Uber’s self-driving car killed someone today. This is terrible tragedy, and in retrospect, it will probably be judged to have been preventible. Future versions of the software will better address the scenario that led to this crash. But mistakes are how people and systems learn, and someone was going to be the first. The victims are scarcely remembered.
- First person killed by a train: possibly David Brook
- First pedestrian killed by a car: Henry Bliss
- First person killed in a plane crash: Thomas Etholen Selfridge
A few key points.
- The safety rate for Uber AVs collectively is now worse than that for human drivers (1.25 pedestrian deaths / 100MVMT) (MVMT = Million vehicle miles traveled) (Uber is at about 1 MVMT, Waymo at about 4MVMT). It will undoubtedly get better.
- Don’t assume Uber AVs are the same as Waymo or others. Different software, vehicles, sensors, driving protocols, safety cultures. The stats for each will differ.
- Also we need to see the full investigation (from NHTSA, NTSB).
- How much victim blaming will there be?
- Was it just sadly unavoidable?
- Or was it preventable?
- The opposition will use this to bang on against AVs while supporters will be quiet for a while.
Hopefully the developers learn something and this type of crash is rare. Other AV makers will take the scenario and run it through their own simulations and field tests.
Still the technology trajectory is strong, and even if the US slows down development, it’s a big world. China won’t slow down development.
How Railways Dealt With The First Notable Fatality:
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway killed former Leader of the House of Commons and cabinet member, William Huskisson during the opening day ceremonies. It was the UKs 2nd significant steam railway and the first that was opened with a big deal with such publicity. We write in The Transportation Experience
On September 15, 1830, the opening ceremonies for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway were held. The Prime Minster (the Duke of Wellington), Cabinet members, Members of Parliament, and other assorted dignitaries were present. Among those were an MP from Liverpool, and a 60 year old former Leader of the House of Commons and cabinet member, William Huskisson. The dignitaries had been riding on a train pulled by one of Stephenson’s Rockets. Reports differ, but Lady Wilton, an observer on the same train wrote to Fanny Kimble:
The engine had stopped to take a supply of water, and several of the gentlemen in the directors’ carriage had jumped out to look about them. Lord Wilton, Count Bathany, Count Matuscenitz and Mr. Huskisson among the rest were standing talking in the middle of the road, when an engine on the other line, which was parading up and down merely to show its speed, was seen coming down upon them like lightening. The most active of those in peril sprang back into their seats; Lord Wilton saved his life only by rushing behind the Duke’s carriage, and Count Matuscenitz had but just leaped into it, with the engine all but touching his heels as he did so; while poor Mr. Huskisson, less active from the effects of age and ill-health, bewildered, too, by the frantic cries of `Stop the engine! Clear the track!’ that resounded on all sides, completely lost his head, looked helplessly to the right and left, and was instantaneously prostrated by the fatal machine, which dashed down like a thunderbolt upon him, and passed over his leg, smashing and mangling it in the most horrible way.
Stephenson personally helped Huskisson onto a locomotive and traversed 15 miles in 25 minutes (57.9 km/h) to receive medical attention in the nearby town of Eccles. But it was for nought. Huskisson amended his will and died within the hour. (Garfield)
This was not the first death by steam locomotive, it was at least the third, but it was still the most notable. Wikipedia notes
5 December 1821, when a carpenter, David Brook, was walking home from Leeds along the Middleton Railway in a blinding sleet storm. He failed to see or hear an approaching train … and was fatally injured.” — Richard Balkwill; John Marshall (1993). The Guinness Book of Railway Facts and Feats (6th ed.). Guinness. ISBN 0-85112-707-X.
According to parish council records, a woman in Eaglescliffe, Teesside, thought to be a blind beggar, was “killed by the steam machine on the railway” in 1827– “Corrections and clarifications.” The Guardian. 2008-06-21. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, both passengers and freight services (the latter opened in 1831) were immediate successes.