Distracted Driving in an Autonomous Car

In March, 2018, an autonomous vehicle being tested in Arizona struck and killed a pedestrian. An exhaustive investigation was undertaken by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The results were released on 5/24/2018.


The NTSB found that the vehicle’s computer system spotted the pedestrian 6 seconds before impact, but it did not slow down or brake the car.

The vehicle in question was a Volvo XC-90, which is equipped with its own sensing technology and an emergency braking system. Importantly, Uber, the company testing its autonomous technology, had disabled the Volvo emergency braking system to “reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.” The dead pedestrian paid for this decision.

The vehicle also had a safety driver. Dashboard cameras monitoring the driver’s behavior prove that the safety driver was looking down and away from the road before striking the pedestrian.

Uber has temporarily suspended its testing, but it intends to restart and several other companies are testing.

I have written many times about the danger of distracted driving. It seems likely true that this safety driver felt free to be distracted because of the autonomous nature of the vehicle. It seems like human nature to be lulled into a false sense of security. For autonomous vehicles to be safe, they will need to be totally self-sufficient and not depend on the human driver at all. 

Photo Credit: StockSnap