On March 18 2018, Elaine Herzberg joined Bridget Driscoll in history.
Driscoll was the world’s first pedestrian to be killed by an automobile: in August 1896 she walked into the path of a motor car, rocketing along at 4 mph as it was giving free rides on the grounds of London’s Crystal Palace.
This year, Ms. Herzberg became the world’s first pedestrian to be killed by a self-driving car, operating robotically. Herzberg was jaywalking her bicycle across a dark street at 10 PM in Tempe, Arizona. The autonomous car was occupied by an Uber driver who apparently wasn’t watching carefully, as the car cruised at 56 feet per second. Herzberg apparently didn’t see the car until she was caught in its headlights.
Wei “Walter” Huang won’t have quite as notable a place in the history of motorized tragedies. Just five days after Herzberg was killed, Mr. Huang became the second known fatality killed inside a car on autopilot. Huang’s Tesla slammed into a concrete highway barrier in Mountain View, CA, killing the Apple engineer on March 23.
That car’s software record shows that the car’s dashboard had given Huang several visual warnings that he had his hands off the steering wheel for too long. That led Tesla to later blame Huang for the crash. The Apple engineer was not the first to die behind the wheel of a self-piloting car. That was Joshua Brown, whose Tesla t-boned a truck in Florida, in May 2016.
According to an estimate from Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability, people drive 100 million miles annually for each death caused by human drivers. As of March 23, driverless cars have benchmarked one death for every 10 million miles they drive, a dramatic differential. Hopefully, that number will thin out as autonomous vehicles log more test miles. But politicians were quick to react.
The Phoenix New Times, and some of Herzberg’s friends and family laid a share of the blame for her demise on Arizona governor Douglas Ducey, pointing out that he’d held the door open for Uber when it entered his state to test its self-driving vehicles. Uber was lured in part by Arizona’s lack of regulations, including for auto safety rules. The invite occurred even after driverless cars were banned from California roads, due to Uber’s refusal to apply for autonomous car testing permits. And Uber is a California-based company, raising eyebrows in the capital, Sacramento. Ducey then responded by suspending all driverless car tests in his state.
Some Tempe residents have called for Uber to be evicted from the city or shut down entirely. Uber responded by suspending tests in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Toronto, and in Arizona. Within two weeks of the most recent deaths, the Minnesota State Senate was debating a bill to ban autonomous cars statewide, and Pennsylvania’s Senate is looking at tightening regulations for self-driving cars.
Notably, New Jersey’s upper chamber has slowed a bill that would green-light driverless vehicles, and the U.S. Senate has halted the AV Start Act, a bill that would do the same. A related bill passed the House and was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee, but the measure stalled when it was learned that self-driving cars in recent tests spontaneously failed, forcing their human passengers to lunge for the controls.
TRENDPOST: The Trends Research Institute does not provide financial advice; we forecast trends that identify favorable or unfavorable investment and profit opportunities. The mantra that driverless cars will become the norm by 2030 is simply and overwhelmingly not supported by our trend-forecasting data.
Thus, investors should be wary of automakers’ propensity to overpromise and under deliver: We again urged our readers to not buy the buzz” about driverless cars. As forecast, politicians and tech companies themselves are beginning to put the brakes on their enthusiasm for this as yet unreliable technology.
In just the last six months, more than half the states in the country have introduced bills to regulate autonomous vehicles. We continue to predict that, for the foreseeable future, self-driving vehicles will be specialty items limited to use in limited tasks such as in mining operations, shuttling cargo, and along short, pre-defined routes.