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No time for complacency on driverless cars: Our view

A proposed research and testing facility for, among other transportation elements, autonomous vehicles would include a roundabout, seen here in a rendering from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
A proposed research and testing facility for, among other transportation elements, autonomous vehicles would include a roundabout, seen here in a rendering from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. - (Photo / )

It happened in Tempe, Arizona, not Thomasville, Pennsylvania.

But it should be a wake-up call to lawmakers and regulators in the commonwealth: a pedestrian struck and killed by a self-driving car operated by Uber.

Arizona may have been among the most aggressive states in giving free rein to companies interested in experimenting with self-driving technology. But it is not the only state that has worked to attract pioneers of the new technology.

Pennsylvania, in fact, has promoted itself as a potential proving ground for autonomous vehicles. And Uber had been testing autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh up until the fatal accident in March.

The technology is promising, and it is virtually guaranteed that we will take our hands off the wheel and allow artificial intelligence to take over. The potential safety benefits are enormous. AI won’t send a text message in the middle of making a left turn. It won’t blow through red lights. And it won’t fall asleep.

But before we hand over the keys, driverless technology needs to be thoroughly evaluated, just like any 16-year-old sweating out that first driving test.

The human mind may be flawed, especially during its teen years. But at least it has centuries of evolution behind it and a system of laws, technologies and practices that keep it relatively safe on the road, whether it’s flying along a highway at 80 miles per hour or weaving through city streets packed with pedestrians.

We can’t — and won’t — wait centuries for driverless vehicles. They are already here.

We applaud the steps Pennsylvania is taking to accommodate them from a legislative and regulatory standpoint. But we can’t help but ask whether there should be more urgency.

Businesses traditionally are wary of a rush to regulate. But in this case, we believe it is worth prodding government to move more quickly.

The death in Arizona is a tragic reminder of what is at stake.

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