01 July 2016
Driverless Car Death Sparks Safety Fears in the UK
Safety fears have been raised about driverless cars cars in the UK after the first known fatal crash involving an automated vehicle in the US.
Joshua Brown, 40, was killed in Florida on May 7 when his driverless Tesla S sports car hit a tractor and trailer that turned into its path.
Early investigations suggest the brakes did not activate when the vehicle’s cameras failed to distinguish the white side of the tractor’s trailer from the bright sky.
Tesla’s autopilot feature changes lanes and speeds up or slows down based on what other vehicles nearby are doing.
AA president Edmund King claimed the accident in the US is a reminder that "driverless cars aren't fool proof in the real world".
"We need more research into the interactions between driverless cars and driver-driven vehicles before we allow all drivers to take their hands off the wheel," he said.
Neil Greig, director of policy and research at road safety charity IAM Roadsmart, added: “This tragic incident appears to be an early example of the problems caused by relying on driverless systems when very few vehicles have them.
“The Tesla system arrives in the car through overnight software updates with no training offered which is clearly dangerous.
“With new UK legislation designed to encourage autonomous cars expected soon it is vital we have an open debate on the safest way to manage new technology and drivers' ability to use it.”
In the Queen’s Speech in May it was announced that driverless cars could be on the UK’s roads in just four years thanks to new legislation allowing them to be insured under ordinary policies.
Trials are currently underway in Bristol, Coventry, Greenwich and Milton Keynes.
Tesla says its driverless cars have travelled 130 million miles prior to the accident, compared to fatalities which occur on average every 94 million miles when people are behind the wheel.
Jim Holder, editorial director of magazines Autocar and What Car?, said: "Autopilot is a driver aid, not a fully autonomous function, and the driver is still supposed to be in charge of the vehicle and aware of their surroundings."
"It is to be expected that collisions will still happen, and that depending on the nature of them they could be significant.”
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