The Pacific Index

Self-driving technology causes roadside collision

Michael Arakawa

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On March 18, an Uber self-driving car struck and killed Elaine Hertzberg, a 49-year-old woman, while she was crossing a road in Tempe, Ariz.

In a video released by Tempe Police, the 44-year-old Uber safety driver Rafaela Vasquez, who was inside the car at the time of the accident in case anything went wrong, did not notice Hertzberg crossing the road until the car had already collided into her.

“It was like a flash,” Vasquez said. “The person walked out in front. The first alert of the collision was the sound of the collision.”

Vasquez’s lack of warning to Hertzberg’s presence on the road is seen as a technical fault in the Uber self-driving car. University of South Carolina law professor Bryant Walker, who studies autonomous vehicles, told The Associated Press, “The victim did not come out of nowhere. She’s moving on a dark road, but it’s an open road, so lidar and radar should have detected and classified her as human.”

Despite the accident that occurred on March 18, I still believe artificial intelligence (AI) in self-driving cars can be beneficial to society, once it is perfected.

According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, 1.3 million people die in car crashes every year around the world. Many of these crashes are the result of human drivers, who are prone to making errors in judgement while driving. Being able to rely on a more observant AI system to drive vehicles could potentially reduce the high number of car crashes we currently see.

Having an AI system drive cars could also be very beneficial to people who are unable to drive themselves, like those who are elderly or disabled.

Though I believe AI in self-driving cars is useful, the accident that happened on March 18 has shown the world that they are not yet entirely reliable. The accident showed that AI in self-driving cars needs to be looked at with more scrutiny and regulations, before they can take to the public roads again.

The collision avoidance system in self-driving cars should be able to detect oncoming objects and people, like Hertzberg, ahead of time, so they can safely start applying the breaks and stop the car completely, before more life is lost.

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Self-driving technology causes roadside collision