When an Uber autonomous vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona last year, a debate over the safety of the driver-less cars erupted. As reported at the time, the circumstances of the collision were unusual, leading to questions about the ability of self-driving cars to identify unexpected obstacles and situations. In the Tempe incident, it turns out that the self-driving vehicle didn’t have a problem identifying the pedestrian, and even identified that an emergency braking maneuver should have been used before the collision. Emergency braking maneuvers, however, were disabled.
Read the preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) here.
The release of the NTSB report has raised questions about the difficulties autonomous vehicles may have in identifying unexpected obstacles on the roads. According to the report, the victim was identified by the vehicle nearly 6 seconds before the crash. The victim was first identified as an unknown object, then a vehicle, and then as a bicycle. Each of these classifications has an expected behavior and travel path, with self-driving software determining the most likely scenario. The software determined that an emergency braking maneuver should have been taken 1.3 seconds before the collision. Even if emergency braking was turned on, the vehicle would have only had 1.3 seconds to decelerate from 43 mph to 0 mph to avoid a collision, which was unlikely to occur. The collision, however, would have been at a lower velocity. NTSB believed that the pedestrian would have survived the collision if the vehicle had performed an emergency braking maneuver. Emergency braking was disabled to prevent erratic driving during vehicle testing.
Certainly, the unique circumstances of the situation were factors in the Tempe incident. However, the makers of autonomous vehicles will need to account for nearly every possible situation that may arise before the public will fully accept the new technology.
The Law Offices of Scott Warmuth helps the victims of car accidents pursue financial compensation for their injuries. For a free injury consultation, call us today at 888-517-9888.