Recent scandals involving autonomous driving technology has raised concerns about public safety. In mid-March, Uber Technology’s self-driving car struck and killed a woman in Arizona. This news was followed by a fatal crash involving Tesla Inc.’s semiautonomous technology last week. This does not mark Tesla’s first incident as there was a fatal crash in May 2016 linked to Tesla’s Autopilot system. These tragic events are a reminder that self-driving cars are still at an experimental phase, and it may be a long road before consumers fully associate technology and road safety together.
Following the accident in Arizona, the ride-hauling company has been suspended of its autonomous vehicle testing program in Arizona, and Uber will not be renewing its permit in California. Furthermore, Lior Ron, an executive involved in the self-driving program, will be leaving Uber. Since March 23, crash of the Tesla Model X, Tesla stock (TSLA) has fallen more than 11% and are under heavy scrutiny. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting investigations for both Uber and Tesla amid the incidents and has explained that both companies are extremely cooperative throughout the process. Subsequent to these incidents, car makers have made safety their number one priority and agree that keeping self-driving cars off the road, for now, is safer. There is also speculation that technological progress can attribute to a false sense of confidence or safety by the driver. Some autonomous-vehicle experts and safety advocates expressed concern about how this technology can draw the attention of the driver away from the actual driving. Regardless of the disposition of the individual drivers in the crashes, car makers need to earn back the trust of consumers and implement further safety measures—as well as expect some level of regulation from state and/or federal government.
Auto makers and tech companies believe that automated driving will reduce traffic fatalities. Although this technology has the potential to reduce fatality rates sharply, some level is inevitable. Given that this technology is in the early stages of development, it is hard for these companies to contend that total fatality is unavoidable and that this could have happened either way. Automated technology does have this potential, and more auto makers are rolling out cars with semiautomatic applications, but consumers are reluctant, for now. It is vital for companies to properly handle internal scandals appropriately and ensure that their product is of the highest quality. Despite these major scandals, Uber and Tesla will have to follow the market trend and test their technology further as their competitors will not wait.