Car industry expects hundreds or thousands more to die so it can get self-driving cars right

Lentz-Reuters
Toyota Executive Jim Lentz on Reuters TV

Car industry reaction to last week’s fatal collision between a ‘self-driving’ Uber car and a pedestrian sheds useful light on its view of humans’ place in the carosphere.

“A hundred or 500 or a thousand people could lose their lives in accidents like we’ve seen in Arizona,” Toyota North America Chief Executive, Jim Lentz, suggested to Reuters in a discussion about the future of real-road tests of AVs (for the record, the Uber vehicle involved was a Volvo).

Lentz continued: “The big question for government is: How much risk are they willing to take? If you can save net 34,000 lives [about the annual US road death toll], are you willing to potentially have 10 or 100 or 500 or 1,000 people die?” he said.

Note how the issue of self-driving cars killing people by the hatful suddenly becomes the government’s problem. The car industry wants to know how much carnage ‘the government’ is willing to suck up so that its members can enjoy an unimpeded run at perfecting self-driving cars.

It’s an absolute article of faith among AV cheerleaders that self-driving vehicles will eliminate road fatalities. This belief rests on a dangerous combination of overstretched logic and hubris. The logic runs that almost all vehicle ‘accidents’ result from human error, so eliminating human drivers will eliminate mistakes and therefore all injuries and deaths. The hubris is that engineers can create AVs that are 100% perfect 100% of the time. And AVs will have to be thus.  No less than absolutely-undiluted perfection will do.

But some very experienced AV engineers seriously doubt whether the incredibly-complex webs of intra- and extra-vehicular technology required will ever achieve the 99.99999999999999999999999% glitch-free operation envisaged.

Lentz suggests that 1,000 lives is ultimately a reasonable price to pay to see whether perfect robocars are possible. After all, that would be just 0.08% of the 1.2 million people killed on the roads worldwide every year.

There’s something distasteful about an industry that viciously fought against seat belts and dirt-cheap safety improvements in the past solemnly counting-out, in the lives of strangers, the price of … perhaps … absolving itself from responsibility for the consequences of its trade.

One thing’s for sure. The quote at the top would never have been conceived if ‘government’ had been replaced with ‘Toyota’ and ‘people’ with ‘our employees’.

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