Pedestrian fatality is roadblock for autonomous vehicles

For years, road safety advocates and car accident lawyers have championed the development and gradual introduction of self-driving vehicles, which they say will drastically reduce deaths and serious injuries caused by traffic accidents. However, it has recently become clear that the technology requires further testing.

This March, the first reported fatal collision involving an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian occurred in the Phoenix, Arizona suburb of Tempe. A 49-year-old woman was struck at around 10 PM by an Uber traveling in self-driving mode. The vehicle was moving at about 40 miles per hour, and the woman was walking outside of a designated crosswalk.

The accident has prompted an alarmed response. Uber stated on Twitter that it is “cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident,” and announced a halt to self-driving operations in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and here in Toronto. John M. Simpson, privacy and technology project director for Consumer Watchdog, complained that “the robot cars cannot accurately predict human behaviour, and the real problem comes in the interaction between humans and the robot vehicles.” Consumer Watchdog has called for a nationwide moratorium on driverless car tests.

When working properly, autonomous vehicles detect other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and fellow motorists. Their ability to instantly react to changing conditions and avoid motor vehicle collisions has inspired hope in car accident lawyers. However, as the Globe and Mail reports, the transportation industry has long considered a death like the one in Arizona inevitable.

“One of the problems … is that there are too many people who are overhyping the technology,” said Barrie Kirk, executive director of the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence, to the Globe. “All hardware, all software, fails occasionally.”

Despite the accident in Arizona, driverless technology still has many proponents, including some personal injury lawyers. The hope is that the innovative technology associated with driverless vehicles will result in significantly safer roads in the future.

In an opinion piece for the Winnipeg Free Press, columnist Gwynne Dyer summarized the core of the pro-driverless argument when she stated that “the widespread use of self-driving vehicles almost certainly will bring down the death rates sharply everywhere, because even if computers can be as stupid as human drivers, they cannot be as impatient or angry or drunk.”

If you, a member of your family, or someone you know has been injured in an automotive collision, contact the car accident lawyers at Will Davidson LLP to learn how we can help. Our experienced team can assess your claim and guide you through the legal process.


Image credit: smoothgroover22/Flickr

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