Deadly driverless vehicle accident leaves us with more questions than answers

Pedestrian struck and killed by Uber-operated self-driving vehicle

We’ve written numerous times in the past about self-driving vehicles, namely about our concerns of the potential dangerous consequences of these vehicles on our roads. Yet we find ourselves here again, questioning the safety of self-driving vehicles after another preventable, tragic situation.

On March 18, Elaine Herzberg, 49, was struck and killed by an Uber-operated “driverless” vehicle as she crossed the street in Tempe, Ariz. This tragedy occurred despite the fact that there was a human safety driver in the vehicle, though internal camera footage showed him looking down instead of at the road moments before the crash. (The fact that the human in the car was allegedly looking down is yet another unfortunate and sad reminder that distracted driving is extremely dangerous.)

As a result of this deadly accident, Uber suspended self-driving tests across the nation and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey officially suspended all testing on public roads in the state of Arizona.

While this is not the first death since companies first started testing driverless vehicles, it is considered the first pedestrian death. In fact days after this death, a driver was killed in a fiery wreck after putting his Tesla Model X in autopilot mode in California.

We’re constantly told that self-driving vehicles are the future and that they’ll make our roads safer. But there are so many variables when it comes to driving. That’s why these tests are done on actual public roadways. Sure, you can test this on a track, but it’s just not the same. At some point, we need to ask what the true cost is. Does the promise of a safer future mean we have to deal with a more dangerous present?

Additionally, we’re facing a question of who’s responsible when it comes to regulation. Vehicle design and safety is regulated by the federal government, while states regulate vehicle operations and operators. In this case, we’re dealing with a vehicle that’s operated by another machine and driving on public roads and highways. So is it the federal government’s responsibility or the responsibility of each state? We hope this gets figured out soon because no regulation is certainly not the answer.

We’d be naive to believe that this is the last we’ve seen of accidents resulting from self-driving vehicle tests. Driverless technology is pushing forward whether we like it or not. We just just want safe roadways in our community and across the nation.

Tell us your thoughts on self-driving vehicles. Do you think they’ll make our roads safer in the long run?

Sarah MillerComment