The death of a woman in Phoenix, Arizona this past weekend who was struck by an autonomous driving Uber vehicle a has brought the entire autonomous driving industry under greater scrutiny this week. This is the first time that a fully autonomous vehicle has been involved in a fatality of this nature and probably could not come at a worse time and will play a major role in how the public and government officials not only perceive the use of autonomous but could in fact play a major role in how policy makers shape the future of rules and regulations that will govern the use and implementation of these vehicles.
Many of the major automotive and technology players, including General Motors, Toyota, Google, Alphabet and Uber plus many more, have made significant investments for the advancement of autonomous driving and have been very public in their attempts to sway legislators to make dramatic changes to current restrictions on this industry, whether perceived or real.
This latest incident looks to fly in the face of the tech and auto giants arguments that the use of autonomous driving would reduce, if not remove, the number of car related deaths due to distraction, impairment or tired drivers as the machines would be able to obey the traffic laws more effectively. Current stats show that there are in excess of five million car/truck related crashes per year, with an estimated 40,000 people being killed in these accidents and an additional 6,000 pedestrians losing their lives in auto related deaths each and every year.
As of this writing Uber has suspended all of its self-driving testing for the moment and can assume that many will follow suit as the anti-autonomous driving political machina starts to gear up and use this unfortunate incident as a political pawn. Looks like the future of self-driving cars just hit a speed bump.