No need to tighten rules on self-driving cars
- 21 March, 2018 09:27
Arizona officials said on Tuesday they do not see an immediate need to tighten rules on the testing of self-driving cars in the state in reaction to a fatal accident involving an Uber autonomous vehicle.
Meanwhile, Toyota Motor Corp said it will pause autonomous vehicle testing following the accident in which an Uber Technologies Inc self-driving SUV struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona.
Automakers and tech companies are evaluating whether or not to suspend their autonomous vehicle programs in the wake of the first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle, an accident that has thrust safety concerns into the spotlight. Uber said on Monday it was suspending its own program.
Toyota said in a statement it was temporarily pausing its testing on U.S. public roads for the benefit of its test drivers.
The Japanese automaker said the incident could have an "emotional effect" on its test drivers: "This 'timeout' is meant to give them time to come to a sense of balance about the inherent risks of their jobs."
Uber, along with other technology companies and automakers, has been testing in Arizona, which regulates self-driving vehicles with a lighter touch than neighboring states, such as California. The state has a long history of allowing automakers to test new vehicles on its wide, open roads and a 2015 executive order by Governor Doug Ducey paved the way for companies to test autonomous technology without interference by the legislature. More than 600 self-driving vehicles are now testing on Arizona roads, according to the governor's office.
On Tuesday, Arizona's director for policy and communications at the state's department of transportation, Kevin Biesty, said existing regulations were sufficient and that the state had no immediate plans to issue new rules.
"We believe we have enough in our laws right now to regulate automobiles," Biesty told Reuters. "There will be issues that the legislature will have to address in the future as these become more widespread."
During the early phase of self-driving vehicle testing, Arizona did not put any new restrictions on companies testing on state roads, Biesty said, adding they did not believe any new regulations would add to safety.
Biesty said his agency is waiting for a federal investigation by safety regulators to conclude before drawing any conclusions. Arizona's self-driving vehicle oversight committee, or which Biesty is a member, has not planned any meetings or actions, he said.
Also on Tuesday, Mark Mitchell, Tempe's mayor, issued a statement saying he supported Uber's Monday decision to suspend testing until "this event is fully examined and understood."
Mitchell's office said the mayor had not asked other autonomous vehicle companies to suspend testing in the city.
Full details are still forthcoming surrounding the death on Sunday night of pedestrian Elaine Herzberg after she was struck by Uber's test vehicle, a Volvo SC 90 sport utility vehicle, operating in autonomous mode.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office in Phoenix said it was awaiting the results of an investigation by Tempe police before reviewing whether any charges should be filed. Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also are investigating.
The NTSB said on Tuesday that investigators have viewed video captured by a camera mounted in the Uber vehicle, and are gathering data from the vehicle and Uber. The agency said investigators will be in Tempe for the rest of the week, and will not release findings until reviews of the information from the scene and analysis of vehicle data are finished.
The death is drawing fresh attention to questions about the safety of autonomous vehicle systems, and the challenges of testing them on public streets. Self-driving cars have been involved in minor accidents, according to reports filed with regulators. Nearly all of them have been blamed on human motorists hitting the autonomous vehicle.
The outcome of the investigations in Arizona will be pivotal for the companies racing to profit from robo-taxi services and automated delivery vehicles. Among them: General Motors Co, Alphabet's Waymo unit, ride services company Lyft, Ford Motor Co and others.
Waymo earlier this month said it began operating self-driving vehicles in Arizona without human minders, offering rides to select customers. GM has said it plans to launch a robo-taxi service developed with its Cruise Automation unit next year, and said on Tuesday it stood by that timeline.
"Our plans to commercially launch in dense urban environments in 2019 remain unchanged but, as we've said from the start, we will not launch until we are satisfied that it is safe to do so," GM said in a statement.
Self-driving startup nuTonomy, owned by Aptiv said on Tuesday it was halting its testing on public roads in Boston, following the city's request.
Analysts and experts said the fatality involving Uber could slow progress toward deployment in the sector.
"What this incident indicates is that the state of autonomous driving (and especially Uber) is very far from where it needs to be to become market-ready," Richard Windsor, technology analyst for London-based Edison Investment Research, said in a blog post on Tuesday.
Writing by Alexandria Sage, Additional reporting by Joseph White and Paul Lienert in Detroit, Sydney Maki in Tempe, Ariz., David Schwartz in Phoenix, and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Matthew Lewis.