Friday night’s admission by Tesla that its autopilot mode was activated during a deadly crash by a Model X SUV earlier this month is bad for Tesla, bad for the cause of self-driving cars, and certainly bad for anyone who rides in semiautonomous or autonomous vehicles or shares the road with them. On March 23, the vehicle hit a barrier on Highway 101 near Mountain View, California, then caught fire and was hit by two other vehicles. The driver died. In an earlier statement about the incident, before Tesla had been able to retrieve the SUV’s logs, the electric-vehicle company was preemptively defensive of its technology, stressing that while autopilot can’t prevent all accidents, it makes them “less likely to occur.” […]
The crash took place five days after a self-driving Uber being tested in Arizona killed a pedestrian at night — leading Uber to suspend its tests of the vehicles everywhere, and Arizona to suspend testing in the state by Uber. The first fatality caused by a self-driving car, it has inspired louder calls for the nascent technology to be strictly regulated as companies race to perfect it.
The deaths of those two people are tragedies that have exposed shortcomings in current autonomous-vehicle technology. The technology will have to be improved. And it will be improved. Driverless road transportation is the wave of the future.
It’s even conceivable that one day — maybe sooner than anyone thinks — driver-operated vehicles could be ruled accident-prone, compared to the autonomous kind, and banished from public roads.
Today’s cars could become collectibles for enthusiasts to drive on tracks allocated for that purpose.
And, of course, time is also running out for gasoline-fed internal combustion engines. Future anti-pollution laws will see to that.