Tesla’s new autopilot car had its first fatality on the road. Joshua Brown was killed May 7th, 2016, in Florida after a semi-truck turned in front of him. Neither Brown nor the car, then set in autopilot, braked in time to avoid the collision. Tesla reported the crash promptly and subsequently released a public statement when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced an investigation into the crash. Fault in the case has not yet been legally determined, however, it appears the semi-truck is responsible for the crash.
Will driver-less car technology be able to eliminate traffic accident injuries/deaths? Will it also be able to increase the efficiency and thereby the speed of our travel, while freeing the human condition from the repetitive prison of driving concentration.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American’s travel time to work is approximately 25 minutes, or 50 minutes total. A recent study indicated that Americans spend 175 billion hours in transit each year. Driver-less cars hold the promise of freeing human thought the from its current transit prison, while flooding other areas of inquiry with additional attention.
It is incredibly sad and shocking when we lose anyone. Progress has always come with the requirement that trials must be had, and errors will be made. It is equally important to remember that, according to the CDC, there are approximately 33,000 motor vehicle accident deaths each year. Virtually all of these deaths are a result of some form of driver error. The goal of driverless cars is to allow ever vigilant computers to constantly communicate with one another and coordinate their movements, thereby increasing efficiency and safety through the elimination of human error.
Like all car accidents, the media has been quick to criticize Tesla’s autopilot innovations as a cause of deaths, both in this instance and the future. Some reporters have gone as far as to say that this is the end of the self-driving car industry. However, this has been the first death in all of the autopilot car industry. In fact, there have been over 130 million miles driven in autopilot before this crash. The average amount of miles driven in America before a crash is only 100 million, so the autonomous car industry is already proving to have a statistically safer travel entity. On May 7, 2016, the date of the Tesla crash, there were also five people in Missouri who were severely injured from two separate crashes, which were not reported in the news.
Auto Pilot Technology Will Continue to Develop
Tesla has predicted that their self-driving car will save 500,000 lives each year, as the car eliminates human errors that often occur when a driver is distracted or fatigued. Tesla reports that the autopilot technology is still very new and continues to develop as time progresses and more miles are driven. The company recognizes that the software is no where near perfect, however, they have implemented a number of precautions in the cars’ design to ensure the utmost safety. When autopilot is activated in the Tesla vehicles, there is a notice announcing that the autopilot is “an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times… and maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle.” The car also frequently checks in on the driver to ensure that hands are placed on the steering wheel of the car. If no hands are detected there will be visual and audible alerts to the driver while the car progressively slows until hands are detected. As the technology continues to develop, the probability of a crash will also continue to decrease.
Self-driving cars are in the infancy of their development, but they will continue to improve on what will ultimately drastically reduce vehicle accidents, computer technology has done in other industries. It is far too early to decry the technology after one death, because as time progresses millions will be saved. More importantly, we must continue to strive for a better future and undertake tasks not because they are easy, but because they are hard!