No matter where you look, it seems like the media is trying to convince everyone that autonomous vehicles result in pain and suffering, accidents and death. This somewhat skewed leap of logic is to be further reinforced after a newly uncovered email from Robbie Miller, Uber’s operations manager shows that he told the company’s executives that the self-driving cars suffered “routinely” from collisions. According to the email, the accidents were caused by a combination of technological issues and operator error.
Does it mean anything we don’t already know?
Not really. In almost every case of a driverless car accident, a human seems to be primarily at fault. Nothing about this fact has changed. In March, a driverless Uber vehicle was involved in a fatal collision with a biker. Allegations quickly arose that Uber’s technology was at fault, but it was later revealed that the operator was watching TV when the accident occurred. Almost all driverless vehicles are still “operated” by a passenger, who can take over if something goes wrong.
These passengers are supposed to be vigilant in order to avoid cases like the aforementioned, but humans will be humans. The media and naysayers all seem to miss the point, which is to say that human error is already the primary factor in all car accidents. Driverless cars will eventually eliminate human error altogether. No one said that the journey would be easy or immediate, and this kind of unfounded scrutiny probably doesn’t help.
It also doesn’t help that Uber apparently put operators in charge of the vehicles before they were properly trained. In addition, Mr. Miller contends that the logs of recorded accidents weren’t checked for days or weeks, meaning that the factors leading to the accidents could lead to even more before the problems are fixed.
Miller suggested Uber slash the size of its fleet and suspend operations after even minor incidents in order to avoid future accidents (and unneeded public controversy).
Uber was only recently approved to start conducting its self-driving road tests once again in Philadelphia. Even so, the company has chosen to keep its vehicles off the road until it can put into place the appropriate safety measures. In November, Uber provided the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with a voluntary safety report. A third party will now track its safety drivers, and drivers will only be allowed to work a set amount of hours before they are pulled from duty.