An unmanned vehicle first knocked a person to death: who is to blame and how this will affect the technology

On March 18 in Arizona, a Uber unmanned vehicle shot down a woman crossing the road in the dark. “Autopilot” machine did not recognize the person and did not brake – she died in the hospital from the injuries received. Later, the police explained that the deceased violated the rules of the road, and Uber may not be to blame for the accident. But many people have already remembered the incident as the first case of a man killing a drone.

The accident could happen not through the fault of Uber

The incident occurred at 22:00 local time in the city of Tempe. According topolice, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg (Elaine Herzberg) crossed the road with a bicycle, when she hit a car Volvo SUV. The woman did this in the wrong place: the road crossing was several meters away. The officers noted that Hertzberg could be homeless.

Crossroads where the accident occurred. Photos of Google Sreet View

At that time the drone was riding in an autonomous mode – there was a tester behind the wheel, but he did not take control. According to him, the woman jumped out in front of the car “like a flash,” and the first signal of a possible accident was the sound of a collision.

The unmanned car did not even try to brake in front of the pedestrian. The car moved at a speed of 60 km / h with a limit of 55 km / h.

In this case, the police sheriff, Tempe Sylvia Moir (Sylvia Moir) said that the technology Uber, most likely not to blame for what happened. The police studied the records from the cameras (one installed in the cabin, the other – looking at the road) and came to the preliminary conclusion that the human driver too would not have had time to react to Herzberg. “It’s dangerous to cross the road at night, when there are lighted transitions,” added Moir.

It is unclear who is responsible for such accidents

The Arizona police noted that if the investigation reveals the blame of Uber, then the question arises – who exactly is to blame for what happened? According to Moir, the lawsuit may be filed against the driver of the company that was in the car at the time of the accident. He must take control of himself in emergency situations, but did not have time to react.

But lawyers believe that you can not blame a person for a fatal accident. The US has not yet developed a law that would clearly define who is to blame for the death of autonomous technology.

In criminal and civil law, the one who controlled the car is to blame. In this case, the tester can say that he read the newspaper or relied on a computer system. Then the responsibility will be on the car manufacturer. Whether the manufacturer will make claims to developers of technology – remains to be seen.

Matthew Kluxon
lawyer of Slater & Gordon

Employee of the lawyer office of Consumer Watchdog John Simpson (John Simpson) said that from the point of view of regulation of autonomous transport Arizona became “Wild West”, and “when there is no sheriff in the city, people begin to die”. Sheriff Moir stressed that the situation with a drone is a soil that has yet to be groped.

Again, there were controversies about the safety of unmanned aircraft

Accident in Tempe – the first in the history of autonomous cars, in which a pedestrian died. Before that, there was a fatal accident in 2017, but then the Tesla driver with built-in autopilot died, which works differently.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2017 about 40,000 people were killed in road accidents. Of these, 6,000 are pedestrians, that is, 16 pedestrians a day die from an accident. In this respect, the statistics of unmanned vehicles are much better.

But there are other calculations: the drivers-people kill about 1.16 people per 100 million miles of track. This data is not in favor of developers of autonomous systems – Uber cars drove about three million miles for the entire test period.

In the future, drones can really become safer than humans, US Senator Richard Blumenthal believes . But, in his opinion, the companies were too in a hurry to make the technology publicly available, which led to this situation.

The incident can “roll back” the technology for years

Uber for an indefinite period stopped testing unmanned vehicles in the US. In addition to Arizona, the programs worked in San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Toronto. According to experts, this is only the beginning: a fatal accident will severely undermine people’s confidence in technology.

In March 2018, Waymo released the video with the first trips of his stand-alone cars in Arizona. Unlike Uber, the company showed passengers a “full unmanned experience”: there were no people on the front seats. It is not known whether the company, owned by the Alphabet holding company, will continue the tests.

According to Jason Levine, the head of the “Center for Autoinsurance” organization, the accident will scare people away from technology “for years, if not decades.” He agrees with Bryant Walker Smith, who studies the regulation of autonomous cars at the Law School of South Carolina.

Many of us were surprised that the accident with Tesla had no big consequences. The accident with Uber can make the public more skeptical of the technology. Because the victim was not a driver, but an ordinary person. People will remember this tragedy, although they do not learn about a hundred dead in other road accidents that day.

Brian Walker Smith
Professor of Law University of South Carolina.

In 2018, the organization American Automobile Association published a study according to which the share of those who are frightened by the idea to share the road with a drone dropped from 78% to 63%. But only 13% of respondents consider autonomous transport safer than cars with a driver. And it is unlikely that this figure will increase after the accident.

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