Uber is one of several corporations that are testing out self-driving vehicles, which will eventually be sold to consumers. Leading in technological progress is Google, but Uber is a competitor, as well as several major automobile manufacturers. Uber, like Google, tests its vehicles in various locations in Arizona, alongside public traffic.
On Friday, March 24, the driver of a Honda CRV attempted a left turn at a four-way intersection, while trying to steer around oncoming traffic. The driver safely crossed the first two lanes of oncoming traffic, but in the third lane failed to see Uber’s self-driving vehicle, which (like all of Uber’s self-driving vehicles) was a Volvo SUV. (In keeping with standard practice, Uber’s test vehicle had a test driver in the driver’s seat and another in the passenger seat, though neither was actually controlling the vehicle when the collision occurred.)
The Honda struck Uber’s test vehicle, knocking the test vehicle onto its side and causing it to ricochet off a pole and then bump two other vehicles. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, and the Honda driver admitted fault and received a ticket.
Uber reacted by shutting down testing through the weekend, to give it time to conduct an investigation. On the following Monday, March 27, Uber resumed testing, concluding that there was no fault in the self-driving vehicle and that the collision was caused only by the negligence of the Honda driver.
Self-driving vehicles hold out the promise of tremendously improved safety on the roads. Yet self-driving vehicles are still made by humans, and so they are still vulnerable to human error. Self-driving vehicles will inevitably cause some number of collisions in the future, due to faulty design, manufacture, or maintenance. And we will still need the civil justice system to enable injured persons to obtain relief when those mistakes happen.