Why Self-Driving Cars Still Have a Long Way to Go

April 3, 2018

Motor vehicle crashes in the United States claimed more than 40,000 lives in 2017, according to the National Safety Council. Many serious and fatal crashes involve some type of driver error – speeding, inattention, or driving while intoxicated, for example. Self-driving vehicles might be able to drastically reduce injuries and fatalities by eliminating the crash factor of human error. But the technology powering autonomous vehicles isn’t quite ready for widespread use.

In March, a self-driving Uber car struck and killed a cyclist who was walking her bike across a street in Tempe, Ariz. The National Transportation Safety Board launched an accident investigation, which could take months, if not a year or more. In the meantime, Uber halted its tests of self-driving cars and reached a settlement agreement with the family of the cyclist.

 ‘Self-driving’ May Be a Misnomer

A fully autonomous vehicle operates without any human control, but most self-driving cars tested so far have had a “safety driver” or “safety engineer” in the vehicle, just in case the self-driving technology fails. A safety driver was riding in the Uber vehicle that struck the Tempe cyclist, and while police said the safety driver did not seem impaired in any way, the accident investigation will surely look into why that person didn’t see the cyclist or engage the brakes.

Testing May Have Shortcomings

Uber isn’t the only company to test self-driving cars in Arizona. In November 2017, Waymo – a division of Google – announced it would debut its first fully autonomous car-for-hire service in Phoenix. The Chrysler Pacifica vans would be the first with no safety driver in the front seat.

Phoenix is an arid, flat city with a grid layout. Traveling through Phoenix is vastly different than driving through the winding and narrow streets of Boston in a snowstorm. When determining whether fully autonomous cars are safe, it may be risky to rely on test drives that occur only in cities with ideal weather conditions and predictable traffic patterns.

Unanswered Questions about Cybersecurity

An article on the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists mentions that cybersecurity is a main concern with autonomous vehicles. In 2015, hackers conducting a controlled experiment were able to remotely take control of a (human-powered) Jeep and disable the transmission while it was in motion. If manufacturers of self-driving car technology fail to fully test those systems for security vulnerabilities, they could be putting autonomous car passengers at risk for serious injury.

Autonomous cars could very well be the solution to ending traffic-related injuries and deaths. But the industry needs to take time to thoroughly test self-driving technology before attempting widespread implementation.

Every year, millions of traditional cars are recalled for potentially deadly defects – problems that thorough testing likely would have revealed. Manufacturers must ensure that autonomous cars are free of defects and must ensure that the technology powering those cars can account for the most unusual and unexpected circumstances.

As car accident attorney who have represented many car accident victims, Wapner Newman continues to monitor the safety issues associated with self-driving cars. For almost 40 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today to request your free case consultation.