The amount of self-driving and semi-autonomous vehicles on the roads has exploded in recent years, ushering in a new transportation revolution that could change society forever. But every technological advancement comes with hiccups, and autonomous vehicles are no exception. News about self-driving cars is sometimes grim and often focuses on the various self-driving car accidents that sometimes prove deadly. These stories have sparked a debate about self-driving car safety and what the current limitations of the technology are. While this hasn't stopped many people from eagerly welcoming such new innovations, deaths caused by self-driving cars do give some pause when it comes to getting behind the changes to the road too quickly.
No matter if it's a robot or a human behind the wheel, there will always be accidents with new and sometimes scary technologies. Self-driving cars aim to lower fatalities due to human error, but that doesn't mean they are currently error proof. There have been people killed in accidents involving self-driving vehicles, and only time will tell if the rewards outweigh the risks. For now, we can analyze all the self-driving car accidents and judge for ourselves.
On March 23, 2018, a Tesla Model X collided with a highway barrier just outside Mountain View, California. The driver died instantly and there is a lot of controversy surrounding the exact events that took place. Tesla released a statement that laid blame on the barrier, which had been significantly shortened prior to the accident. The statement concluded that the damage done to the barrier had interfered with the autonomous driving system of the vehicle, as many other cars had driven safely down the same section of the road previously. A Tesla dealership inspected the car, but could not replicate the exact conditions that would lead to the crash.
On March 18, 2018, an autonomous Uber vehicle ran down 49 year old Elaine Herzberg as she crossed a road in Tempe, Arizona. The woman died shortly after being taken to the hospital. The car was confirmed to be in autonomous driving mode at the time, although there was a driver behind the wheel. There were no passengers riding in the vehicle at the time of the collision. The incident spurred Uber to temporarily halt its self-driving operations in multiple cities.
One of the first fatal accidents involving a semi-autonomous vehicle, the incident took the life of one man after his Tesla Model S collided with the side of semi-trailer truck on May 7, 2016. The vehicle, which had been set by the driver to exceed the speed limit, careened under an oncoming truck trailer. The story sparked worldwide anxiety about the future safety of self-driving vehicles, but an investigation concluded that the fault was with the driver and not the vehicle.
The 40 year old victim had repeatedly ignored warnings to keep his hands on the wheel, and he only touched the wheel for 25 seconds out a 37 minute drive time. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated that the driver was over reliant on the autopilot feature and ignored numerous safety prompts. The driver of the tractor trailer claimed that the victim had been watching a Harry Potter movie at the time of the crash, and a DVD player was found at the scene.
A statement from Tesla reiterated the fact that their autopilot feature is an enhancement, not a replacement, for drivers and that anyone operating a Tesla should remain alert and ready to take control at any time.
A Chinese man, Gao Jubin, sued Tesla after his son, Gao Yaning, was killed while driving a Tesla in a highway accident in January 2016. Yaning's vehicle reportedly collided with a street sweeper while Yaning was driving his Model S with the autopilot mode on. The vehicle failed to register the street sweeper before the collision. Dashcam footage of the crash was submitted to authorities and has been published online. Tesla claims that it was unable to confirm whether or not the vehicle was in autopilot due to the nature of the damage done to the car, but the footage appears to show the vehicle casually driving into the street sweeper.