There are strong feelings, for and against Uber, and for and against self driving vehicles. Uber is a step closer to Buffalo as it will begin testing driverless vehicles in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This is significant because unlike San Francisco and Phoenix, where driverless vehicles have been tested extensively, Pittsburgh has a climate much like Buffalo. The technology of driverless cars is complex, but part of it includes reading lane separation lines for traffic lanes, lines which are obscured in snowy conditions.
Safety experts have explained autonomous vehicle technology is very limited in inclement weather conditions, making driverless vehicles more dangerous in such situations. Snow, downpours, and even puddles prevent the autonomous vehicles from detecting lane separation lines in roadways. The technology is also limited when it comes to bridges, which are more abundant in Pittsburgh than any other major U.S. city. The technology has confused bridges with other obstacles on the road.
Safety concerns are also raised by the technology’s inability to completely understand human gestures, such as that of a crossing guard. A driverless vehicle near a school may be unable to stop for a change in traffic patterns, indicated by a crossing guard, putting the lives of young children at risk.
Some of the technology failures have already proven to be deadly. In one incident the software in a semi-autonomous vehicle was unable to distinguish between a white-sided tractor trailer truck and a bright sky. The vehicle drove under the trailer of the 18-wheeler on a highway in Florida and the driver died. Safety advocates cite the need for stronger federal regulation of this developing area of technology.
Although rides in Uber’s driverless taxis will initially be free to commuters in Pittsburgh, the safety costs may be substantial and should be considered before driving in one of these vehicles. Passenger safety should never be a side thought to emerging technology.
While Uber is licensed in New York City, it has yet to be licensed for upstate New York. Legislators have been grappling with questions, including insurance limits, whether insurance costs will be increased for average drivers, to accommodate losses made by individuals using their private vehicles for commercial purposes and licensing issues. This is a continuing story.