When we think of the future, self-driving cars may come to mind. The new advances in technology by Google and Tesla has other manufacturers, such as GM, BMW and Volvo, researching their own self-driving solutions, which means this future is close to becoming a reality. Driverless cars are projected to decrease car accidents and increase fuel efficiency (plus, they’re really cool). However, a recent tragedy brings about the question of whether these driverless cars are actually safe.
The first fatal car accident in a self-driving car occurred last month when a 40-year-old owner of a technology consulting firm died when his Tesla Model S electric car crashed into a semi-truck that turned left in front of his car. In spite of the car’s sophisticated computer system, cameras, sensors and radar, neither the driver nor the car’s autopilot saw the white side of the semi-truck against the bright sky behind it, and neither applied the brakes.
Self-driving cars use sensors and algorithms to maintain a safe distance from traffic, as well as an automatic throttle and brakes. Now, Google’s self-driving cars even have an algorithm that claims it can recognize cyclists and predict their course by interpreting cyclist hand signals.
However, Forbes speculates we should consider these futuristic cars less like a fully autonomous car and more like an advanced cruise control setting. After all, even with these cutting-edge computer systems and automatic braking, this recent incident is proof that self-driving cars are not ready to fully substitute human instincts that indicate when a situation is dangerous.
While Tesla will not confirm whether the driver or the technology is at fault, one thing is very clear. This technology is too new and federal regulations for the use and manufacturing of autonomous vehicles have not been properly established. In the meantime, drivers with self-driving cars should remain alert, even when the car’s autopilot is engaged.