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Safety on Self-driving Cars

After a self-driving Uber SUV struck and killed a woman in Tempe, AZ in March, Uber halted all of their self-driving cars in the U.S. and Canada.

This came after a self-driving Tesla car crashed and killed its driver in California a week prior. In this crash, Tesla defended the autopilot car and blamed the driver. “The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken,” a spokesperson from Tesla said.

Most Outlook editors agree that more research needs to be done before they decide to get behind the wheel of a self-driving car. “It’s not like regular human driven cars are so safe though,” one editor said. “I think they need to be programmed to protect as many lives as possible rather than just pedestrians or just the driver. In general, I think they’re a good idea but could stand further testing.”

Another editor added, “I think that with a good amount of testing of crash response systems, airbags, and safety measures then it could be safe. More research needs to be done to ensure that the technology does not malfunction and put the passengers in danger.”

Many of the questions about the potential safety have to do with the sensors which collect all the data for the car. While specific implementations vary by vendor, most self-driving cars have a series of cameras, radar and LiDAR (a type of sensor that bounces laser light off nearby objects) built into them. These help the car “see” what is going on and allows the car to make decisions when it comes to speed and direction, among others.

With technology now expanding to where self-driving cars are now being seen on the road, and now with two fatal car crashes, some editors questioned the safety of self-driving cars.

“I do not feel safe with self-driving cars being on the road, especially if they do become more popular,” one editor said.

Another staffer added, “In the near future, we can see self-driving cars become the new normal, and if they have problems to where they can’t pick up a pedestrian walking, how safe are we compared to human drivers?”

Others disagree with the notion of not feeling safe. One editor said, “There are so many car accidents and so many other ways for cars to go wrong, a self-driving car is the least of my worries.”

The editor added, “Self-driving cars could remove drunk drivers, distracted drivers, etc. from the road. In at least one of the cases the situation was such that the woman hit would’ve been hit by a regular or self-driving car. Self-driving cars are still cars, they’re something to be aware of, but I’m not really worried about them.”

Another editor said, “There aren’t too many out there and it’s more likely that a regular car will crash into me. You take that risk whenever you drive.”

According to Sylvia Moir, Chief of Police in Tempe, AZ, in an interview with The Chronicle on March 19, she said, “It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode [computer or human-driven] based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway,” Moir told the paper, adding that the incident occurred roughly 100 yards from a crosswalk. Moir said that the Tempe crash was unavoidable and that either a self-driving car or a regular car would have been in the crash.

With self-driving cars starting to become more and more popular, editors are split on the action of getting a self-driving car for themselves. “I enjoy driving, so I would be hesitant to buy something that does that for me. It’s not so much a chore for me than something that’s pretty fun,” one editor said.

Another editor preferred to have a self-driving car than a regular car. “I think if the technology is close to perfected, the car would be able to detect potential collisions than a human can. If a self-driving car was similar in cost to a regular car, than I would definitely get a self-driving car.”

One editor thought self-driving cars could benefit not the average person, but someone with a disability. “I think that it would be useful for those who have lost their independence due to physical or mental disabilities and aren’t able to drive.”

Some editors think being eco-friendly should be one of their goals for self-driving cars. “I think that if they do choose to invest in self-driving cars, they should strive to make them eco-friendly and stray from the typical reliance on fossil fuels to add on to the benefits,” one editor said. “With the ability to give independence back to certain individuals, avoid human error while driving and relying less on fossil fuels it would be a good investment.”

After these two fatal accidents, one editor said safety should be a top priory for car companies, not automation driving. “The car companies shouldn’t be trying to rush out self-driving cars at the risk of other drivers,” one editor said. “Their first goal should be safety, and if these cars are not only not safe for the person behind the wheel, but not safe for other drivers and pedestrians, then they shouldn’t be on the roads. Safety for everyone needs to be priority for all car companies.”