On March 19th, the first pedestrian death as a result of a driverless car occurred in Tempe, Arizona. Arizona has been a strong proponent of the driverless technology. It has quickly cut regulations and opened its public roads to driverless cars in an attempt to lure driverless car manufacturers such as Uber, Lyft and Waymo over its borders. Driverless cars have been praised as being safer than their human-operated counterparts. For instance, driverless cars take out the “distraction element” that often affects human drivers. One does not have to worry about a driverless car being distracted by a fluffy dog on the side of the road, or even worse, being under the influence of any intoxicating substance. Moreover, the driverless cars strictly adhere to the rules of the road. Driverless cars come to a complete stop at stop signs and when the traffic light turns “yellow,” the driverless cars immediately slow down.
However, the recent pedestrian death raises new questions about the safety of the technology. The pedestrian was hit while crossing the intersection of Mill Avenue and Curry Road in Tempe, Arizona with her bicycle. The driverless Uber car was traveling at 40 miles per hour and there was also an emergency backup driver behind the wheel. Who is at-fault in this scenario? The driverless Uber car was traveling under the speed limit of 45 miles per hour. There was no evidence that the car swerved or that it disregarded any traffic control devices. Furthermore, there was no evidence that the emergency backup driver tried to stop the car before hitting the pedestrian or tried to disengage the auto-pilot driverless system. The pedestrian death reveals that taking away human control does not necessarily increase the safety of the general public. As the death shows, driverless cars are not as entirely safe as their manufacturers assert. Driverless cars still rely on human beings to keep a proper lookout for other individuals or cars on the road. Driverless cars lack the capacity to distinguish whether an object crossing the road is a human being or a family of opossums.
Driverless cars also fail to take into account whether other cars are following traffic laws. We cannot assume that driverless cars are totally free from any liability simply because there is no human being behind the wheel. Even emergency backup drivers can be hypnotized by the seemingly safe environment provided by their driverless cars. As this tragedy demonstrates, driverless technology is still in its infant stages. States cannot simply open their roads to driverless cars and their manufacturers without sufficient evidence that these driverless cars will not harm others on the road.
At the Law Offices of Mathys & Schneid, we pledge to protect families who have been injured in car crashes due to the negligence of others regardless whether those cars are driverless or operated by other individuals. We will hold each and every party responsible for their negligent actions.