Self-driving car death underlines pros and cons of tech
Self-driving car death underlines pros and cons of tech
26 MARCH 2018 7:34 AM

The tragic case last week of the first fatality resulting from self-driving car technology underlines the problems inherent in what is largely regarded as progress. Hoteliers will be interested in what this all means in terms of liability and, perhaps, the provision of larger parking lots.

Technology is unstoppable, commentators often state. The future cannot be stopped, they add.

It is up to politicians, occasionally swayed by public opinion, to make sure some aspects of “progress” are not so rampant as to damage society, freedoms and the quality of life.

Self-driving cars are a case in point.

The first death due to a self-driving car was reported last week. A woman in Tempe, Arizona, was hit by an Uber self-driving car that was moving at 40 miles per hour, Reuters reports.

There are some strange points emanating from this tragedy, according to the article. First, it was reported that the victim “may have been homeless,” which I cannot see the point of mentioning; second, “the pedestrian was outside of the crosswalk,” which is more telling; and, thirdly, “preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident,” which of course is speculation.

Technology has done wonders for life, of that there is little doubt, and those who stand in its way will get left behind. But, in the case of self-driving cars, I wonder what we will gain from it all.

These self-driving cars will be parking in front of hotels and hotel staff will be directing them onwards to valet parking areas. Self-driving cars with guests on the way to a hotel, or leaving it, presumably are the responsibility of that hotel? I do not know.

There are legal implications, of that I am sure.

The main argument for this technology is that lives will be saved.

According to the United Kingdom government’s Office of National Statistics, in its latest report for the year ending June 2017 on the issue, there was a year-over-year decrease of 5% in road deaths to 1,170.

In the U.S., not surprisingly given its larger population and huge road network, 37,461 deaths were reported in 2016, the latest numbers on record. This represented a 5.6% increase, despite most experts saying cars are getting safer in terms of their builds.

In the U.S., there was a 9% increase in pedestrians being killed. Speeding was the major cause, with a 4% increase.

Can self-driving cars cut these numbers down? That is the hope of everyone, and if that means we no longer can drive for fun, so be it, as it will happen, even to the point where it might one day be illegal to drive oneself.

I wonder what will happen to spontaneity. GPS systems, I think, have killed this off a little. You can ask GPS systems to keep you off the freeways, but I wonder how easy it will be in a self-driving car to suddenly have a whim to go down that side road merely to see what might be at the bottom of it.

Will that independent hotel halfway down that road go out of business as all those self-driving cars rush obliviously by?

One thing I am sure of is that hotel parking lots will get larger, as everyone first adopting this technology will want a car built like a tank. That at least will better protect passengers, if not pedestrians.

The first legal case resulting from an accident with a self-driving car was filed on 22 January this year—Oscar Willhelm Nilsson versus GM—following an accident that resulted in injuries but fortunately not death.

The findings from that ongoing case will be of interest to many.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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