The Equine Practice Inc, Travels With Doc T

Tesla, Auto-Pilot and the Death of a Pedestrian

This week a woman in Phoenix Arizona was killed when she was struck by a self driving car in autopilot mode with a test driver behind the wheel. Everyone’s thoughts and prayers are, or should be, with this woman, her family and friends as well as the test driver who will live with this experience forever.

My definition of Bull Shit is the politically correct response that followed. Businesses and cities have suspended the testing of self driving cars on public roadways. This response implies that it was the car’s fault for the death of a pedestrian.

Pedestrians in this day and age are taught from birth to stay away from oncoming traffic. This includes a herd of cattle or horses, busses, trains and self driving cars. Clues to the possibility of traffic include paths, rails and roads. This is now part of every human’s DNA if they live in 99% of our world.

This woman according to the police report stepped into the line of traffic from between parked cars. The accident was considered “unavoidable” by the report. I disagree. All accidents are technically avoidable but when someone makes a mistake, accidents are the result.

Why, though, is the car blamed for this accident? Where are the needed answers to these politically and socially sensitive questions? What was this person’s mental condition? What was her emotional state? Was she on any medication? Was this intentional (suicide)?

This car was operating within its parameters and performed without error. The pedestrian operated with error. The result was a fatal accident that happened to involve a self driving car but possibly could have occurred with you and your car as you lowered your vision to your legs to brush away the spilled crumbs of your morning breakfast sandwich. However, without detailed and accurate answers to sensitive questions, we will never know the truth.

Autopilot will increase the safety of driving. I can say this because I drive about 60,000 miles per year in a Tesla using traffic aware cruise control, collision avoidance and auto-steering plus another 10,000 miles in rental cars, some with and some without these features. From my seat, these self driving features are considerable safety enhancers that I have quickly adapted as essential to my driving experience. In fact, once used and trusted, my driving has become more relaxing allowing me to pay even more attention as road obstacles such as fallen trees and running deer are everywhere.

Falling trees and running deer don’t play by the rules. In their DNA is nothing about avoiding oncoming traffic on roads. Squirrels, dogs and cats don’t look out for cars, self driving or otherwise. And a self driving car won’t automatically avoid any of these because they, like the drivers, drive by a set of rules. If someone steps out in front of my car and for that split second I’m not looking, an accident will occur because people and self driving cars cannot anticipate everything. We all make mistakes and we all try to avoid accidents. Life isn’t perfect but it moves closer to perfection with practice. Shutting down testing does nothing for improving this technology. It’s time to get back to work improving and testing the technology that will make driving safer.

Back to Tesla blog