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Driverless Cars: Safe or Hazardous?

In late March 2018, an Arizona woman was crossing the street late at night when a self-driving Uber struck and killed her. It marked the first-ever fatal pedestrian accident on record that was seemingly caused entirely by a “smart” car. Now, safety groups like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Safety Council (NSC) are being forced to once again ask the pressing question: “Are driverless vehicles safe now, or will they ever be safe enough to put on our roads?”

Details Behind the Fatal Self-Driving Accident

Around 10:00 PM in Tempe, Arizona, a woman was crossing the street while walking alongside her bicycle. A self-driving Volvo operated by Uber, the international ridesharing company, was rolling down the street at roughly 40 miles per hour. There was a “safety driver” behind the wheel but she was not actually in control of the vehicle when it hit the pedestrian, causing her to suffer injuries that led to her death shortly afterwards.

The situation at a cursory glance seems to put all the blame on the autonomous vehicle, but liability is not so clear when the details are brought to light. The pedestrian was crossing the four-lane street illegally, and she was also not wearing reflective colors despite the darkness of the night. On the other hand, the safety driver in the Uber, who is tasked with taking control of the vehicle in an emergency, looks to be checking her smartphone at the time. If she had been paying full attention, then she might have feasibly seen the pedestrian, slammed the brakes, and turned the wheel to prevent the accident.

More complications arose after designers of the autonomous technology claimed Uber had turned off its safety features before the crash. According to statements from a few tech manufacturers, the self-driving vehicle apparently did detect the pedestrian approaching but could make no emergency maneuvers since the systems were mostly disabled. Does this put all liability back on Uber? Possibly. The ridesharing giant already paid an undisclosed compensation amount to the surviving family of the decedent, which could be interpreted as an unspoken admission of guilt.

How Can Self-Driving Vehicles Become Safer?

The clouded question of liability in the fatal Tempe accident does not lend a helpful hand to either side of the argument regarding self-driving vehicle safety. It can be said quite confidently that Uber, the autonomous system designers, and the pedestrian herself all shared some liability for the crash. However, until more develops are made and a better investigation of the incident is conducted, Uber has agreed to suspend most of its self-driving vehicles from service across the country.

Tech firms are now looking at a challenge: perfect autonomous vehicle technology and systems sooner than later, or risk a total removal of that future possibility. As far as pedestrians and motorists in traditional vehicles, it is more important than ever to be aware of driverless cars on the road. People using self-driving vehicles are likely to have a false sense of security regarding the effectiveness of the crash avoidance technology. The behavior of the safety driver in the Tempe collision indicates as much.

(For more information about this ongoing story, you can click here to view a full article from CNET.)

Were you hurt in a car accident caused by a self-driving vehicle, or a distracted driver abusing the features of a smart car? Let Duncan Law Group and our Chicago car accident lawyers know about it during a free consultation. We proudly represent the wrongfully injured with the skills and experience needed to take on opposition of any size, including car manufacturers, ridesharing companies, and tech firms that design self-driving systems. Find out more by contacting us today.