How to Prevent Future Driverless Car Fatalities

March 20, 2018

Toyota followed in Uber’s footsteps Tuesday, pausing tests of its driverless car system “Chauffeur”.

The decision came even after authorities said Uber was “likely not at fault” for one of its autonomous vehicles striking and killing a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., on Sunday. Still, it’s a move one advocacy group exec likely agrees with.

“Is getting them out faster the best idea, or is getting them out right the best idea?” Center for Auto Safety executive director Jason Levine told Cheddar before the Toyota news broke.

Police investigating the Uber incident claim the car, in self-driving mode with a human behind the wheel, was travelling at 38 mph and made no attempt to brake when a woman walked onto the street.

But the pedestrian “came from the shadows right into the roadway,” according to Tempe’s Police Chief, making the accident difficult to avoid in any case.

It was the first known fatality caused by a self-driving car, prompting Uber to halt its own pilot programs and raising questions about the future of the nascent technology, with many calling for a slowdown in development.

“There should be some step between the computer lab, the completely controlled test track, and releasing them into the communities,” said Levine.

The pace of development in this space is moving at a speed that makes it hard to build regulations and safety procedures, he added.

“There, right now, are no regulations before putting these things on the road...there’s no pre-investigation or examination of whether the technology meets the same standards as a non-self-driving vehicle.”

Autonomous cars have been seen as the futuristic antidote to the tens of thousands of deaths caused by traffic accident deaths every year in the U.S. So far the technology’s track record suggests the error levels are far lower than in traditional autos.

The National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the Uber incident.