Since the first autonomous driving test on an intercontinental route from Parma, Italy, to Shanghai, China in 2010, automakers have been working towards an driverless car that is demonstrably safer than a human-controlled car.

But there have been four fatalities involving autonomous cars since then, and each death has shaken public confidence in the technology.



Who Died and How?

Three of the four fatal accidents with self-driving cars occurred in Tesla electric cars, and one occurred in a Volvo.

The first fatality happened on January 20, 2016 in the city of Handan in China's Hubei province, when a Tesla Model S traveling on a highway crashed into the back of a road-sweeper, killing the 23 year-old driver of the Tesla.

The second death occurred a few months later on May 7, 2016 in Williston, Florida. The driver died at the wheel of a Tesla when the car failed to apply the brakes to avoid a tractor-trailer turning in front of it, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Tesla officials said the damage to the vehicle was too great to determine whether or not it was on Autopilot, Tesla's advanced driver-assistance system.


Uber's Volvo XC90 flipped on its side after striking a pedestrian walking her bike across a road in
Tempe, Arizona, March 18, 2018.
(Photo courtesy Tempe Police Department)

The third fatality took place on March 18, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona when one of Uber’s self-driving cars, a Volvo XC90 in autonomous mode and also manned by a human driver, struck a 49 year-old pedestrian. As a result Uber halted autonomous car tests in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

And within the same week, another Tesla, a Model X, crashed into a freeway divider, killing the driver, causing a fire and shutting down two lanes of Highway 101 near Mountain View, California.

Tesla said in a statement March 30, "In the moments before the collision, which occurred at 9:27 a.m. on Friday, March 23rd, Autopilot was engaged with the adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to minimum. ... The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken."

"Our data shows that Tesla owners have driven this same stretch of highway with Autopilot engaged roughly 85,000 times since Autopilot was first rolled out in 2015 and roughly 20,000 times since just the beginning of the year, and there has never been an accident that we know of. There are over 200 successful Autopilot trips per day on this exact stretch of road," Tesla said.

"Over a year ago, our first iteration of Autopilot was found by the U.S. government to reduce crash rates by as much as 40 percent," the Tesla Team said. "Internal data confirms that recent updates to Autopilot have improved system reliability."

"In the US, there is one automotive fatality every 86 million miles across all vehicles from all manufacturers. For Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with Autopilot hardware. If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident."

"No one knows about the accidents that didn’t happen, only the ones that did," said the Tesla Team. "The consequences of the public not using Autopilot, because of an inaccurate belief that it is less safe, would be extremely severe."

"There are about 1.25 million automotive deaths worldwide. If the current safety level of a Tesla vehicle were to be applied, it would mean about 900,000 lives saved per year. We expect the safety level of autonomous cars to be 10 times safer than non-autonomous cars," Tesla said.
Still, the lure of autonomous cars is strong. In September 2017, the U.S. Congress passed with bipartisan approval a bill for regulations that opens the way for self-driving cars across the country.


Who's Testing Now?

Some 66 cities throughout the world are already testing self-driving technologies on their streets, according to a new Atlas. This is the first inventory of how cities around the globe are preparing for the transition to a world with autonomous vehicles created by the Bloomberg Philanthropies Aspen Institute’s Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles. <>

Current test locations include: Adelaide and Canberra, Australia; Copenhagen, Denmark; the United Arab Emirates; Singapore; Guangzhou, China; Taipei, Taiwan; London, UK; Oslo, Norway; Stockholm, Sweden; Paris, France and Washington, DC.

Thirty-three more cities are preparing for driverless car testing, including: Beijing, China; Buenos Aires, Argentian; Los Angeles, California; Montreal, Canada; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Tel Aviv, Israel and Tokyo, Japan.

And many cities that are not even preparing to test AVs yet are feeling the fear of being left behind in this fast-moving field. Hong Kong is one of them.

Dr. Winnie Tang, honorary professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Hong Kong, says, "Despite the recent Uber crash in the United States, I believe AV safety can be improved and that autonomous vehicles will be an epoch-making trend that will bring tremendous changes to our lifestyle."

Writing March 27 in the ITU News, a service of the UN's International Telecommunication Union, Dr. Tang states, "The emergence of autonomous vehicles poses both a challenge and opportunity for Hong Kong. With its unique road conditions, we have confusing road signs and narrow roads crowded with road users. So far, no autonomous vehicles have been allowed to be tested on public roads. We are lagging behind."

"Fortunately, the 2018-19 Budget released lately earmarked HK$50 billion (€5.2 billion) for developing innovation and technology," she writes.
"We expect that the safety of autonomous vehicles will continuously improve to allow their wide adoption, which will greatly improve our quality of life," writes Dr. Tang. "This is exactly how smart city systems can improve people’s lives with science and technology!"


Who's Accelerating AV Development?

Baidu BMW Waymo & Jaguar


Baidu describes itself as "the Google of China" and, like the Mountain View-based search engine, Baidu is working 24/7 to develop autonomous driving technologies.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January in Las Vegas, Baidu unveiled the Apollo 2.0 platform it has developed with more than 90 industry partners.

The updated system features added security and more robust positioning, control and cloud simulation capabilities.
For the first time, all four of the Apollo's primary modules - cloud services, software, reference hardware and vehicle platforms - have been made to work together.

Apollo 2.0 is now capable of autonomously guiding a vehicle through basic urban environments, even at night.
Baidu is creating more cost-effective sensors and integrating Apollo in minibuses, SUVs and pickups as well as cars - enabling driverless private passenger vehicles as well as ridesharing services and public transportation.

Baidu has partnered with Access Services, a public paratransit provider, and will launch a pilot program in Los Angeles that aims to offer autonomous car rides to disabled and senior citizens by the end of the year.
Baidu also plans to begin mass-producing driverless buses, in partnership with Chinese bus maker King Long, by August and start rolling out Level 3 autonomous vehicles, with Chery Automotive, by 2020.

Level 3 AVs can manage most aspects of driving and monitors the environment. At this level, the system prompts the driver to intervene when it encounters a situation it cannot navigate.

Level 4 AVs can operate without human input or oversight but only under select conditions defined by factors such as road type or geographic area.

At Level 5, considered full automation, a driverless car can operate on any road and in any conditions a human driver could negotiate.
Waymo, formerly Google’s driverless car project, is now using a fleet of 600 Chrysler Pacifica hybrids to develop its Level 5 technology for production, according to "Car and Driver" magazine <>.


The BMW Group intends to "drive forward development of highly automated vehicles" at its new campus in Unterschleißheim, near Munich, and is seeking IT specialists and software developers in artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analysis.

Bavarian state Premier Markus Söder were among those present for the inauguration on April 11.

“Welcome to the new Silicon Valley here in Bavaria,” said BMW’s Group’s senior vice-president for mobility, Elmar Frickenstein.

“For us, autonomous vehicles is one of the most important challenges in the auto industry. It’s about bringing a completely new system to the street," he said.

New centre of excellence for autonomous driving. BMW officially opens its autonomous driving campus
in Unterschleißheim near Munich. (Photo courtesy BMW)

"This is a time of disruptive change in the automotive industry, with the arrival of new players making the competitive environment ever more challenging," BMW said in a statement.

"The pace of innovation is accelerating rapidly and young professionals cite future viability, a modern working environment and flexible, agile workflows as key to an employer’s attractiveness," the company said. "A cutting-edge development facility such as the new campus for autonomous driving therefore represents a crucial asset for the company’s long-term sustainability and innovative capability."

BMW now has a fleet of 40 Level 3, Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous prototypes and has said it will double that before mid-2018.

Waymo & Jaguar

Jaguar Land Rover and Waymo are engaged in a new long-term strategic partnership. In a joint statement on March 27, the two companies said that together they will "develop the world’s first premium self-driving electric vehicle for Waymo’s driverless transportation service."



Jaguar's I-PACE SUV revealed as Waymo's robotaxi, March 27, 2018
(Photo courtesy Jaguar Land Rover)

Jaguar's I-PACE SUV will be the first premium self-driving electric vehicle in Waymo’s fleet.

Jaguar Land Rover said the companyis committed to investing heavily, becoming automotive leaders in autonomous, connected and future electrified technologies.

To date, Waymo is the only company with a fleet of fully self-driving cars, with no one in the front seat, on public roads. Later this year Waymo will launch the world’s first self-driving transportation service allowing members of the public to use Waymo’s app to request a vehicle.

Jaguar Land Rover CEO Prof. Dr. Falf Speth said, "With the Jaguar I-PACE we have a world-beating car that’s captured the imagination of customers around the world. Our passion for further advancing smart mobility needs expert long-term partners. In joining forces with Waymo we are pioneering to push the boundaries of technology. Together we will deliver the self-driving Waymo Jaguar I-PACE with the grace, space and eco-pace that customers expect."

The first Waymo self-driving I-PACE will start tests this year, and become part of Waymo’s driverless fleet from 2020.

Plans call for up to 20,000 vehicles to join Waymo’s fleet in the first two years of production.

In December 2017, Waymo reportedly formed a partnership with an startup, Trov, Inc. in Danville, California, to insure passengers of its future driverless car-hailing service, according to several news outlets.

Trov CEO Scott Walchek says the company will work with Waymo “behind the scenes” to insure riders for medical expenses, property damage or lost property. Passengers will not be charged for the service.


Hail an Electric Robotaxi

It's only a matter of time before city dwellers can hail a self-driving taxi, so researchers at the U.S.Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California Berkeley decided to analyze the cost, energy, and environmental implications of a fleet of self-driving electric vehicles operating in Manhattan.

Using models they built and data from more than 10 million taxi trips in New York City, they found that shared automated electric vehicles, or SAEVs, could get the job done at a much lower cost than present-day taxis while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.

Their study, “Cost, Energy, and Environmental Impact of Automated Electric Taxi Fleets in Manhattan,” was published recently in the journal "Environmental Science & Technology."

They found that range anxiety” is moot because smaller cars with a smaller battery range were sufficient to complete the trips, although more charging stations would be needed.

“The EV industry is focusing on the personal car market, trying to make the range as large as possible,” said co-author Jeffery Greenblatt of Berkeley Lab. “The standard now is 200 miles. We suspected you wouldn’t need as much for taxis."

"We found plenty of times during the day when a portion of taxis could slip off to recharge, even if just for a few minutes. This greatly reduces the need to have a big battery and therefore drives down cost," said Greenblatt. "It is dependent on having a fairly dense charging network.”
“Manhattan currently has about 500 chargers for public use, which include Tesla chargers,” said Gordon Bauer of UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. “We found that we would need to at least triple that capacity.”

The study estimated that a fleet of SAEV taxis drawing power from the current New York City power grid would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 73 percent and energy consumption by 58 percent compared to a fleet of automated conventional gas-powered vehicles.


But How Safe Are They?

When something does go wrong in an autonomous vehicle, it's the insurance company who is on the spot. So the U.S.-based Auto Insurance Center <> has compiled a list of the Top 20 Pros and Cons Associated With Self-Driving Cars.

Pros: Self-Driving Cars

In comparison to the multitude of bad behaviors a driver might exhibit behind the wheel, a computer is actually an ideal motorist. Since 81 percent of car crashes are the result of human error, computers would take a lot of danger out of the equation entirely.

Computers use complicated algorithms to determine appropriate stopping distance, distance from another vehicle and other data that decreases the chances of car accidents dramatically.

There are no opportunities for a computer to be"distracted," which is a leading cause of accidents in the United States at present.


The U.S. Department of Transportation actually assigns a value to each human life: $9.2 million. There would be a significant cost savings in many different venues like insurance costs and healthcare costs associated with accident recovery alone.

Driverless cars can cruise along a fast-moving highway, avoiding other vehicles on the road.
(Photo courtesy BMW)

Found in MIT Technology Review:

When a computer takes over the driving responsibilities, drivers can use that time to do other things, like catch up on reading or chat with passengers, all without having to worry too much about road safety.

Self-driving cars can participate in a behavior known as platooning - the linking of two or more vehicles in convoy, using connectivity technology and automated driving support systems. These vehicles automatically maintain a set, close distance between them, which would improve traffic conditions and congestion. This would help to reduce commute times for drivers in high-traffic areas and maximize gasoline efficiency.

Disabled individuals, who have to rely on public transportation or assistance from others to get around, could reap the benefits of self-driving cars with new freedom and enhanced mobility.

Many larger cities lack appropriate infrastructure to support the needs of their residents, a void that could be partly filled by self-driving cars.
Over time, higher speed limits might be considered as an option if more people are using self-driving cars. Since the computers calculate operation of the vehicle safely, driving time could be reduced by faster speeds allowed on the road.

Many cars are already equipped with features in the first stage of automatic driving, like autonomous braking, self-parking, and sensors that alert a driver to a nearby obstacle.

Drunk driving incidents should decrease, because there's no designated driver needed when the car drives itself.

Massive savings could be recouped from being spent on older mass transit projects like trains.

Police officer focus could be shifted from writing traffic tickets and handling accidents to managing other, more serious crimes.
Sensors in the autonomous cars allow vehicles to ride closer together, allowing more cars on the road.

Fewer parking structures would be required and parking headaches could be avoided, since a car could drop passengers off at their destination and locate a parking space farther away.

The lengthy line at the Department of Motor Vehicles could be cut short since people wouldn't need a specialized license to operate cars.
There is a less of a concern about taking the keys away from Grandma when she gets too old to drive carefully - the car will take care of her.
"Car insurance may eventually become extinct, or at least not billed to the consumer, since eventually the computer will be making all the decisions. Perhaps the premium will be paid by the car manufacturer instead of the driver," says car loan comparison website Auto.Loan.


Cons: Self-Driving Cars

Just having the ability to operate a self-driving car would require an education on the driver's part. While the computer takes over once the vehicle is operational, the driver would still be required to know how to operate it safely.

The reliance on technology could mean that over time drivers lose the skills needed to operate cars. In the event of a technology glitch or recall, out of practice drivers might be helpless to get around.

Many people are nervous about handing over all the power to a computer, which could malfunction and put the driver in a more dangerous situation than if the driver were operating the vehicle.

The cost of implementing the new technology could be way out of reach for most Americans. Currently, the engineering, power and computer requirements, software, and sensors add up to more than $100,000.

The most savings in terms of cost, time, and lives is going to come from when more people opt in to the service. If self-driving cars are not adopted widely, accidents still can and will happen.

The security behind self-driving cars would be a major obstacle, because the technology would be of high interest to hackers.
In order for a computer to operate a vehicle, a lot of information would have to be stored on the software. Some individuals are concerned about the opportunity for a computer built into the self-driving car to collect personal data.



Woman enjoys a hands-free test trip in a Jaguar Land Rover with prototype autonomous technology called Autonomous Urban Drive
that can enable a vehicle to operate autonomously through a city, obeying traffic lights as well as negotiating T-junctions and roundabouts,
June 19, 2017. (Photo courtesy Land Rover MENA)


Even though there are concerns about the adequate nature of public transportation, self-driving cars would eliminate many jobs in the transportation sector, especially when it comes to freight transportation and taxi drivers. This could have a negative impact on the unemployment rate and the economy.

A self-driving car doesn't completely eliminate the likelihood of a car accident. In fact, there's no legal precedent for how a case would be handled. The question of who holds responsibility in a car accident - the driver? The car manufacturer? The software developer? could be tricky to answer.


The cars are not able to operate at a high level of safety in all weather conditions. In fact, heavy rain can do serious damage to the laser sensor mounted on the car's roof, calling into question what role the driver might have to play in the event the technology fails.

If external technology fails, such as traffic signals that the cars rely on, there's no way an autonomous vehicle can interpret human traffic signals. In the event of an accident where a police officer is directing traffic, the cars cannot interpret human signals.

It's unclear how self-driving cars would maneuver through hazards like roadblocks or unique local driving laws. A good example is the difference between states regarding turning right on red.

The success of self-driving cars currently relies on accurate mapping systems through GPS. As anyone who has been advised to turn down a one-way street or been told by their GPS they were driving on a non-existent street can attest, GPS devices are not always accurate. There are security concerns about self-driving cars, too. Egil Juliussen, director of research for infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems at the research group IHS Automotive, says, "Electronics systems in cars currently have no or very limited security measures."
The gasoline industry is likely to suffer because it's likely that the self-driving cars will be electric.

Personal injury lawyers may see a reduction in their earnings if self-driving cars truly are safer and reduce the number of accidents on the road.
Driver's ed courses would lose money and go out of business because there would be less of a need to educate people how to drive.

People who enjoy driving are unlikely to buy into a technology that means they no longer need to focus behind the wheel, so they are likely to keep their own vehicles rather than trading in for a self-driving vehicle.

And So?

Peter Hancock is a professor of psychology, civil and environmental engineering, and industrial engineering and management systems, University of Central Florida.

Writing in "The Conversation" on February 3, 2018, he summed up the situation, saying, "Most comparisons between human drivers and automated vehicles have been at best uneven—and at worst unfair."

"It is true that self-driving cars don’t get tired, angry, frustrated or drunk. But neither can they yet react to uncertain and ambiguous situations with the same skill or anticipation of an attentive human driver, which suggests that perhaps the two still need to work together," writes Hancock. "Nor do purely automated vehicles possess the foresight to avoid potential peril: They largely drive from moment to moment, rather than thinking ahead to possible events literally down the road."

"As a result," writes Hancock, "comparisons between humans and automated vehicles have to be performed carefully. This is particularly true because human-controlled vehicles are likely to remain on the roads for many years and even decades to come. How will people and driverless cars mix together, and who will be at fault for any collisions between them?"

So many questions to answer - in the future.

By Sunny LewisEnvironment News Service (ENS)