How safe is it to be out on the road in a self-driving car? The disastrous road accident caused by a self-driving car in Germany on Monday night has put a big question mark on the safety of self-driving cars yet again.
The accident was reportedly caused by an electric BMW iX, a partly-automated BMW test car, in the German town of Reutlingen. The BMW swerved out of its lane and veered into oncoming traffic, creating a series of collisions that affected four vehicles. The terrifying accident killed a 33-year-old woman in a Mercedes-Benz van hit by the self-driving BMW while leaving nine others injured, including an 18-month-old baby.
The horror and tragedy of the crash instantly attracted attention to the self-driving feature of the BMW model that caused the disaster on the road. The partly-automated test car was equipped with what is termed a Level 2 driver assistance system. At this level, the car can not only accelerate and apply brakes but also take over steering from the one in the driving seat.
The German police are still investigating whether the car was steered by the driver at the time of the crash or was running on the Level 2 steering feature. BMW has denied already that the vehicle was “fully autonomous” and has reminded us that even with the Level 2 feature in operation, the human driver always remains responsible.
Reporting the story, Daily Mail briefly recounted the incidence of accidents over the past several years involving self-driving cars. Several of these included Tesla cars with automatic features such as the self-driving Tesla Model S car that crashed into a tree and burst into flames while running on autopilot with no one in the driving seat. The crash happened in Houston in April 2021 and killed the two men who had taken the car for a spin.
Earlier this month, political activist and attorney Ralph Nader called Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) feature “one of the most dangerous and irresponsible actions by a car company in decades.” Nader called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to use its safety recall authority to ban FSD technology in cars and stated that research has shown this technology to malfunction every eight minutes.
Ralph Nader is calling on NHTSA to recall Tesla's "Full Self-Driving" feature, calling it "one of the most dangerous and irresponsible actions by a car company in decades" pic.twitter.com/vzBNVhkfIk
— Andrew J. Hawkins 🚇🚌🚲🛴 (@andyjayhawk) August 10, 2022
To date, a few hearings have been held by congress to debate the safety of self-driving cars. In February 2002, the House Consumer Protection Subcommittee held a hearing on the pros and cons of the technology. According to Consumer Reports, the House panel was divided on the issue with those wanting to get out of the way of innovation on one end and those who emphasized safety over speed to market on the other.