The forward progress of the self-driving car continues
The recently disclosed fatal accident in a self-drive car has rightly attracted a good deal of attention. The one central problem about so-called driverless vehicles, such as those now being pioneered by the likes of Google and Tesla, is whether they can ever be truly safe. Or, perhaps more appositely, whether the public will perceive of them as safe.
The latter is probably the more difficult challenge than any of the admittedly formidable technical issues to be overcome in this modern transport revolution. So it is worth placing into the right perspective this one loss of life, though extremely regrettable, that millions of miles of travel have been undertaken trouble-free before this crash, and that five people die every day on Britain’s roads alone.
The truth is that many more deaths and injuries on the roads of the world are caused by overloading, reckless driving and poor maintenance than any faulty components or technologies.
In the long run, there is nothing that will prevent the development of driverless personal transport, which will revolutionise the world as much as Karl Benz’s internal combustion engine buggy did in 1886. From the 1950s, manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, Saab and Volvo responded to a rising toll of death on the road by pioneering safety features such as seat belts and “crumple zones”. Ralph Nader was the first of many campaigners to make car companies and governments face up to their responsibilities. That work continues. Now we do not even allow smoking in a car where children are passengers. The forward progress of the car – now more robot than mechanical horse, and soon to be safer, greener and available to all – will not be halted.