Do Self-driving Cars Really Mean Fewer Auto Accidents?

Self-driving cars have been making their way onto streets and highways for a few years now, and the technology continues to improve. While they may hold the promise of fewer auto accidents due to human error, they aren’t yet error-free.

Several cases of injuries or deaths involving self-driving vehicles have been in the news, including the incident of a pedestrian killed in Tempe, Arizona in March 2018 by a self-driving Uber. This was the first known traffic fatality involving a pedestrian and a self-driving car. The car was in self-driving mode and had a human safety driver in place. A preliminary report on the accident showed that the car recognized the need to brake when the victim was spotted on the roadway. However, the emergency braking system had been disabled to allow the human safety operator in the vehicle to brake when necessary. Unfortunately, the human operator had been distracted watching a show on her mobile electronic device and did not see the pedestrian. According to the report, the system did not alert the human operator to the need to brake.

Following this fatal accident, Uber suspended testing of its self-driving vehicles in several states. Arizona governor Doug Ducey then suspended Uber from continuing to test its vehicles in Arizona. By the end of May, Uber announced that it would no longer test its self-driving vehicles in Arizona at all.

Arizona had been particularly keen to attract self-driving car companies to the state. Governor Ducey issued an executive order in 2015 promising little in the way of regulations for companies wanting to test their self-driving vehicles in the state. Dozens of companies flocked to Arizona to take advantage of the permissive and regulation-free atmosphere.

Several companies, including Uber, GM, Ford, Waymo, Tesla, and others are developing and testing self-driving cars. These companies vary widely in the level of development, including the number of miles they are able to drive without requiring human drivers to take control.

Some states, such as California, require manufacturers of self-driving cars to report incidents in which human drivers have to take control (also called an “intervention”). One site reported that in California, Waymo cars traveled approximately 5600 miles without human drivers taking control or intervening. General Motors reported one intervention approximately every 1250 miles. Unlike California, Arizona does not require manufacturers who are testing self-driving cars to report incidents in which human drivers take control. The New York Times, however, was able to determine that Uber was barely meeting its target in Arizona of just 13 miles per intervention as of March 2018.

As of March 2018, there were an estimated 600 driverless cars on the road in Arizona. Waymo was testing cars with an operator in the vehicle, but not behind the wheel, as of November 2017. Arizona still doesn’t require companies to report accidents involving self-driving vehicles, so it’s difficult to determine a total number for how many injury and non-fatal accidents have involved a self-driving vehicle in the state.

Are we allowing these vehicles on public roads before all the issues that could affect public safety have been worked out? As the recent unfortunate accident involving the pedestrian in Tempe shows, even cars with a human safety driver aren’t yet infallible. In addition, there are numerous other factors to consider, including insurance, reporting requirements, and liability issues. As the LA Times pointed out, self-driving cars are here, but are we, and our social and legal structures, ready for them?

Practice Pedestrian Safety and Street Smarts

Because our personal injury attorneys see a high incidence of traffic-related accidents causing injury or death to pedestrians, we want to make you aware of how to protect yourself when you’re walking along Tucson’s busy streets.

On average, there is one pedestrian death every 2 hours and another pedestrian-related injury every 8 minutes according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Though pedestrians are often at the mercy of drivers on the road, in many instances pedestrian accidents are preventable with the proper safety precautions.

Though measures have been taken to reduce the number of pedestrian crashes in Arizona, there were 155 pedestrian fatalities in 2010. The State of Arizona, in collaboration with the Federal Highway Administration, is one of the states that have received technical assistance to reduce injuries, fatalities, and crashes.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, these measures include construction of new sidewalks, development of safe routes to walk to school, and the installation of High-intensity Activated Crosswalks (HAWKs).

The Pedestrian Safety Action Plan is designed to reduce the number and frequency of walking-related injuries, crashes, and fatalities.

You have the right-of-way… Right?

Contrary to what many may think, pedestrians do not always have the right-of-way when walking the streets. Arizona law dictates that pedestrians do have the right-of-way when walking in marked, and with exceptions, unmarked crosswalks.

This doesn’t mean that pedestrians do not need to exercise caution. Often times, pedestrian-related injuries happen when they are in a crosswalk and an inattentive driver fails to see them.

Pedestrians do NOT have the right-of-way when they are crossing at any place other than a crosswalk. They are to yield to oncoming vehicles if they’re crossing at any location other than a crosswalk. In fact, pedestrians have an obligation to never, “suddenly leave any curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield” (A.R.S. § 28-792).

Where to walk?

We all know that in a sprawling city such as Tucson, there are not always sidewalks. Since sidewalks are the safest places to walk, if one is present, it is against the law to walk on the roadway.

However if there isn’t a sidewalk, pedestrian law states that you should walk on the left side of a roadway facing traffic. This makes you more visible to oncoming vehicles.

Pedestrian safety tips

  • Be cautious when crossing streets at busy intersections. Drivers may fail to yield for pedestrians if they are turning onto a different street. Remain alert and aware of any oncoming vehicles before crossing.
  • Increase your visibility. If you are walking at night, wear bright reflective clothing. Carry a flashlight so that you can be seen by drivers.
  • Cross in well lit areas at night.
  • If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic on the left side of the street.
  • Teach children to look in both directions before crossing streets.
  • Only cross at designated crosswalks when possible.
  • Cross streets when there is a clear view in both directions.
  • Never assume that because you are in a crosswalk that you are safe.  Sometimes, drivers are inattentive or they ignore pedestrians’ right-of- way.

Driver safety tips

  • Drive slowly through neighborhoods, parks, and school zones. Obey posted speed limits.
  • Stop at all crosswalks when there is a pedestrian present.
  • Do not overtake and pass other vehicles that are stopped for a pedestrian.
  • Drive slowly through parking lots where pedestrians may be walking between cars.
  • Use caution when turning at intersections; be on the lookout for pedestrians that may have entered your path while you wait for a chance to turn.

Note: Having the right-of-way does not guarantee the safety of a pedestrian. Exercise caution prior to crossing any streets.

For more pedestrian safety tips visit Walk Safe Drive Safe.

This information is provided as a public service by Tucson personal injury law firm Hollingsworth Kelly and is not intended to serve as legal advice.