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The dangers of autonomous cars hitting the road

By Aaron Dalton Apr. 7 2022

Daniel Choi Art

Since 2014, Tesla has driven towards developing a consumer-ready fully autonomous car, yet the technology has been marred by injuries and deaths. Recently, the company recalled 54,000 of its cars to disable the “rolling stop” feature, which allows them to drive slowly through intersections when no pedestrians or vehicles are present. Despite no reports of it accounting for accidents, this practice is illegal and presents major safety issues. While this recall has caused motorists to question the technology, government agencies should redouble oversight efforts while the technology is being improved.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 28,000 of the 37,000 yearly U.S. vehicular accident deaths are faulted by poor choices such as drunk or distracted driving and speeding—deaths that could have been prevented by autonomous vehicles. A self-driving car is programmed to eliminate the underlying root of most vehicle accidents: human error.

Meanwhile, a 2020 study conducted by the Partners for Automated Vehicle Education reported that nearly three-fourths of respondents remain hesitant of the technology.

This highlights a need for cautious, slow implementation and consumer education so the technology can be normalized.

“I am skeptical about the current research regarding these cars’ safety. We should not trust this new technology too much when knowing so little about it, especially since manufacturers have a vested interest in getting their products on roads,” Freshman Daniel Fogg said.

Major car companies like Tesla, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have invested heavily into Automated Driver Systems (ADS), compelled by its promise to improve safety standards within the automobile industry. In 2020, Tesla debuted its standard system, “Autopilot,” by releasing a beta version of its new Full Self Driving (FSD) capability package to consumers. However, despite the name, neither Autopilot nor FSD is fully driverless—no such vehicles have been approved for general use. Currently, only semi-autonomous cars, which require that a human driver be the primary operator, are in regular production.

Accidents involving ADS warrant investigation of the causes. In December 2019, Kevin George Aziz Riad was autopiloting a Tesla Model S when it ran a red light at high speed, crashing into a car and killing two occupants. This made Riad the first driver in the U.S. to be charged with a felony while using semi-autonomous driving technology. Enunciating the tragedy’s implications, Michael Brooks from the Center for Auto Safety hopes that drivers understand that autopilot has its limitations; the driver is ultimately responsible for their vehicle.

Though human judgment is imperfect, people—not cars—are still the ones making decisions.

“Having ridden a semi-autonomous car, it is clear that the drivers still need to be conscious of its movement. Some drivers may be overly trusting and not watchful of whatever dangers that may occur should they not pay attention,” Freshman Ian Marshall said.

Thankfully, ADS technology is now being regulated with recently administered proper safeguards. In 2016, the NHTSA, a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, issued the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, which requires that manufacturers and operators of all ADS vehicles report crash information to the agency. The Department of Motor Vehicles also monitors the research, development and testing of higher-level autonomous cars, compiling the data and then publicizing reports.

Though the deaths involving autopilot vehicles often assign guilt to human error, the actual technology’s performance history is not spotless. Despite statistics that already show autonomous vehicles’ positive potential, the ramifications of failure are severe. With people’s lives on the line, car companies must work to reduce the frequency of malfunctions in self-driving cars. If both manufacturers and drivers can share attitudes of self-accountability, perhaps this technology can fulfill its original purpose: making roads safer.


About the Contributors

Aaron Dalton

Staff Writer

Aaron is a freshman at Leland high school. He is a staff writer for the Charger Account. In his free time, He likes to play basketball with his friends, eat Chick-Fil-A, and travel.

Daniel Choi


Daniel Choi is a freshman at Leland High School and a current artist for The Charger Account. Outside of school, he spends time practicing various art forms, playing tennis, and binge-watching shows at unbelievable speeds.

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