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Driverless Car Crash ...

Less than 2 hrs after being deployed on a half mile circuit in Las Vegas, a driverless car was involved in an accident with a reversing truck. The team managing the pilot deployment quickly pointed out that the fault was with the truck driver (who was cited) and not with the car, which performed "in line with its programming". Although I don't doubt this, one has to question how comprehensive the scenario testing was that underpinned that programming.

There was a human driver in the car, but they were unable to intervene in a timely manner. Had they been driving they would probably have tried the standard human responses, which would include honking the horn to alert the truck driver to your presence, and reversing out of the way ( a passenger reported that there was a 20ft gap at the rear of the driverless car that it could have used to avoid the collision).

This seems to indicate a limited assessment of the broader scenarios human drivers deal with all the time. For example, would a human driver drive into a sink hole if they could see road cracks and other indications of a possible hole and take appropriate avoiding actions? Would a driverless vehicle be able to navigate a complex set of traffic management markings(with cones) if they were ambiguous or had inadequate signage?

Proponents argue that driverless cars should be unleashed on the road as soon as they prove themselves to be as safe as (but no safer than) regular human drivers. This could be too low a bar based on my own observations, and undermines the promise of enhanced safety from cars that could react faster and better than humans. The 2016 fatal crash in Florida of a Tesla Model S that was steering itself when it crashed into a truck show that there are real world consequences to flaws in (or undue reliance on) these technologies. Arguably a more appropriate performance standard would be that of a driver with defensive driving skills that draws upon every available source to arrive safely at their destination, and is never tired, intoxicated or inattentive!

In many of the accidents recorded to date involving driverless cars a human driver has been at fault. However, the world will be a mix of human and virtual drivers for a very long time to come. Designers of the software control programs need to plan for a world of unpredictability injected by the human element and exhibit a respect for the irrational variables outside the car itself.

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