Comment: Gumtree SA’s JEFF OSBORNE on US autonomous road death

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – March 19 2018 saw the second road death caused by an Uber autonomous vehicle and all the company’s autonomous tests have been halted.

The previous death, in 2016, involved a self-driving Tesla in 2016 whose driver fell asleep and the car collided with a truck. In December 2016 one of Uber’s self-driving cars ran a red light in San Francisco – an incident that Uber initially attributed to human error but was later revealed to have been caused by the vehicle.

Monday’s event, despite the car having a human driver, reportedly involved a pedestrian with whom the car collided in Tempe, Arizona. She was 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg who was crossing the street.

‘TECH IS STILL EXPERIMENTAL’

Uber has since suspended testing in several American cities.

Jeff Osborne, head of Gumtree Auto in South Africa, told The Corner: “If anything, this proves that self-driving technology is still very much in the experimental phase. Bear in mind that autonomous driving is less than a decade old and laws, safety standards and measures are still being written.

”Essentially we’re playing catch-up with the tech.”

READ MORE autonomous vehicles features on Carman’ Corner

In an article he sent to Carman’s Corner, Osborne said some saw autonomy as ”a dangerous gamble”, particularly since certain countries or individual US states (such as Arizona). The state is reported to be hoping to lure tech companies.

Osborne does, however, admit that while the auto tech isn’t foolproof most accidents have involved human error.

‘EVENTUALITIES’ BIGGEST PROBLEM

“The promise being touted with these cars is that they will remove human error: 4500 people a year die on South African roads so even if we can only halve that number it will make a huge difference to road safety.”

He adds that the biggest problem with autonomous cars is preparing for every eventuality: “Roads and the people and animals on them are not predictable; neither is the weather. Cameras on the Tesla that crashed, failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and did not brake appropriately.

”We also have to consider the impact of blending driverless and driver-controlled cars together – the first recorded such incident was caused by another vehicle (and human error).

”Creating a car that can identify potential hazards – including potholes, loose dogs, a child chasing a ball, a loosened load on the back of a truck – is going to take time to master.”

DON’T STOP NOW…

Automakers should not, however stop investing in driverless tech.

”Just like the first ‘horseless carriages’ required time to perfect, and governments and industry bodies required time to develop road safety and vehicle safety laws, self-driving cars are in their infancy and will require time to become perfectly autonomous.” – Motorpress

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