In the US several weeks ago a lady pushing her bicycle across a road was tragically hit and killed by a driverless car.
Witnesses have stated that the car did not slow down or brake, or sound a warning. It simply kept travelling steadily at about 60 kms per hour.
I often hear that our roads will be so much safer when they are populated by driverless cars. I also hear that the arrival of driverless cars is almost upon us.
If that sounds too good to be true it’s because it probably is.
It is likely that the luckless female pedestrian killed in the US was moving relatively slowly (she was pushing her bicycle) and was capable of being seen by anyone keeping a proper lookout, which is what competent and alert drivers are obliged to do.
It would be safe to say that had that car been driven by an observant human, the accident could have been avoided altogether, unless the driver was not keeping a proper lookout and/or was driving too fast in the prevailing condition. At worst the force of impact may have been survivable.
Also a human driver may have been able to sound a warning with a honk of the car horn. It appears that the driverless car involved in the tragedy did not sound any warning.
With this in mind, then comes the question of complacency.
In this accident the car was accompanied by a safety-driver – a human co-pilot as such. The footage from the crash shows the safety-driver inside the car did not attempt to override the driverless car’s path to try to avoid the pedestrian. In other tests of self-driving cars with safety-drivers, people have been found to fall asleep after only 15 minutes at the wheel.
It is all well and good to have checks and balances in place but they are failing. Whether we are putting too much faith in technology or if this was a once-off incident is still unclear, but our roads are not ready for the driverless cars until we can assure the safety of all road users.
Whilst driverless cars may be able to avoid colliding with other cars, the many vulnerable road users may not be so fortunate. For example, pedestrians, cyclists, motor cyclists, darting-out children, the elderly and the vision impaired.
One can expect that once we have driverless cars there will be more people emboldened to take to the roads on bicycles, roller blades, skate-boards, scooters and motor cycles, with a complacency that they are protected by the technology from being being struck down.
In other words, road users may have a false sense of security and be less vigilant and concerned with their own safety than would be the case in our present state of active road safety.
Parents of small children could develop a less vigilant attitude to their children being in positions of peril on the road.
If you or somebody you know has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, and to arrange a free, no-obligation assessment of your claim, please contact Stacks Goudkamp on 1800 25 1800 or alternatively make an online enquiry.
Written by Tom Goudkamp.