Many states have allowed autonomous car testing in their cities in the hope of being at the forefront of this technological revolution. Autonomous vehicle testing by several companies, including Uber, Alphabet Inc., and General Motors Co. has taken place in large cities in states such as Arizona and Texas. Uber has been testing its cars in Phoenix with safety drivers in the vehicles. Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo has tested its cars in the Phoenix area but removed its safety drivers to carry passengers. GM has also conducted tests in the Phoenix area.
Some of these states have eased their regulatory approach to allow the major players in the autonomous car industry to vie for commercial success. But Uber has temporarily halted its autonomous vehicle tests after one of its vehicles killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. This was the first time that a pedestrian death was linked to an autonomous vehicle. The suspension applies to all self-driving testing locations including San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Toronto. These testing programs certainly help improve the operation of these vehicles as manufacturers learn more about how they function in real time. However, the risks posed by testing cars that still have kinks and deficits in high density areas may outweigh the benefits. The dangers to pedestrians and other drivers associated with these test vehicles has garnered the attention of several regulatory agencies.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launched an investigation into the death of the pedestrian in Arizona. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent an investigation team to Arizona. The NTSB examines only a handful of highway accidents each year. Recently, however, it has taken a special interest in monitoring crashes that involve autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles. The NTSB has previously expressed reservations about the unfettered use of autonomous cars. In a fatal crash in Florida, the organization concluded that Tesla’s autopilot system was partially to blame for the death of a motorist.
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