days/weeks.
Sadly, this was going to happen at some point – it was just a matter of when…and how it would be handled (by both the private company and the government). How are the driverless stakeholders around the world responding to this incident?