Self Driving Manslaughter?

Earlier this week a self-driving Volvo XC-90 being tested by Uber killed Elaine Herzberg who was walking her bike across a street in Tempe Arizona. Ms. Herzberg was crossing between intersections in an area where the presence of a pedestrian or bike or any kind of crossing traffic is unexpected. She was crossing at night wearing a black jacket, blue jeans and white shoes. A human safety driver was in the driver's seat, but wasn't looking at the road when the accident happened. It should also be said that even if she had been looking she might have hit Ms. Herzberg anyway. A video from the car shows Ms. Herzberg showing up suddenly, emerging from darkness to walking right in front of the car with little time and pavement left for braking or maneuvering. An attentive driver might have stopped or swerved in time. A typical human driver? Maybe not. Regardless, if the sensors on the Volvo had detected the presence of the pedestrian, the accident could have been easily prevented. In short, when it works as intended, a self driving car can be held to a higher standard than a human driven one.

Inventors regularly face the question of safety and as matters of personal morality and liability must answer the question of whether or not a new invention might cause more harm than good. With regard to traffic accidents, there is little question that self driving cars will prove to be safer. The argument against self driving cars lies elsewhere.

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