Weeks after the world’s first pedestrian death by an autonomous vehicle took place on its roads, Arizona was once again the scene of a carnage-strewn street in the aftermath of a nasty crash involving a self-driving car.
Unlike the fatal accident, however, the autonomous car was not to blame for the incident in Chandler, Arizona.
A domino effect of poor human decisions led to the collision. The driver of a silver Honda sedan ran a red light, then swerved out of the way of a vehicle that rightfully entered the intersection on a green light.
The sudden jerk in motion—made at 40 MPH—sent the Honda flying over a roadway median and directly into a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan owned and operated by Waymo, Google’s self-driving spin-off company. The company’s test driver went to the hospital for injuries suffered in the wreck while the Honda driver received minor injuries and a violation for running the light. Both vehicles were towed from the scene.
Original reports said the van was in autonomous mode at the time of the accident. The Chandler Police Department quickly issued a correction, though, noting the human driver was in charge of the vehicle at the time.
The van was slowing down for an approaching red light when it was hit, and video of the incident released by Waymo shows little to no attempt by the test driver to swerve or otherwise avoid the errant Honda.
The seeming lack of reaction from the human piloting the van raises the question of whether the vehicle would have reacted differently to the oncoming collision or been able to successfully avoid the crash if it were in autonomous mode.
Such questions need to be answered before humans cede the roads to self-driving vehicles—but doing so through real-world trial and error is exceptionally tricky and dangerous business.
Still, the industry seems to have at least one solution for gaining such insight in a safer way: Toyota recently announced it would be opening a 60-acre facility outside of Detroit specifically for running their cars through scenarios that are too risky to test on city streets.