Driverless Uber Kills Pedestrian

(March 22, 2018) A driverless uber car killed a pedestrian in Arizona on March 18. It was the first reported pedestrian death linked to a driverless uber car. The incident caused Uber Technologies Inc. to temporarily pull its self-driving cars off the roads. Uber has been testing driverless cars in the U.S. and Canada.

The uber vehicle struck a woman Sunday night as she was pushing her bicycle on a street. Tempe, Arizona police said the Uber vehicle was in autonomous mode with a human safety operator at the wheel when it hit 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she walked her bicycle.

The police said Ms. Herzberg later died of her injuries, after she was hit by the Uber Volvo as it was traveling around 40 mph. They said the car didn’t show any signs of slowing, and the Uber “driver” in the car was not impaired.

An Uber spokeswoman said Uber is investigating the incident and cooperating with authorities. So far, the only thing clear about the accident is that it confirmed the worst fears of critics who have sounded the alarm for years that driver-less cars would eventually kill somebody.

The Wall Street Journal, always ready to help promote any technology if it might make some corporation richer, reported that auto makers and technology companies have “braced for this inevitability but contend that the technology will ultimately save thousands of lives by eliminating human error.” (If it doesn’t eliminate thousands of humans first – people like Elaine Herzberg walking their bikes, say, or people jaywalking in stop and go traffic, expecting that some human being will have a heart and not run them down, because they know that the most dangerous place to cross some city streets is in a marked crosswalk.)

The biggest auto makers, like Toyota and GM, along with tech giants like Uber and Alphabet, Inc., are spending billions of dollars on driverless car technology. They hope to replace human drivers and turn the car travel world upside down.  Some technology company with the “right” design might be able to replace Toyota or GM as the transportation king of the world.

Uber calls its self-driving plans “existential” (whatever the hell that means in this context).  It just settled a costly lawsuit with rival Alphabet’s self-driving unit, Waymo, over what the latter alleged were stolen trade secrets.

WSJ reported that Uber has logged more than three million test miles in self driving cars. Waymo has conducted more than five million.

All those test miles did nothing for Elaine Herzberg, who only wanted to walk her bike on the side of the road, in the bike lane, and not get murdered.  But that was asking too much where profits are concerned.  (At least a human driver could have shed a tear and said he was sorry.)

Waymo, meanwhile, plans to begin commercial robot taxi services in Phoenix this year, as federal and state regulators are allowing Uber, Waymo and others to test their unproven technology on public roads.  More than 50 companies are licensed in California alone, with the caveat that they also have human operators in the car.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they were sending people to Tempe to investigate the death of Ms. Herzberg.  NHTSA said it was in touch with Uber, state and local authorities, and Volvo, the car maker Uber uses for self-driving vehicles.

Tesla Death in 2016
Tesla Inc. was the first to kill a human being in a self-driving car.  One of Tesla’s Model S electrics on “Autopilot” killed a man in a May 2016 collision on a Florida highway.  NHTSA said Tesla’s technology was not defective, while NTSB said Tesla shared blame by failing to include enough safeguards. Tesla, of course, defended itself. It said Autopilot makes its cars safer. Safer than what? One might ask.

Those cheerleading for driverless technology point to government figures that 94% of crashes involve human error.  U.S. road accidents killed 37,461 people in 2016.

Those pushing driverless technology trumpet the safety benefits, even though there are plenty of other factors to consider, including the autonomy of secular human beings. You probably won’t hear a lot about that as internet, television, and newspaper media will help promote this technology with few questions about its long-term costs and consequences to actual human beings, but it’s something to keep in mind, say, as you are walking your bike on the side of the road, or ordering your next Uber ride.  For whatever reasons you prefer, would you not like to be able to choose an actual person as opposed to a robot on wheels?

Hey Uber, Have a Heart. Give us an option.
Hey, Uber, how about an option as you move forward with your robot cars?  For those of us who value American jobs and people and maybe don’t mind paying a little extra for a human being rather than for a robot, you would be wise to give us the option of ordering either an actual human driver or a robot-driven car.  If you don’t give us the option, we’ll use Lift, or perhaps a local taxi service that doesn’t use robots.  You aren’t the only game in town, and we don’t appreciate your taking away American jobs to drive up your own profits. Thousands of human Uber drivers now count on us human riders for a living, and we are glad to help give them one.  Are we not?

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