Road Safety News

Blogs suggest vulnerable road users could be endangered by ‘driverless cars’

Tuesday 25th October 2016

Two recent blog posts have raised questions over the safety of autonomous technology when it comes to vulnerable road users.

The posts, featured in the ‘New Atlas’ and ‘Car and Driver’, focus on the interaction between ‘driverless cars’ and motorcyclists and pedestrians.

The Car and Driver post, published on 7 October, claims Mercedes-Benz’s self-driving car (pictured) will prioritise the safety of people within the vehicle, rather than pedestrians.

Referring to one of the ‘moral conundrums’ faced in the development of the technology, the article quotes Christoph von Hugo, manager of driver assistance systems and active safety at Mercedes-Benz.

Speaking at the Paris Auto Show, Christoph von Hugo said: “If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car.

“If all you know for sure is that one death can be prevented, then that’s your first priority.”

Car and Driver’s Michael Taylor writes: “Rather than tying itself into moral and ethical knots in a crisis, Mercedes-Benz simply intends to program its self-driving cars to save the people inside the car. Every time.”

The New Atlas post questions whether the testing process for Tesla's autopilot system took sufficient account of two-wheeled vehicles.

The post, published on 21 October, highlights two incidents which ‘raise questions on Tesla vehicle type approval in Europe’.

The first was a rear-end collision in Norway, in which a Tesla Model S, with Autopilot engaged, seriously injured a female motorcyclist.

The second was a ‘small scandal’ in Germany, caused by the magazine Der Spiegel publishing a previously unseen report from the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) on the Tesla Model S Autopilot.

After thousands of kilometres of testing, BASt reportedly concluded that autopilot represents a significant traffic hazard. Judging that is was not designed for complex urban traffic situations, the report declared that the car's sensors are too short-sighted to cope with the reality of German motorways.

Last week, Tesla announced that all of its new cars are to be fitted with the hardware required to drive ‘completely on their own’.



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Whenever I think or read about autonomous cars, I think less about the technology that (theoretically) makes it all possible and worry more about those (still humans I believe) doing the programming - how good are they themselves when behind the wheel? Are they techs first and drivers second? Is there some sort of 'committee' to agree on what and how the autonomous vehicles' will deal with various road situations? I was initially sceptical about these vehicles - now I'm not so sure.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

This is a second or third level discussion. The first concern should be the crash rate of autonomous vehicles compared to the average crash rate say of the 30% most responsible drivers. For the Google cars, after excluding crashes that would not normally be reported,, the crash rate is around 5.5 times greater than for the 30% of most responsible drivers, and greater than for the next 50% of responsible drivers. And the casualty crash rate is 65% higher, and this is even though the Google cars are only operated in autonomous mode for 62% of the time, and they are only operated in low demand driving environments.
John Lambert, Geelong Australia

Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

This reminds me of a philosophy lesson I had in school which sparked a lot of debate in class. Imagine you are a train-yard operator who sees an out of control carriage running down a track that five workers are repairing. The workers won't be able to get out of the way in time so will be hit by the carriage unless you flip a switch that will change the carriage to another track. However there is one worker working on the second track. What do you do? let the five worker's die - or kill the one?
Chloe, Edinburgh

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

James, as I see it there is no dilemma in a straight car vs. pedestrian scenario where a driver-safe evading manoeuvre is available, so the pedestrian would not be sacrificed to save the car.

The dilemma would occur where the only choice is between hitting a pedestrian and likely killing the driver if the only evading option would be likely to result in a life-threatening accident for the driver.
Charles, England

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

With all due respect to Mercedes Benz, in a choice of protecting people in a vehicle as safe as a modern Mercedes Benz versus a pedestrian, it is the PEDESTRIAN who is most at risk. Having the vehicle run down a pedestrian rather than take evasive action is wrong.

James C. Walker, National Motorists Association (USA)
James C. Walker, Michigan, USA

Agree (7) | Disagree (4)

Now there have been a lot of trial miles driven by AV's is there a synopsis of the crash rate emerging? Recent months (including this newsfeed) have reported a few casualties but what is the rate for comparison purposes for human drivers?
Pete, Liverpol

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

On the other hand, there are many human drivers who are aware and think and who don't allow themselves to get into the situation of having to make such a decision in the first place.

Driverless cars can have as many sensors and sophisticated software as one likes, but to quote the fundamental Dft road safety message, they can't 'THINK!' Admittedly some human drivers don't either - which is the lesser of the two evils?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (11) | Disagree (0)

10 out of 10 for Mercedes to be bold enough to state the obvious. Note that they also state that 99 percent of their engineering work is to prevent these situations from happening at all. Everything in context.
Pat, Wales

Agree (13) | Disagree (1)

So Mercedes Benz will protect their customers. No brainer there then!
peter City of Westminster

Agree (9) | Disagree (0)