Verdict still out whether driverless cars are safe enough

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Opinion

March 26, 2018 - 11:00 PM

Driverless cars offer a future with fewer deaths on the roadways. Today, roughly nine out of 10 car crashes are caused by human error; autonomous vehicles, with their sensors, radars and undistractable computer-driven system, should be much safer. That is, they should be much safer eventually.

But they still have some glaring shortcomings, a point that was underlined in tragic fashion this week. On Sunday a self-driving Uber plowed into a pedestrian walking across a road in Tempe, Arizona, killing her. A video of the incident released Wednesday shows that the woman was crossing mid-street in the dark. The car didn’t slow down, according to reports. There was no braking or swerving. There was no attempt by the vehicle or the back-up operator (who had been looking away from the windshield) to avoid crashing into the woman.

This is the kind of situation in which an autonomous car is supposed to perform better than a human driver. The radar and sensors these vehicles rely on are designed to pick up what the human eye may miss in the shadows. That didn’t happen Sunday in Tempe. Federal authorities are investigating the collision.

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