In October, 2017 a Senate committee approved legislation that authorizes self-driving auto makers to sell as many as 80,000 vehicles a year within three years that would be exempt from current safety standards as manufacturers develop the technology for autonomous vehicles. The only exemption – which gives auto makers the chance to test and design new technology while foregoing traditional standards such as placement of displays, rear-view mirrors, or protection from the impact of steering wheels in a crash – requires manufacturers to show that the exempted car or component is as safe as that already on the road.
Imagine yourself in your self-driving vehicle traveling at approximately 45 mph on a two-lane highway. It is a beautiful sunny day and you are enjoying the view. As you approach a crest in the road, you see a van operated by a human traveling towards you from the opposite direction. All of a sudden, the van turns sharply toward you, on course for a head-on collision. There is no time for you to stop safely and no time for you to take control of your self-driving car.
What action will the self-driving car take:
This is no longer a hypothetical question. Waymo is testing these cars along with Tesla and Uber. In excess of approximately $80 billion has been invested in semi-autonomous vehicles. Car manufacturers are betting on self-driving cars to ease commutes, assist those with physical disabilities, and increase mobility of seniors. Self-driving cars could save 35,000 lives each year.
Yet, according to the American Automobile Association, approximately three-quarters of U.S. drivers are apprehensive about self-driving vehicles. People are worried about the choices self-driving cars are programmed to take. Will the computer always follow the law? Will the self-driving car slow down whenever it “sees” a child? What data will be programmed into the computer of self-driving vehicles to determine what objects the car needs to “see” to predict and react?
With so many factors involved in an accident including weather, speed, visibility, mechanical performance, who decides who lives and who dies in a potential crash situation? Particularly when the decision will be judged by others later.
By Beth G. Cole