While the first fatal accident involving the use of an automated driving system was considered to be inevitable, the incident is expected to influence policymakers and the public in the way that they evaluate the technology.
Forty-year-old Ohio resident Joshua Brown was killed in a collision with a tractor trailer on May 7 in Williston, Florida while his Tesla Model S was being operated in the vehicle’s Autopilot mode.
Since the news of the death, consumer and safety advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has urged regulators to “go slow” as they establish guidelines for self-driving vehicles. “We hope this is a wake-up call to federal regulators that we still don’t know enough about the safety of self-driving cars to be rushing them to the road” said Carmen Balber, executive director with Consumer Watchdog.
For its part, policymakers maintain that while the incident will attract considerable attention, self-driving technologies, though “imperfect,” will help to prevent accidents and reduce deaths.
Just prior to the announcement of the fatality, U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart indicated that “there will be fatal crashes, that’s for sure,” but that progress in the area would not be deterred as “this train has left the station.”