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Fatal accident shows weaknesses in self-driving car technology

Companies that manufacture self-driving cars assert that they are safer than other vehicles. An accident earlier this year, however, shows that self-driving cars can make fatal mistakes.

A woman in Tempe, Arizona, was killed in March when a self-driving Uber SUV hit her as she crossed the street. Hers is thought to be the first death of a pedestrian by a self-driving vehicle. The investigation of the accident is ongoing, and her family members have retained attorneys and are suing Uber. Sadly, there was a person ("human safety driver") in the driver's seat of the Uber, but it appears that he was not looking at the road in the moments before the accident.

Will self-driving cars really be safer?

Manufacturers claim that self-driving technology will ultimately be superior to human drivers and will greatly decrease fatal vehicle accidents. In the wake of the accident in Tempe, however, Uber and other manufacturers have ceased to test their vehicles on public streets.

Many vehicles already have self-driving features such as sign recognition, steering-assist, lane-keep assist, automatic braking and automatic parking. These are still meant to be used with a driver, though. Automaker Tesla has a system called Autopilot that is among the most advanced available at this time. Even so, Tesla states that drivers using Autopilot need to pay attention and keep their hands on the steering wheel.   

As the Uber accident shows, even the most advanced technology may fail to protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians in some situations. Perhaps self-driving vehicles with attentive human drivers are the safest combination.

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