The recent fatal accident involving an Uber autonomous car has raised concerns about safety and liability among lawmakers and safety officials. It’s likely that advances in autonomous technology may slow down until safety concerns and liability issues are addressed further.
Who’s Liable for Autonomous Vehicle Accidents?
A fatal accident that recently occurred between an Uber self-driving vehicle and an Arizona pedestrian is the most significant autonomous-technology accident since the death of a Tesla driver in 2016. The Uber fatality has prompted an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and opened discussions with the National Transportation Safety Board that question the safety and liability of autonomous vehicles.
After a preliminary investigation by an NHTSA crash team, safety officials claim that Uber’s driverless technology is probably not to blame for the pedestrian death in Tempe, Arizona. A video camera installed in the Volvo SUV at the time of the accident shows that the pedestrian entered the roadway from the shadows without checking for oncoming traffic- creating a situation that would have made it difficult to avoid a crash in any operating mode. Uber officials confirmed that the SUV was operating in autonomous mode, but there was a driver present in the vehicle as a safety backup.
Arizona was one of the first states to approve road testing for self-driving cars. Uber, as well as Toyota, General Motors, and Volvo have been testing autonomous vehicles on Arizona roads for almost a decade. Although road testing requires a human backup driver in the car for safety, Uber’s past incidents have raised safety technology concerns. In 2016, Uber suspended its autonomous car program after one of its vehicles was involved in a high-impact crash. Although it was determined that the Uber self-driving vehicle was not responsible for the crash and there were no injuries, the accident raised red flags with Arizona law enforcement and national safety officials.
It’s likely that the recent fatality involving Uber’s self-driving vehicle will prompt changes in autonomous technology by auto manufacturers. According to recent studies, more than 50 percent of drivers claim they would not currently buy a self-driving vehicle without further safety testing. The recent death of the Tempe pedestrian temporarily halted Uber’s testing autonomous vehicle testing and raised questions about safety and injury liability.