Will truly auto-piloted cars – vehicles driven by computers – ever completely replace human drivers?
That’s a question we have pondered often on these pages.
Last week – the topic received increased scrutiny when a Tesla Model S crashed with a tractor-trailer truck, killing the Tesla driver. It is believed to be the first fatal car accident involving a self-driving vehicle.
Investigators are trying to understand what caused the accident. Was it caused by auto-pilot system malfunction or by errors made by both drivers? It appears the latter may be the case.
Even if the system functioned perfectly – the car accident does point to the limitations of driverless cars – at least in the short term.
The accident is also raising questions among ethicists about just how these systems can be perfected.
Here is a case in point that illustrates just one of the challenges…
An auto-piloted car approaches an intersection and senses a vehicle approaching at a high rate of speed. It also senses pedestrians in the only path available to allow it to avoid a collision. What choice does the computer make?
Does it avoid the oncoming car, sparing the driver but injuring or killing the pedestrian or does it accept that a collision with the oncoming car is the only “acceptable” outcome? And how does it determine “acceptable?”
In moments like this – how can any computer make the “right” choice? Should it make a choice that can be argued only a human should make?
And what do scenarios like this one mean for auto makers?
What’s more – how will lawmakers and judges respond? So far regulation of this emerging technology has been scant. Will states and the federal government move to change that – and will new regulation slow technological progress?
And does an accident like the one last week actually make a strong argument that the only safe driverless scenario is one where all vehicles are autonomous – removing human error completely. Google – another major player in driverless cars is actually moving in that direction. They have created a fleet of cars without brake pedals, accelerators or steering wheels, and designed to travel no faster than 25 miles an hour. This concept is still in the testing phase.
Anyone who has ever driven a car knows the many risks. Car accidents injure and kill hundreds of thousands of drivers annually. Will technology eventually reduce the carnage? One can only hope it will.
RisCassi & Davis has handled thousands of car accident cases over our more than 60 years serving the people of Connecticut.
What’s more, our Connecticut car accident lawyers have received local and national recognition for our handling of these cases.
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