People must retain control of autonomous vehicles

Legislation on the testing of self-driving cars does not address liability and safety concerns, warn Ashley Nunes, Bryan Reimer and Joseph F. Coughlin.

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Last month, for the first time, a pedestrian was killed in an accident involving a self-driving car. A sports-utility vehicle controlled by an autonomous algorithm hit a woman who was crossing the road in Tempe, Arizona. The safety driver inside the vehicle was unable to prevent the crash. Although such accidents are rare, their incidence could rise as more self-driving vehicles are tested on public roads. Policymakers are enthusiastic about the potential of autonomous vehicles to reduce road congestion, air pollution and road-traffic accidents, and governments want to pass laws to make this happen. But they are doing so by temporarily freeing developers of self-driving cars from meeting certain transport safety rules such as the requirement that a human operator be inside the vehicle. There is no guarantee that autonomous vehicles will match the safety standards of current cars. Liability and safety are two areas that require urgent attention.

By Ashley Nunes, Bryan Reimer and Joseph F. Coughlin


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