First Fatality Highlights Concerns of Self-Driving Vehicles

Last week, the first fatal pedestrian crash involving a self-driving SUV occurred in Arizona. That crash involved a self-driving Uber SUV and has been reported to possibly have far-reaching consequences for the new technology as automakers and other companies race to be the first with cars that operate on their own.

The crash occurred on March 18th in Tempe, AZ when a pedestrian was struck by a Volvo that was in self-driving mode with a human back up driver at the wheel. The vehicle was part of Uber’s self-driving test vehicles. Police identified the pedestrian killed as 49 year old Elaine Herzberg. Uber immediately suspended all road testing of the self-driving vehicles.

Many in the industry and legal community had been dreading a fatal crash, but most knew it was inevitable.

“Although self-driving vehicles are being touted for their safety and as being the technology of the future, they are far from perfect at this time,” said Zach Campbell, an attorney at Metzger Wickersham.

Crashes like these unfortunately hurt the technology’s public image. Although the budding industry is becoming more prominent, many states lack any regulation regarding self-driving vehicles. This could change as news of crashes like the unfortunate pedestrian death in Arizona become more mainstream.

Still, many people believe self-driving vehicles will ultimately make our roadways safe. Anything to reduce the approximate 40,000 nationwide traffic deaths and 6,000 yearly pedestrian deaths is a step in the right direction.

Self-driving vehicles can greatly reduce distracted driving, drunk driving, and drowsy driving. Close to 95% of all crashes are the result of driver error according to government reports. Reducing this by even half would be a tremendous accomplishment and prove the upside of completely autonomous vehicles.

However, the self-driving vehicles as designed in their current state still have limitations. These can play a major role in contributing to crashes. Also, the automotive industry needs to take steps to ensure safety precautions remain in place even if one the of the self-driving systems fail.

Here at Metzger Wickersham, we will continue to monitor the safety and developments of self-driving vehicles to further protect our roadways.

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