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A bumpy road for self-driving technology

Views 61 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 4 - 11 - 2018 | By: Maddie Weicht

The idea of a self-driving or autonomous vehicle (AV) is a fairly new one in the grand scheme of things- an innovation that only began to come to fruition in the early 2000’s. Billions of dollars have already been spent on these innovative technologies, and companies such as Uber, Waymo, and Lyft contend to come out on the technological top. California and Arizona have been some of the most involved states in this new development. It is within this context that pedestrian Elaine Herzberg’s death is understood, brought about by a self-driving car Mar. 18 in Tempe, AZ. A human driver was present in the vehicle but did not foresee the event so did not take control, according to The Economist.
In Arizona, this tragic event has lead to indecision about how to move forward with this technology, and Uber has postponed further testing of AVs in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. On the other hand, California continues its testing operations regardless, even though it has been much more stringent with its regulations compared to Arizona, which has mostly allowed a “hands-off approach” and has no requirements for what companies report about their testing. For example, the New York Times reports that in Arizona, companies do not have to report the amount of times human intervention becomes necessary during AV test drives.
These rules will likely change because of Herzberg’s death and already there is effort in Washington D.C. to create federal legislation concerning autonomous vehicles.
Tech companies developing AVs have flocked to Arizona for this current relaxed regulatory system as well as for the easily-maneuverable, grid-patterned streets and dry, hot climate where snow and rain are not often problems. According to the New York Times, Uber describes the city of Phoenix as having a “favorable regulatory environment” and “favorable weather conditions.” Time will tell what role Arizona continues to play.
As far as general public opinion in the U.S. goes, only 44 percent of respondents would want to ride in a driverless vehicle while 56 percent would not want to, according to the PEW research centre. In a recent interview between KMIR News and Paul Zapala, an owner of a semi-autonomous Tesla in the Coachella Valley Region, Zapala concedes, "it took some getting used to, especially getting on the highway and putting it on autopilot. It was very unnerving at first to trust a machine to drive the car for you."
Throughout the U.S., the main concerns include ethical dilemmas and cyber-attacks as well as safety. Many struggle with balancing the potential costs and benefits of this new technology. Environmentally, autonomous ride-sharing technologies are beneficial and in the future, could even decrease the logic of owning a car. They also free up time and road space. In the area of safety, however, there are more mixed feelings. Some say self-driving cars will decrease accidents because 94 percent of accidents are caused by human error, while others cite Herzberg’s death as a portent of future problems.


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