‘Look Ma, no hands’ ... and we know how well that turned out
Experts warn that self-driving cars will inevitably kill people, but may well be safer in the long run
A former US highways agency chief who served under President Barack Obama recently said it is inevitable that driverless cars will kill people as they appear on the road.
Mark Rosekind, the former US highway traffic safety administrator, warned that “there will be some lives lost” as tech companies and car manufacturers experiment with autonomous vehicles, but insisted that their introduction will eventually lead to much safer streets.“Unfortunately there will be crashes. People are going to get hurt and there will be some lives lost,” said Rosekind.
Despite this, he added that businesses and regulators, “should really be focused on the potential for zero deaths on our roadways”.
The technology industry is locked in a debate surrounding the ethics of releasing autonomous systems “into the wild” after investments from Google, Uber, Tesla and carmakers significantly accelerated its development.
Rosekind’s comments mark a rare admission from an official acknowledging the trade-off for loss of life in order to achieve safer roads in the future. Rosekind now serves as head of safety innovation at driverless car start-up Zoox.
It follows Tesla billionaire Elon Musk’s harsh criticism of journalists who have been reporting on a series of Tesla “Autopilot” crashes. Tesla stock has slumped after a series of negative headlines surrounding fatal crashes involving Autopilot functions and delays to its new Model 3 electric car, prompting Musk to hit out at the “holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie”.Musk, stoked by the media’s preoccupation with his cars, even promised a new business venture: a website that allows users to rank news organisations’ credibility.
Concerns over Tesla’s Autopilot system, which takes some control over a car's driving on motorways, were raised in March when a Model X was involved in a fatal crash in California.
Earlier that month Elaine Herzberg, 49, was killed crossing the road by one of Uber’s driverless cars on March 19. The ride-sharing app said it would pause the trials it was undertaking in five US states.Musk has repeatedly claimed that the chances of a road accident is less with Autopilot, as long as a driver keeps their hands on the steering wheel.
“It’s important to emphasise we’ll never be perfect,” he said recently. “Nothing in the real world is perfect. But I do think that, long-term, it can reduce accidents by a factor of 10. So there are 10 fewer fatalities and tragedies and serious injuries. And that’s a really huge difference.”
Musk hit out at the Wall Street Journal after it published a report on the amount of Tesla recalls, pointing out that “there were dozens of recalls by other car companies last month, including with injuries and deaths, but you only wrote an article about Tesla”.
Musk’s outbursts have also seen him accusing analysts on earnings calls of asking “boring, bonehead questions”.
- © The Daily Telegraph