After reviewing the video recordings from the Uber self-driving car that struck and killed a pedestrian two days ago, Sylvia Moir, the chief of police for Tempe, Arizona, has issued a statement saying “it’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how [the pedestrian] came from the shadows right into the roadway.”
Rafaela Vasquez was behind the wheel of the autonomous car owned by Uber and told the San Francisco Chronicle, “it was like a flash,” when the victim abruptly stepped out from a center median in front of the car. “His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision,” says Moir. Many of us have had similar experiences when involved in motor vehicle accidents, the feeling that “it all happened so quickly.”
A weird aspect of the case is that the pedestrian emerged from a pedestrian walkway that leads across a wide median strip that separates cars travelling in different directions in the area. The pathway is clearly marked with signs warning people not to use, so what is it doing there in the first place? A designated crosswalk was about 100 yards away. The investigation so far has revealed that the car that struck the pedestrian was travelling at 38 mph in a 35 mph zone.
Initially Chief Moir said, “I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident.” Later, Moir expanded on her remarks, saying the “Tempe Police Department does not determine fault in vehicular collisions.” The department is cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the investigation, which is ongoing.
Here at CleanTechnica and in the national press, people have been quick to point out that the victim may have been homeless, or inebriated, or suffering from a mental disability. None of that is relevant. Blaming the victim is not an appropriate response to any tragedy. This incident appears to be one of those “corner cases” that Elon Musk refers to often as being the most difficult for software engineers to deal with. Be that as it may, giving autonomous cars the tools to deal with such corner cases appropriately will be essential if fully autonomous vehicles are to be the future of transportation.
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