The accident in Arizona in which a driverless car struck and killed a woman appears to be the first pedestrian death involving self-driving technology. It won’t be the last, but that’s not a reason to abandon automous vehicles.
Still, there are many issues to be worked out.
Early indications suggest the driverless car was not at fault, and neither was the human safety driver. Police said the victim was walking her bicycle across the street, in the dark, and reportedly stepped into the path of the car traveling 40 mph in a 45-mph zone. Apparently neither the vehicle nor its occupant had time to react.
Driverless cars cannot avoid every possible action by human beings. People step in front of moving vehicles. Human drivers lose control, or swerve suddenly for no apparent reason.
Self-driving cars can, however, eliminate much of the human error that causes an estimated 94 percent of crashes. They don’t drink, text or speed. And so far, their safey record is stellar — although one expert notes much of the testing has been done on unidirectional, multi-lane highways, where the driver’s job is keeping the car in the lane and not following too closely. Self-driving cars are good at that — but so are human drivers.
Security is another consideration. How prone will autonomous cars be to hacking by pranksters or terrorists?
Eventually, driverless cars will be part of daily life.
In the meantime, government officials should make sure driverless cars are perfected and tested thoroughly before allowing them to operate at will.